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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 10:26am
NewsHong Kong

Ethnic minority children stereotyped and belittled in Hong Kong schools, say parents

Teaching Chinese to ethnic-minority children is not enough, some parents and educators say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 8:44am

Tanya Hart was surprised to learn that her seven-year-old son, Sam, was never asked about his culture and background by teachers at his local school.

And she was in for an even bigger shock when she asked teachers why they did not think Sam’s Korean, Australian and European ancestry was worthy of discussion. She was told the children, most of whom are Chinese, studied “multiculturalism” only in Primary Four.

“But you have all these multicultural kids in your class from Primary One to Primary Six,” she laughs. “So in Primary Four you’re multicultural and in Primary Five you stop again?”

While much of the debate on the education of minority children has focused on their struggle to learn Chinese – the government is to introduce Chinese-language lessons from September – some parents and educators believe language is only part of the problem.

Hart believes many ethnic minority children in Hong Kong feel their cultural background is being ignored, stereotyped or seen as a barrier for integration, when in fact exploring their cultures could enrich the education of all pupils.

Her concerns are shared by many ethnic-minority parents whose children enter the public school system because they choose not to or cannot afford to send them to international or English Schools Foundation schools. She says teachers know little of their non-Chinese pupils’ culture, belittle their languages and can be too keen to stick only to the curriculum and textbooks.

“Why would you buy a book about lives in foreign countries … when you have somebody who knows deeply about another culture?” asks Hart. “Local schools don’t see non-local kids as a resource but as a problem getting in the way of integration.”

Carlos Soto, an English teacher at CMA Choi Cheung Kok Secondary School in Tuen Mun is taking matters into his own hands. Teachers at the school, many of whom are from ethnic minorities, are taking the initiative to teach their cultures.

Until last year, the school was one of 31 “designated schools” to which most non-Chinese-speaking pupils were allocated. While the “designated” label has gone, many pupils are from South and Southeast Asian backgrounds – in many cases their families have lived in the city for generations.

“There’s a problem [among ethnic minority children] of identity,” says Soto, who was born in Honduras and worked with minority children in the United States for a decade before moving to the city in 2009 to study for a doctorate in education.

Mohammad Lafaran Ali, a Pakistani teaching assistant, said many minority children dropped out of classes because they felt teachers did not understand their culture and religion.

Soto says non-Chinese speaking children are often stereotyped in the local curriculum. A guidebook for the Diploma of Secondary Education’s liberal studies exams says ethnic-minority children suffer in Hong Kong and have problems becoming part of the community as they do not know Chinese, he says.

“And that’s it. That’s all you need to know about ethnic minorities, according to this guide,” says Soto.

He believes officials, academics and social workers have endlessly reinforced this stereotype, meaning resources are poured into Chinese teaching instead of designing a curriculum that can identify, appreciate and develop the individual child’s talents.

Soto tries to challenge pupils to think differently. He and like-minded colleagues invite people from different cultural backgrounds to speak to the pupils, take the children on visits in Hong Kong and beyond and to universities. They also watch Bollywood films, read a variety of stories and write their own thoughts.

His pupils, who find other classes boring because their teachers only follow the textbooks, say they love his classes.

Carmen Leung Ka-man, a teacher who works with Soto, said local teachers did care about minority pupils, but often struggled to find a suitable approach to educating them, as they had been taught in a particular way.

Soto sees a need for the kind of multicultural approach used in ESF and international schools in non-elite local schools. And that means recruiting teachers with different training.

“We just want to be able to bring that kind of learning very privileged students can receive in Hong Kong to common schools where poor students can benefit from it,” he says.



