Can do better: Internationalism at university failing ethnic minorities

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 5:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 5:22pm

There can be no doubt about the chief executive’s fervour for the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

The HK$1 billion injection announced in his policy address, to attract students from “One Belt, One Road” countries to study in Hong Kong has already sparked much debate, especially on whether taxpayers’ money is being used appropriately.

I am concerned about whether the goal to help “enhance cultural exchanges”, as envisioned by the secretary for education, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in his reply to the Legislative Council on February 3, can be achieved, in view of the current difficulties of integration for local ethnic minorities.

During a recent education-related conference organised by Hong Kong Unison and the Centre for Comparative and Public Law (University of Hong Kong), an ethnic minority student born and raised here shared his experience of studying in a local university. Coming from a former “designated school” mostly with ethnic minority students, he thought he would have more opportunities to interact with local Chinese students once he entered university and would know more about Hong Kong’s mainstream culture.

However, most of his friends now are international students instead of local Chinese students; exchanges seem to be limited to this group of non-Chinese speakers. This situation is not uncommon among local ethnic minorities in post-secondary programmes. De facto racial segregation in Hong Kong’s education system plays a major role in the failure of integration.

From kindergartens to secondary schools, most mainstream Hong Kong schools and curriculums lack the elements of diversity and inclusion.

Many local Chinese students do not have the chance to study with people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds during the most important point of their social development; hence their sensitivity to different cultures is not high. A multicultural learning environment should be cultivated at a young age to ensure individual differences are recognised and celebrated, accepted and respected in the long run.

It is regrettable that Mr Ng sees internationalism as the only way to diversify Hong Kong’s higher education sector when our home-grown ethnic minorities have been an integral part of Hong Kong’s culture and history, much earlier than the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

The government ought to do a better job in its diversity and inclusion policies. Perhaps then we can talk about the scholarship students as cultural ambassadors for Hong Kong.

Phyllis Cheung, executive director, Hong Kong Unison