A Chinese-language programme in Kowloon City designed for ethnic-minority pupils has been expanded to cover kindergarten-age children this year.
The Children and Family Services Centre expanded the programme after tutors found many Primary One children could not understand their teachers due to weak Chinese.
"We realised it was important to lay the roots of Chinese language in ethnic-minority children when they are at the best time for learning languages, or they won't be able to catch up with their study in local schools, where Chinese is an important teaching medium," said Janice Tsang Lok-ting, a social worker at the centre run by the Society for the Protection of Children.
In the kindergarten classes, children, some accompanied by parents, learn the language through playing games, drawing and repeating the pronunciation and strokes of one character many times.
Tsang said the classes also aimed to teach parents so that they could provide home-based support for their children.
Rachna Rani, whose five-year-old daughter is receiving the tutoring, said the child had been enjoying learning the language because the teaching was easy to understand and fun. She is confident her daughter will not have language difficulties when she enters primary school.
"She was born in Hong Kong," said Rani. "If other Hong Kong Chinese kids can pick it up, I can't see why my daughter can't."
Previously the "Learning Together" programme, launched in 2008, had provided after-school tutorial classes in Chinese, English and maths to primary and secondary school pupils in the area, which is popular with South Asian families.
The programme is one of 50 social service projects funded by the Jockey Club's HK$630 million Community Project Grant. As of last year, the programme had received over HK$4.4 million from the fund.
Tsang said many minority pupils had problems in maths and the centre believed it should not focus only on Chinese tutoring. Pupils can choose the subjects in which they want tutoring, based on their weaknesses.
Social workers also take the children on trips to various places in the city where they communicate with Chinese people and are immersed in local culture.
Anse Arif, 15, has been coming to the centre since he was eight. Born in Hong Kong, he often failed in Chinese and maths exams in his first three years in primary school. After receiving tutoring at the centre, his academic performance improved and he went on to a good secondary school.
"Everyone is different," said Arif, whose nine-year-old brother is also at the centre. "Many Chinese students are weak in English and I find maths the most difficult."