• Sun
  • Sep 21, 2014
  • Updated: 5:59pm
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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Hello I am from Bangladesh! I come to Hong Kong for free education and healthcare, I demand the schools to have the curriculum in Bangladeshi and have daily hour sessions where we talk about Bangladesh and about Bangladeshi culture, Chinese are intolerant and racist if they don't do this. Although I'm in China I think introducing them about Bangladesh and only associating with Chinese under a Bangladeshi paradigm is not only beneficial, but a right. Everyone else is the problem, not me. Your rights end where my feelings begin.
They only want you for making cheap shirts and if there is a fire good luck
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.
And it will continue for decades. Sorry but they long for the day when we are all gone or dead
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.
Quite a contradiction in your reasoning when Singapore is very much a meritocratic (Confucius) society. In the past Chinese people ventured to many countries and endured prejudice and targeted exclusionary policies. These days Chinatown where I am is where many seniors live and people obtain cultural resources, join in Chinese culture, food, etc. It may be true there are larger concentrations of Chinese in some areas (apart from Chinatown) than others, but the same is true of Anglos, South Asians, Koreans, etc.
This is more like French Guiana than a city. All's I need is Dustin Hoffman a garden and a rubber raft made up of BMW tires to jump onto in Repulse Bay and hopefully the tides will carry me to Singapore unless of course by then China invades it and claims it as it's territory....
(((Tanya Hart was surprised to learn that her seven-year-old son, Sam, was never asked about his culture and background by teachers)))... Hihihi, u are a very fool parent that i ever have read, u kid is only 7 year old, is u job to tell him why u came in HK living, not the school, 2e) basis-school are for the learning of native language, calculate, basic stuff, so HK-school give HK-language! NL give NL- language on basisschool, oke! Not strange! For integration, yes, i have now two cultuur in my life, 1 is chinese and 1 is Holland, No problem to living here or there! Maybe u as parent, tell u kid more about culture difference, it's u job to give u kid a good grow-up! Not school! But, if the teacher are giving bad lesson or corrupt, discrimination, yes u can complain by director of school! Secondaire school: has curriculum, one of this is the class in social science lesson, about culture, if u kid don't choose this in exam, don't blame the school, is u or u kid choosing for this exams, not school! I see, u are not integration in HK, but why u still living in HK/working? If u are not satisfied? Learn allochthon, like me, how to teach u kid be well,how they can follow both culture, speak both language,1 in home, 1 in out home! Fool-allochthon! (((English teacher Carlos Soto is going beyond Chinese-language lessons at CMA Choi Cheung Kok Secondary School in Tuen Mun))) I not great if my kid follow u lesson teacher Carlos, cause u mind are for me under level! Freedom of speech...
lindy.lam: not sure why you read an English language newspaper, but I hope it is to improve your English language skills...
I speak English very well, I learnt it from a booook...




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