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This article is now closed to comments

Maybe if the Post would stop stereotyping children as "local", "ethnic minority" and "expat", you could help overcome this barrier to integration? Any child born in Hong Kong is a local, no matter their skin colour.
As the article says, the families of these ethnic minorities have lived here for generations. They have a right to be considered part of us Hongkongers, If integration is to be successful, then at least they should be given the courtesy of acknowledging their different cultural backgrounds.
I'm Carlos Soto, the teacher in the article. I commend the SCMP for keeping diversity in education in HK in the spotlight. The history of HK is rich with diversity, and studying through different perspectives and understanding various histories can enrich all students. Most parents flocking to international, ESF, and some DSS schools understand this.
I hope everyone understands that the term "non-Speaking Chinese students" is a misnomer. In fact, most "ethnic minority" students of South Asian heritage in Hong Kong speak, read, and write Chinese at varying proficiencies. It might be accurate to say that the minority students at many schools, as a group, have greater proficiency in Chinese than their ethnic Chinese peers at school have in English.
The parents of my students deserve options about the medium of instruction and other language instruction for their children, whether it is English, Putonghua, or Cantonese. Unfortunately, HK schooling increasingly marginalizes poor and working classes, those with special educational needs, children of asylum seekers, and "Newly Arrived Students" from Mainland China. The EDB is now poised to spend $200 million on Chinese Second Language without understanding diversity.
The EDB's latest reforms were done with a mind towards equity and lifelong learning. A blue print for achieving this already exists on paper. Lacking are the will, training, organization, institutions, school cultures, and smart work to create change.
Idiot. Hong Kong has had nearly 20 years to throw off the yoke of the evil British colonialists. Time to start thinking up new excuses for Hong Kong's many failings.
Sorry but Chinese people don t integrate in any countries , this is why you have Chinatown in all major cities around the world, they can't live outside their communities and adapt. They just live in their world and their own confucius cultural bubble.
In hong kong, they don t like foreigners of any kind, i see it everyday , people seem to be always embarrassed to deal with foreigners whether at work or in restaurants/ shops , etc....
i ve been here for 14 years (Im French) and permanent resident but i like it here even if people dont like us.
The difference with Singapore is really striking on a daily basis.
Racism and discrimination or any kind of oppression are bad, but the first 3 paragraphs of this article make it sound like this Tanya Hart is upset that her son is not getting extra special attention.
Great job Carlos!
However, for parents making the choice to come to another country - what the heck do you expect?
You come to another country and you expect the country to change around you, embrace and accept you?
How much effort did you make to integrate? Do you speak the language (either of them!) ?
How pompous and entitled to think a kid in grade 5 (10 yr old?) more intimately knows their supposed 3 different cultures than books written on the subject.
Go to Australia. Outer suburbs. Shadow a poor minority kid there. See just how well they are culturally studied and embraced.
As a visiting resident in Hong Kong I feel privileged to be here. I don't have and would not bring kids here assuming everything should change around them to make them feel like they are back home (in three different cultures!? - show me where that will happen.. Kinder?). Don't forget your kid is there to learn maths, and language.
Even as a white male in management there are struggles every day with communication, transportation and simply buying food.
Laugh it the heck off or go home.
Agreed. All foreigners with kids should move away. Let Hong Kong be one race and culture because why spend money on diversity or try to adapt to someone who comes from somewhere else
Hi *****
I'm the Tanya in the article. I've made quite a big effort to support my kid to learn written and spoken Cantonese and fit into the school culture - literally hundreds of hours. He's very happy there and Chinese is his favourite subject.
I'm not whinging. I'm asking for educators to think critically about their curriculum and not mindlessly follow textbooks.
I'm thrilled that my kids have the opportunity to grow up in a place like HK where they naturally come into contact with people speaking different languages. I have also made (continue to make) an effort to learn Cantonese myself, I love Cantonese but I'm not as successful as Sam.
I am saying that I don't feel that 'integrating' kids is useful for the kids, for their classmates or for the world that they are growing up into. Our [transforming?/chaotic?/unpredictable?] world needs people who are adaptable and understand complexity. If you think that 7 year olds are empty vessels only capable of learning maths and language at school, then I have to disagree.
I don't think our only choices in HK are 'lump it or leave it'. I love HK, I live here, I want it to be as great as it can be.
Cheers, Tanya.
Well, pragmatist's point is that Chinese look down upon those who do not look alike or white. I've lived many a places and racism is shocking extremely apparent in Hong Kong.



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