Losing at the Starting Line?

By Richelia Yeung

In a city that prides herself as Asia’s world city, there are 192,400 ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, in which most of them are from Southeast Asia according to a survey conducted by the Commission on Poverty in 2014.

Born and raised in the city, the educational level of these ethnic minorities are comparatively low comparing to local Chinese. In response to this situation, a group of students volunteer to tutor ethnic minority pupils who need extra help academically.

“Every student deserves an opportunity to receive extra schooling regardless of their race and background,” said Leo Lau Chung-chak, founder of BGIT – Ethnic Minority Tutorial Scheme. “I hope to make some changes and help ethnic minorities to move up the social ladder.”

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Parents tend to put children into tutorial groups to lower the cost of extra tuition. (Photo credits to Leo Lau)

Lau said he believes education is not only about helping students to get into whatever university they want to go. It is about whole person development too. “I don’t solely want to be their teacher. I want to be their mentor in terms of helping them to make choices and explore themselves.”

Officially founded in February this year, the year three English Language and Literature and Education major student at Hong Kong Baptist University said the scheme aims to provide academic help to ethnic minorities students who have financial difficulties seeking private tutors.

“The government has put the emphasis on the services for ethnic minorities these years but there are loopholes in the programmes,” Lau said. “There is a foundation that allows organisations to apply for funding but there are too many restrictions on the requirements, which cannot truly help those in need.”

There are about ten tutors in the programme, ranging from secondary school students to students in tertiary education, all having the ambition to help the ethnic minorities. They are currently tutoring about 40 students from primary school years to senior secondary school years in Hong Kong Children and Youth Services in Belvedere Garden in Tsuen Wan.

 

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Lau believes ethnic minorities deserve better learning environment when they come to HK for education.

 

Lau said the lack of resources for ethnic minority students is one of the main problems they face.

“Families of ethnic minorities usually consist of a huge number,” He explained, “They cannot afford to put more money on education for the kids as they may need it for some other uses like food and necessities.”

As a part time teacher in a secondary school, Lau said he understands how tight the teaching schedule is. The workload of teachers in Hong Kong is really overwhelming because not only do they have to teach, but there are also administrative work and after-class activities to be dealt with.

As a result, the time to cater each student’s need is deprived.

Lau also suggested that there should be changes in the requirements for non-Chinese- speaking students who is taking other Chinese proficiency examinations.

“For HKBU and CityU, as long as the students passed the GCSE Chinese exam, it will be converted into level three in the HKDSE, which doesn’t reflect how well the student performed,” he said. “For some universities, they even said these Chinese requirements will be on a case by case basis,” Lau said it becomes an obstacle for non-Chinese- speaking students to get into universities in Hong Kong.

“If the students are making mistakes in their homework, they will be categorised as the ‘poor students’ and their section will go down,” said an interviewee who wants to remain anonymous when she was explaining the situation in her seven-year- old son’s school.

Coming from a low-income family, she cannot afford to get her children in a direct-subsidies English school.

“My children said schoolwork is difficult because all the classes are taught in Chinese and they cannot catch up,” the mother said.

Originally coming from India and does not speak any Cantonese, she said there is nothing she can do to help with their schoolwork except for hiring a tutor.

“Tuition in Hong Kong is very expensive,” she said.

“When you look at the policy, it looks inclusive. But when you look at the real practice, it is not,” said Dr Paul O’Connor, Visiting Senior Lecturer at Lingnan University when he commented on government’s policies for Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong.

He pointed out that it is hard for non-Chinese in Hong Kong to learn Chinese.

“In Australia, they provide an ELA (English as an Additional Language) programmes for their migrants to help them adapt to society. However in Hong Kong, as long as you are not Chinese-looking faces, you are usually ‘sat on the English table’ away from the local Chinese,” he said.

In his research paper with Julian Groves ‘“Do You Realise this is a Chinese School?”: Hong Kong’s White Parents Pursuing Cantonese Education’, it shows that white parents who sent their children to local Cantonese-speaking schools to learn Chinese always ended up transferring to international schools after a couple of years.

 

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Dr Paul O’Connor points out ethnic minorities students are not going to learn good Cantonese in local school settings.

 

“Part of the reason is the education system; part of it is the inbred racism in Hong Kong.” He explained that there is always a wall between non-Chinese speaking and local Chinese students in schools that separate the two.

The research also pointed out that while white parents who are often wealthy and with professional backgrounds have different options, ethnic minorities usually do not get as many choices of schools that they can send their children to, especially when 51 percent of Pakistanis in Hong Kong is living in poverty.

“The problem most Hongkongers are concern about right now is preserving local Hong Kong identity and culture. These concerns are best explored by embracing ethnic minorities rather than dismissing them,” said the lecturer, who came to Hong Kong fifteen years ago from the UK.

He suggested that the government should operationalise a proper policy for multiculturalism.

 

(Edited by Choco Chan)

 

 

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