‘Hong Kong's ethnic minority students deserve a fair chance in life’
Few are happy with education in Hong Kong. Local parents complain about mainlanders competing for places in kindergartens, while expatriates worry about rising fees in international schools. But a third group of children have it worse: ethnic minorities.
For many in Hong Kong, ethnic minority kids are off the radar. This lack of interest does not reflect well on our attitudes towards wealth, social status and skin color. But this is an issue of social fairness as well as one of economic common sense.
Who are Hong Kong's "ethnic minority" students? Essentially, they are the 2-3 per cent of children whose native language is not Chinese and who rely on free, public-sector schooling. The term does not include, say, mixed children who are fluent in Chinese, as they can handle the Chinese curriculum in local schools. Nor does it include most white or Japanese children, whose parents can manage fees for international schools.
In practice, the term usually means children of South or Southeast Asian origin especially those from poorer families. They are not brought up as native Chinese speakers, so they are behind native-speaking kids in this core subject right from kindergarten. Literacy in Chinese requires intensive learning of thousands of characters, right into teenage years. With no real chance of keeping up with native speakers from the very start, many ethnic minority students just fall further behind. By the time they reach Form
Five, many have achieved only Primary Three level in written Chinese.
Most can forget about entering local university, or qualifying for many decent-paying careers. Many boys end up doing manual work, and the girls take jobs like waitressing.
But, you may ask, can't they speak good English? And don't many Westerners get good jobs here without reading and writing Chinese? Some ethnic minority school-leavers do have excellent