UN committee tells Hong Kong to show proof that education policy is helping ethnic minority children integrate into society
Panel asks government to show how its schemes have helped ethnic minority pupils, who struggle to learn Chinese and integrate into society
A United Nations committee has asked the Hong Kong government to show proof that its education policies have helped ethnic minority pupils integrate into society, instead of causing “social marginalisation and segregation”.
The question was raised on Monday when Hong Kong officials, part of a Chinese delegation in Geneva, Switzerland, met with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that is made up of international human rights experts.
Committee member Verene Shepherd asked how the government planned to “accelerate the teaching of Chinese in Hong Kong, so then non-Chinese speaking students can be integrated to avoid social marginalisation and segregation”.
During a three-hour hearing mostly about Xinjiang and Tibet, Hong Kong’s Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Andy Chan Shui-fu did not respond in great detail but referred Shepherd to the government’s written reply, which said it had instituted a new Chinese teaching framework four years ago, and given between HK$800,000 (US$102,000) and HK$1.5 million (US$191,000) per year to schools, depending on the number of non-Chinese-speaking pupils they have.
This is part of two funding schemes for schools to better teach Chinese to ethnic minority pupils, who struggle with the language, affecting their ability to pursue tertiary education and jobs in the city.
The claim of racial segregation was “groundless and unfair”, the government argued. Two-thirds of the city’s public schools have pupils for whom Chinese is not their first language, it said, though it did not provide further details.
But Shepherd, a special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, noted: “Articulating and writing policies – that’s one thing. Monitoring the impact of it is another thing.”
She continued: “Limited guidance has been provided to school on pedagogical principles, and teachers are not required to train professionally before teaching Chinese as a second language – so the framework [on Chinese learning] lacks accountability to parents.”
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with members of ethnic minorities in the city have long complained that schools are not equipped to teach Chinese as a second language, with teachers still basing lessons and exam papers on the mainstream curriculum.
The advocacy group Unison also warned of the “de facto segregation” of ethnic minority students from mainstream schools. It said that 60 per cent of ethnic minority students were clustered in 30 primary or secondary schools, out of 870 local schools.
On Monday, the government said that some schools may have more of such pupils since they might be located in areas preferred by ethnic minority families. It also cited parents’ tendency to arrange their young children to study in the same school with their siblings.
Unison’s director Phyllis Cheung Fung-mei, who attended the meeting in Geneva, said no evaluation had been conducted on the new language framework.
“The government says the new language policy needs time to take root. How many generations does the ethnic minority community have to wait for an appropriate language policy?” she asked.
In assessing how Hong Kong has enacted provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UN committee also asked why the government had not taken into accounts its requests from 2009, during the last reporting period.
Then, it urged Hong Kong to increase the autonomy of its Equal Opportunities Commission by not having its chairman appointed by the government.
Other specific concerns included urging Hong Kong to update its Racial Discrimination Ordinance to cover the actions of civil servants and protect residents against discrimination due to nationality and immigration status. It also asked for migrant domestic workers to be allowed to live apart from employers.
Chan merely said that the equality watchdog was an independent statutory body and “largely followed” international human right principles. Committee member Nicolás Marugán responded by saying it was disappointing that “there is no moving forward” on the issue.
As to the other requests, Chan was non-committal and said that the government would “consider how to follow up at a later stage”.
Eleven Hong Kong NGOs whose representatives attended the session issued a statement saying they regretted that the government had refused to implement the recommendations.