Equal opportunity for Hong Kong students starts with early Chinese language education

Learning Chinese at an early stage is essential but this requires a sound education policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 12:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 12:26am

Proficiency in the English language is often said to be the prerequisite for a good education and career development.

But for ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong, it takes more than good English to land them in good universities and jobs. Increasingly, those who do not read and write Chinese find themselves in a disadvantaged position.

This is not helped when the education system does little to prepare them for the challenge at an early stage.

Traditionally, pupils of ethnic minority backgrounds go to schools that put little emphasis on teaching Chinese.

They lose out in the race for universities, which make Chinese language a compulsory entry requirement. Although some have a policy to take into account the exam results in the less demanding General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) for Chinese assessment, admission is on a case-by-case basis.

Separately, a study by an interest group showed that 70 per cent of the non-degree courses were deemed unsuitable for non-Chinese speakers. That explains why the rate of ethnic minorities getting into tertiary programmes was about 10 per cent lower than the general population, according to a 2011 census report.

As reported in a series of reports in South China Morning Post last week, more non-Chinese speakers are looking for better opportunities elsewhere, such as in Taipei and Beijing.

The trend is unsurprising, given the barriers they face in education and careers here. It is nonetheless ironic when other Chinese-speaking cities can offer them what we cannot.

Many locally raised ethnic minority people have made Hong Kong their home. It would result in a loss of talent if more students leave because of language obstacles in education and careers.

Learning Chinese at an early stage is essential.

It is in the interest of the ethnic minorities to make better efforts to adapt and integrate into our society. This, however, cannot be done without the help of a sound education policy.

The government should continue to promote integration so that there will be genuine equal opportunities for all.