• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 3:46pm
NewsHong Kong

Ethnic minority pupils 'being set up to fail'

Teachers and rights activists say a new curriculum and resources are needed to ensure children have access to Chinese language skills

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 July, 2013, 1:01pm

Tens of thousands of local ethnic minority pupils in the city's public schools are being set up to fail through being denied the one skill they need to prosper - proficiency in Chinese - teachers and rights activists say.

Without having a curriculum geared towards non-native Chinese speakers, they are being condemned to menial jobs, continuing poverty and even crime, according to the groups.

Chinese teacher Chung Lai-ming says she was rendered speechless when she stepped into a secondary school class, only to find the language abilities of her students were equivalent to that of seven-year-old natives.

"I wondered what they actually learned in six years of Chinese classes - some of them in mainstream local schools," she said.

Fermi Wong Wai-fun of minority rights advocacy group Unison, said: "If you don't deal with the problem [of teaching ethnic minorities Chinese], you won't have social harmony. You are creating an outcast group."

She added: "We are not talking about new immigrants. These are third- or fourth-generation Hongkongers."

In the past 10 years, Chung has tried everything she could, from writing songs and poems to publishing her own teaching material, to teach children.

With no guidance or support from the government, schools are left to fend for themselves, which ultimately means it comes down to how much work and heart a teacher puts into his or her classes, said Chung.

She has spent most of her years teaching in designated schools for ethnic minorities.

Chung said that while some found it almost impossible to speak Chinese, for most the biggest hurdle was learning how to read and write in the language, given Chinese is so different from their home languages and most of the children lack the supportive family environment native Chinese learners enjoy.

Their problems are sometimes worsened by the fact that subjects such as maths and history may also be taught in Chinese.

"There needs to be not just a curriculum specially geared to teaching these children, but also classes in university where teachers-to-be can be given some kind of help so they can effectively teach these children," Chung said.

"Ultimately, the Education Bureau needs to provide resources and a curriculum for teaching Chinese to non-Chinese speaking children. If we provide them with a suitable curriculum, they can learn."

The Education Bureau said yesterday that it had conducted a comprehensive review of the education support measures provided to non-Chinese speaking students, and would report its findings soon.

Wong said knowing Chinese is essential to make a living in Hong Kong if you are working-class.

Without it, a pupil's chances of getting a good job, let alone of getting into university, are very low, whatever their grades in other subjects. The problem can only get worse, she said.

There are nearly 15,000 non-Chinese students in the public school system, and over 12,000 more in kindergartens, according to Education Bureau figures.

Ethnic minority families also tend to have more children than Chinese ones.

"In the past five years, the local Pakistani community alone has grown by 65 per cent, with most of them being locally born children," Wong said.

Wong said the Pakistani families involved in Unison have an average of four to seven children per family, while Nepalese and Indian families have one to three children per family.

She has long been calling for a Chinese-language curriculum for children for whom it is not their first language.

"The biggest issue is that the government does not count ethnic minority children as part of the Hong Kong community and our society's future," said Wong.

"So even if we pour a lot of money into education, it doesn't go into solving the problems that ethnic minority children have."


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"we should ask Fermi Wong to substantiate her claims with first hand data that shows EM students pass in all other subjects but just fail in Chinese. Then I swear I will agree with her. But in my experience, students pass GCSE Chinese, recognized by universities in HK, quite easily, but they fail mostly in other subjects which makes it difficult for them to go to universities." -- Scholar voice
I firmly disagree with the view that ethnic minority students fail just because of their low proficiency in Chinese language. I come from an ethnic minority community in Hong Kong and have a solid experience of teaching these groups of students for many years. In my experience, it's not just the Chinese language, they are finding the entire learning environment in Hong Kong very difficult. Can Fermi Wong and these so called other rights groups can substantiate their claims with solid data showing the ethnic minority students passing in all other subjects except in Chinese language? Chinese language is one of many other hurdles, but given their overall academic literacy even in English is relatively poor. In addition, there are host of issues ranging from school-family collaboration, economic background, peer influence and teacher expectations. Please stop this ridiculous drama and come to the reality so that people understand the holistic side of these students.
If they are 3-4th generation in hk, shouldn't it be the responsibility of the parents to ensure they are proficient in canto or mandarin ?
Did you ask me what i want ? why you ask Fermi Wong ? Does she knows what I'm feeling ? She doesn't represent my needs. Integration doesn't mean to give up yours. So called activist Fermi Wong wants to cut my head and put her head on to me. Ethnic minority pupils 'being set up to fail' because of CHINESE LANGUAGE Ghost and teachers are not capable to teach in classroom because of English Language proficiency Level in mainstream secondary school.
This all stems from the "mother tongue" attitude of post colonial politicians. If you are not ethnically Chinese, you are supposed to be second class, if you are ethnic Chinese, no matter from what part of the world, there are a host of benefits for you. If you just immigrate from China, you are welcomed with a cash stipend!!
Hong Kong is part of China now and these policies are clearly an indirect way to seek revenge of non-Chinese by pro Beijing politicians and officials.
Do they care they their policies will ultimately harm Hong Kong and diminish its competitiveness? Not in the least.
No of course not. Are you saying that everybody living in Hong Kong should adopt Cantonese or Mandarin as the language they speak at home? It should be possible in Asia's World City to speak whatever a family's native language is at home, attend an EMI (that is: English medium of instruction) school and learn Chinese as a second language there.

We are officially a bilingual city. Outside of the international schools, including at EMI schools, the teaching of English is invariably approached from a second-language angle, without the assumption that students are already well acquainted with it because they speak it at home. And rightly so, because by far most of them are not.

Why is this not the case with Chinese? It is an entirely fair point that there should be CSL (Chinese as a second language) classes for non-native Chinese speaking students in public schools.
Don't expect too much from racist and corrupt SAR departments
No more rights for any body unless only some specific kind of people.
Vvvvvvv sorry for SAR
Going to more and more worse in future because of no any sincere policy maker which was gold bar in past
You will see after shanghai free trade zone how poor they will make to SAR
Eddie Ng can't do anything right. It's a shame that these families, who make up part of HK's social history, will likely be forced to immigrate to find jobs elsewhere.
I wish Fermi the best, and I hope Eddie is replaced with someone selected based on ability rather than...whatever criteria he was picked with.
I completely agree with you. I am a researcher and also secondary school teacher working with ethnic minority students. You are right that their overall academic literacy is weak, and the schools do not address this. Overall, students are being set up to fail in EVERY subject. But this is our system of education. So ethnic minority students are failing in schools right along with their working class Chinese counterparts. Maybe a handful are able to excel, and teachers and schools use this as an excuse to justify not changing their system. The schools I have worked in already have Chinese as second language curricula. It is the view of education and a monocultural approach that does not serve ANY of the students (Chinese or ethnic minority students) that need to change, so that teaching practices may follow suit. Nobody is talking about teachers and schools that don't care, and prefer to call their students and parents "lazy", "unmotivated" or "low-ability". My students and I are doing a presentation at Hong Kong Baptist University next week, and we hope to start changing the narrative that we see in this story.
All very well. There is no panacea, and I am sure this is indeed a complex issue. But wouldn't offering them Chinese-as-a-second-language classes as least be one step in the right direction?



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