Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong
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Researchers said the government should increase funding to schools with a small intake of non-Chinese-speaking pupils. Photo: SCMP

Hong Kong schools struggling to teach Chinese to ethnic minority students, sparking calls for more government funding to tackle problem

  • Only about 38 per cent of teachers say they are confident in teaching the subject to non-Chinese-speakers, survey finds
  • Most primary school principals report having difficulty in employing staff with relevant skills to teach Chinese as a second language

Three in five teachers are not confident in teaching Chinese to ethnic minority students, a survey has found, sparking calls for schools to be given more support.

The poll, commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), also showed that 93 per cent of primary school principals said they had difficulty in employing staff with relevant skills to teach Chinese as a second language.

The survey results were released on Monday ahead of the government’s budget next month. In the policy address last year, the government proposed allocating more money to schools with an intake of fewer than 10 non-Chinese speaking students, from HK$50,000 (US$6,410) annually per school to up to HK$300,000.

But the University of Hong Kong scholars and Oxfam researchers who conducted the survey said the support measures were not enough, and that the government should further increase funding to schools and consider setting up a coordinator position to centralise support for non-Chinese-speaking pupils.

Elizabeth Loh said the proportion of teachers with relevant training was low. Photo: Chan Ho-him

The poll, conducted between February and June last year, collected responses from 121 primary school principals and 1,230 teachers. It covered more than 40 per cent of primary schools with non-Chinese-speaking students. There were nearly 10,000 non-Chinese-speaking students studying at local primary schools in the 2018-19 year.

Only about 38 per cent of teachers said they were confident in teaching the Chinese-language subject to non-Chinese-speakers to reach a level close to that of native speakers.

More than 85 per cent also said they had “greater difficulties” in ensuring non-Chinese-speaking pupils kept up and achieved the goals of the mainstream curriculum.

For subjects other than Chinese language, 54 per cent of teachers said they were confident in teaching ethnic minority students to attain a level comparable with that of Chinese students.

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Elizabeth Loh Ka-yee, assistant professor of the faculty of education at HKU, said teachers of non-Chinese-speaking students could currently either receive voluntary training from the Education Bureau or pursue a relevant master’s degree.

“From what we know, the proportion of teachers who have gone through relevant professional training is still low, especially for teachers at schools with only a few non-Chinese-speaking students because they might not feel the necessity,” she said.

Kalina Tsang Ka-wai, director of Oxfam’s Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan programme, suggested the bureau establish a professional development model which required teachers of non-Chinese-speaking pupils to complete mandatory basic and advanced training.

“The teaching methods for Chinese-speaking students and non-Chinese-speaking ones are rather different. Teachers who have completed relevant training courses can be equipped with more efficient ways to teach students,” Tsang said.

(From left) HKU doctoral fellow Cathy Hung On-ying, Elizabeth Loh, Kalina Tsang and Ferrick Chu. Photo: Chan Ho-him

She said more non-Chinese-speaking children should attend local kindergartens as most principals reflected that those pupils who did not do so encountered the greatest difficulty in adapting to the mainstream curriculum.

Ferrick Chu Chung-man, the EOC’s acting chief operations officer, said the commission had been pushing the government to do more for non-Chinese-speaking pupils but admitted it took time for policies to be realised, adding that the survey results were submitted to the bureau last week.

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Wilson Tang Lit-man, principal of Shek Lei Catholic Primary School in Kwai Chung, said they encouraged their teachers to take training courses and integrated their 17 ethnic minority students with their Chinese classmates so they could have more chance to interact with each other.

“The [exam] results have shown that non-Chinese-speaking students in class might not score the lowest among all students,” Tang said.

The bureau said it would review policies supporting non-Chinese-speaking students by making reference to the EOC report.