Equal Opportunities Commission

City needs to embrace diversity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am

Hong Kong prides itself on being a multicultural society. It is a claim reflected in the number of expatriates in business, academia and the professions. Equal opportunity - the ultimate benchmark of multiculturalism - is not an issue for these people, either as individuals or members of foreign communities. When it comes to resident ethnic minorities, however, our claim to multiculturalism bears closer examination.

Take, for example, our report last week on the Nepali community's struggle to find better jobs and cross the language barrier to integration with mainstream society. Experts and ethnic advocates said continuing official policy failings were aggravating the poverty and isolation of Nepalis and other ethnic minorities, especially South Asians.

Multicultural societies the world over have to be alert to prejudice and discrimination against minorities. The key to economic and social integration is education. It is on this count that Hong Kong is found most wanting. Instead of equal access to high-quality education, such as English-medium primary and secondary schools, local Nepalis and other non-Chinese have largely attended non-Chinese schools designated for them, where they have not had the help in learning Cantonese needed to pass local-standard language examinations. This in turn inhibits their advancement in education or careers.

It is regrettable that this remains the case three years after Hong Kong passed an anti-discrimination law, and nearly a year after the Equal Opportunities Commission sided with Hong Kong Unison, a lobby group for ethnic minorities' rights. Accusing the Education Bureau of having failed to implement the government's integrated-education policy, the commission said it was prepared to use its powers to hold an inquiry or even initiate court action if the bureau did not follow up on its recommendations. These include pre-primary language programmes and a separate curriculum and assessment for non-Chinese speakers. The bureau responded that it would work with the EOC to offer more support to non-Chinese students, but has since maintained that it is doing enough.

A recent report by the EOC that ethnic minority students, excluding Caucasians, comprise 3.2 per cent of pre-primary-school pupils, but only 1.1 per cent of senior secondary students and 0.59 per cent of tertiary education students, shows there is room to do much more. Truly multicultural societies reap dividends of social and economic diversity that enhance competitiveness. Hong Kong does not have large minority communities, but it cannot afford the neglect of human potential that results from educational disadvantage, not to mention the risk to social harmony posed by people who have lost hope.