Lawmakers yesterday urged the government to cater for the needs of ethnic minority students, noting that a failure to do so had scuttled the group's competitiveness. The appeal was made by the education panel after representations by 16 non-governmental organisations, complaining of problems ranging from a lack of support in Chinese learning to the long travelling distances to schools under the central allocation system. Yuen Long was singled out as a district with a particular lack of suitable places, despite a relatively large ethnic minority population. Cheung Man-kwong, representing the education profession, agreed that an easier version of the Chinese-language HKCEE qualification should be designed for ethnic minority students. 'If you ask them [ethnic minority students] to have the same standard as native Chinese students, they just cannot compete,' he said. Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said the centralised approach was more cost effective, saying there were just 400 to 500 ethnic minority students in each year, out of a total of around 60,000. On the call for an alternative curriculum for non-native speakers along the lines of the syllabus B for English in the HKCEE, Ms Law questioned the value of this, saying the two-tier system for English was going to be phased out in 2007. 'A curriculum is not something you can create overnight,' she said.