My Take

Teaching Chinese properly is the key to helping ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 2:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 2:11am

Call me naive but there is a straightforward way to help ethnic minorities to mitigate the discrimination they face in society: teach their children the Chinese language properly and expect them to graduate from secondary school instead of dropping out.

This is the most important mission of education for these students, so they can function successfully in our economy. It is simply good economics.

Our labour force made up of predominantly ethnic Chinese is shrinking because our society is ageing fast.

But there is a "youth bulge" among ethnic minorities. They make up 6.4 per cent of the Hong Kong population, according to the 2011 census. A whopping 40 per cent of the local Pakistani population and 20 per cent of Indian and Nepalese are under 15 years old, compared with just 12 per cent of ethnic Chinese.

As pointed out in a letter to the Post yesterday, many who learn Chinese do so as a third, fourth or even fifth language. Yet, there are no standards or benchmarks for public schools to make sure students learn the language properly.

Many were previously called "designated schools" for minorities. But, while that label was abolished two years ago, the segregation system is intact and the integration of minorities into mainstream schools has been woefully inadequate.

As a result, many graduated from secondary school with their Chinese-language proficiency at lower primary levels. This is assuming they graduate. The dropout rates at secondary school level for Pakistani and Nepalese students were 15.6 per cent and 20.6 per cent respectively in 2011, compared with 6.4 per cent for Chinese students. More than half of the local Pakistani population lived in poverty in 2011, compared to 27 per cent in 2001, while the poverty rate among Nepalese rose from 4 per cent to 16 per cent over the same period.

A youth bulge, coupled with pervasive poverty, is a recipe for social instability and high crime. Far from ignoring or considering them as a threat, minorities should be seen as valuable human resources. There is as yet no sure path to lifting people out of poverty other than through sustained long-term education. But first we must knock down barriers, beginning with their language skills, to make sure they can compete on a more level playing field.