Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities can improve Chinese-language skills with holistic approach

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 10:07pm

Without a language-rich environment at home, non-Chinese-speaking children find it hard to pick up Chinese until they receive formal schooling.

If they enrol in mainstream schools, they can master the spoken form of Chinese (Cantonese) without much difficulty, being surrounded by peers who speak it. However, their Chinese reading and writing skills remain poor, due to the nature of Chinese acquisition, during which one has to master not only the confusing characters, but very complex sentence patterns.

If non-Chinese-speaking students take the new senior secondary curriculum, they will have to get a level three for Chinese in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) to meet the minimum requirement for university entrance. That is a formidable task even for many local students.

Some non-Chinese-speaking pupils may be fluent in English, but struggle with subjects taught in Chinese. These students might worry that their sub-par Chinese skills could jeopardise their chances of university admission.

I would suggest three ways to help such students. One, in the long run, there should be an internationally accredited assessment similar to the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) that students could take to meet the HKDSE Chinese requirement. That way, non-Chinese-speaking pupils would not feel so desperate when asked to meet the Chinese standard for university admission.

Two, more degree programmes on “teaching Chinese as a second language” should be offered, training teachers to become specialised in helping students from the ethnic minorities to learn Chinese. Curriculum catering at the school level is essential and, by working together, these expert teachers can adapt the curriculum and teaching materials to meet the needs of non-Chinese-speaking pupils.

Three, more resources should be allocated to schools which admit such pupils, so that pull-out and remedial programmes are organised to help them catch up with the Chinese curriculum. Individual and small-group teaching allow teachers to offer better guidance to pupils who struggle with Chinese.

Holistic changes rather than piecemeal adaptations should be introduced to the assessment, curriculum design, pedagogy and teacher training to help non-Chinese-speaking students.

Chinese is a major roadblock to tertiary education and career prospects for ethnic minorities. To empower them to succeed can solve many other social problems arising from a lack of upward mobility.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai