Assisting students of ethnic minority background to adapt to the mainstream education system has been a standing government policy. But the measures put in place are often seen as either half-hearted or counterproductive to the objective. The outcome still leaves a lot to be desired. So when Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged in his policy address to strengthen Chinese learning support for them early this year, hopes of a positive change were high. Last week, Leung made good on his promise with two new courses tailor-made for ethnic minorities - Chinese for the service industry and practical Chinese in hospitality jobs. Officials say the qualification, to be recognised by the government, universities, and some employment bodies, will help ethnic minority students find jobs or further study. The two applied courses at higher secondary school are to be welcome in that students do not have to compete with native Chinese speakers in the more difficult curriculum under the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination. The emphasis on hospitality and service industries can also better equip students in their future careers. But critics argue that the offer of non-mainstream courses is against the spirit of integration, adding that ethnic minority students are being coached to do low-level service jobs. Ideally, integrated education should avoid differentiation. But the problem is that many ethnic minority students, while being conversant in Cantonese, do not read and write as well as their local counterparts. They will be at a disadvantage when placed in the standard curriculum. Like it or not, Chinese is the first language for over 90 per cent of the city's population. For ethnic minorities to integrate into the community, proficiency in the language is of paramount importance. Unless the gap can be closed at an early stage, competitiveness remains an issue. Better efforts are needed to help ethnic minority students to integrate into the mainstream education system at an early stage.