• Thu
  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:51am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 4:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 4:28am

Hong Kong government should redirect ESF subsidy to 'ethnic-minority' schools

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

I am not one for political correctness. But we should stop labelling non-Chinese students born in Hong Kong as ethnic-minority students because it distorts our perceptions and warps the way we administer education policy and run local schools. They are as local as any Cantonese-speaking Chinese students born in Hong Kong and speak the language as well as the latter.

Their families often date back several generations in Hong Kong, so some are more local than local Chinese whose grandparents, like mine, might well have been from elsewhere, say mainland China, Malaysia or Indonesia.

The Education Bureau made a small step towards improvement when it stopped calling 31 institutions "designated schools" for mostly ethnic-minority students. But they remain so even if you drop the name. It has also earmarked HK$200 million to support teaching Chinese as a second language to such students.

Here is an idea to revamp our whole education system that will harness our multi-ethnic heritage, not as a problem, but something to celebrate for our self-styled international city. The annual HK$283 million the government will save when it cuts funding to the English Schools Foundation should be redirected to those 31 schools. Massive resources will then go to those schools with a multi-ethnic/international outlook, yet follow the local curriculum and exam system.

Why? Call me crazy but this is not about being nice. There has been a mass exodus of local Chinese children of better-off to families international and ESF schools. The migration has caused much social discontent and resource mismatch and dislocation. There are also accusations that to get a good education in Hong Kong, you have to buy it at an inflated price. As for the poor, well, good luck.

It's time for radical change. The only way you can restore balance is to make the local system attractive enough to retain the locals. But clearly many parents want international-style education, the better if it can retain the local curriculum or content. What better way than to start with those 31 "local" schools, making them world-class, cutting-edge institutions? And if it works, expand the model to more local schools.

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This article is now closed to comments

Camel
Dear Alex, I as always much have enjoyed your "takes" but ethnic minority schools should not only follow the local curriculum and exam system, they should have Chinese (either Cantonese or Mandarin) as first language and should promote the Chinese local culture if they want more public funding. Therefore the should put Chinese language and culture first. At the end, they should later contribute to HK society and that they only can if they are integrate fully into the HK Chinese cultural society. We are educating our next generation of citizen for Hong Kong and not for other countries.
langmichael
How about we also stop calling students non-Chinese and stop labelling for what they are not? The term is discriminatory and just encourages stereotypes. I'd be happy to see the money redirected from the ESF schools to more local ones though.
plklfcls
Totally agree with this "stop labelling non-Chinese born in Hong Kong as ethnic-minority: I am a NON chinese born and brought up in HK speak fluent Cantonese but sadly still seen as a foreigner even after contributing into HK's economy for so many years.
non chinese in HK if wish to choose HK as a living place I would recommend them to go to local schools as Chinese is vital to integrate into the local community and to have a better future in HK.
tanyaehart
Thanks Alex Lo for articulating something I've been wondering how to articulate.
People are critical about the idea of valuing the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of kids in a classroom - as opposed to dictating kids' cultural identity to them from a textbook. (This is not hyperbole, I have the textbook). They call it 'asking for special treatment'.
However it's not just 'ethnic minority' kids who are ignored and dictated to. Why would we assume that all 'Chinese' people have a homogenous identity? Or that they should be taught as though they did.
CarlosESoto
In the midst of this modest proposal is a reasonable idea. While it would be impossible to transform 31 schools, it is still a Herculean, yet achievable task to transform a couple of those schools into models of nurturing and academically challenging multicultural schools. To do so, we need passionate and committed educators (teachers and admin) who are conscious of equity and diversity and can meet the emotional social needs of students and families from less privileged backgrounds. We need model schools that can create model curriculum (based on the existing EDB framework) and then help to develop a new generation of teachers. This is not a revolutionary idea, it is sensible, and has been put into practice elsewhere.
tanyaehart
Yes, money alone isn't going to create great schools. Educational leadership is vital at every level of the school.
And in reply to anson's concern about the schools 'turning elitist', schools can't just change their management structures from aided to DSS without the EDB's assent. It's a separate issue.
Hum-Balang
Yes please, well overdue too.
anson
Contrary to what you say, it is a nice idea, but just a nice idea. Massive investment in those 31 schools will, I fear, inevitably lead to some of those schools become as elitist as the ESF has now become. How long before they start talking of debentures and long waiting lists become the norm. Better to simply inject the money in the wider education of all of our students whatever their race.
johnyuan
I agree that schools for Hong Kong’s ethnic students should be helped by government financially if that is what it takes. But I can’t see AL’s hope that the rest of local schools’ revamp should or would follow.
.
Hong Kong’s education system simply should be reformed period unconditionally.
.
Whatever we do in the reform, I see it will take a long long time. The education professional – the teachers may be are the ones who stand the most in against any reform. For a clean slate, it will take 30 years for the current young teachers to retire to make room for any education reform to begin.
.
Migrate to international schools is the reality justifiably by Hong Kong parents. At the mean time let us focus on our teachers.
anson
The problem is that you want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Teachers, have in the main, chosen their profession. They do not do it because they cannot do something else. They became teachers because they genuinely love to see their students learn. The education system in Hong Kong largely mirrors the situation of Hong Kong society. Messy. A new leader always leads to new policies or new curricular. Instead of slamming teachers in such an underhand and arrogant manner perhaps you could take the time to better understand us and the challenges we face from demanding parents, overbearing Principals and school supervisors who without any formal training in education feel that they know best. I think that people like you perceive us to be easy targets for your frustrations. Certainly easier than facing down the mini-tycoons who effectively control much of Hong Kong education and easier and safer than carrying out a witch hunt against doctors or other professions in Hong Kong. It would be interesting to hear what reforms you actually propose and how these would fit the pedagogical needs of our students and society.

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