The 229,600 Hong Kong children being left behind because they are too poor to learn and play with others
For families below the poverty line extracurricular activities are a luxury they can ill-afford, even if that means a child’s future is put in doubt
Nine-year-old Alice Yeung Nga-ching picked up competitive rope skipping three years ago. She joined the school team, won trophies, and then the fun stopped.
Alice started Primary Four last year, and the skipping rope lessons she needed were just too expensive for her impoverished, single-parent family.
“Lessons at school are free in Primary One and Two, but after Primary Three it is HK$80 per class for a 10-lesson course,” Han Chun-mei, Alice’s mother, said.
“She’s my only child and she’s all I’ve got. I really want her to be able to do something that makes her happy, but there’s just no way we can afford it now.”
Han and Alice live together in a tiny subdivided flat in Mong Kok. Rent eats into about two-thirds of what they have to spend from their monthly HK$4,800 Comprehensive Social Security Assistance payment. Han is not a permanent resident and does not have an income.
For Alice, and 229,600 other children in Hong Kong who live under the poverty line, extracurricular pursuits are becoming an inaccessible luxury.
A new survey conducted by the non-profit Society for Community Organisation, published on Sunday, found 60 per cent of children from such households unable to take part in any extracurricular activity due to financial constraints.
For the few who do participate, an average of HK$725 is spent on courses – music, art and sport being the most popular – or roughly 6.8 per cent of the average median household income.
“For every HK$100 these families get, HK$6 would go to extracurricular activity. It might not sound like a lot, but it adds up,” said Wong Chi-yuen, the society’s community organiser.
The poll, carried out on 157 children aged 3 to 18 from low-income families, also found half did not take part in after-school tutoring or homework support classes, for similar reasons.
Those that did, spent an average of HK$819, or 7.7 per cent of their average median income, mostly for English lessons.
Community organiser Sze Lai-shan said a lack of access to tutoring and extracurricular activity could curb learning and development, reducing a child’s future social mobility.
“Education is a very important stepping stone out of poverty,” she said. “Extracurricular activities are also good for a child’s well-being and all-rounded development. It also lets them learn another skill.”
Sze said educational inadequacies at such an age exacerbated inequality, and this was seen in disparity in university admissions.
According to a 2013 Education University study, admission rates to Hong Kong’s universities were roughly the same among the children of poor and wealthy families in 1991 – 8 per cent compared to 9.3 per cent. By 2011, the disparity had grown fourfold to 13 per cent and 48 per cent.
The group urged the government to provide more financial assistance to impoverished families, such as cash vouchers to take part in extracurricular activities, and to increase the quota for free programmes.
“I do hope schools could provide more after-school programmes and free homework support classes,” said Han.
As for her daughter, skipping has been reduced to a hobby. Instead of training with her friends, she can sometimes be seen skipping alone in a Mong Kok park.