Ethnic minority students face great difficulties to attain further education

The number of ethnic minority students not able to reach higher education is alarmingly high

A high number of ethnic minority students failing to attain higher education is proving to be a cause of concern for the educational sector. In a city where almost 95 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese, it is easy to leave out some of the minority groups that make up the rest of Hong Kong, and they are mostly from Asia such as India, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines.

The latest figures show that only one per cent of minority students are able to reach post-secondary education and organizations such as Hong Kong Unison, are urging the government to reform the education policy. They are also asking the government to eliminate what they consider "unfair treatments", hindering minority students in their pursuit of higher education and employment.

"The first challenge is the lack of schools," said Mr Mark Li Kin-yin, chairman of the Hong Kong Island branch for the Democratic Party. "Only a handful of schools would admit South Asian students."

Hong Kong, owing to its British colonial past, once had English as the official language. But that was only until the 1997 handover and Chinese has since become the dominant language.

At that time, with the implementation of Education and Manpower Bureau's mother-tongue teaching policy, 307 secondary schools were required to transfer from the English medium of instruction (EMI) to the Chinese medium of instruction (CMI).

However, this policy cost many minority students their places in CMI schools due to their lack of Chinese proficiency.

According to the figure released in 2011 by the Equal Opportunity Commission, the enrolment of minority students in non-designated schools has shrunk by more than half for primary and secondary schools because, according to Mr Li, many institutions are simply unwilling to accept them. The figures now stand at 5,500 and 2,000 students respectively.

Mr Li added that some minority students have to wait for two years before getting a place and as a result, may be forced to mix with younger students, which could be an insult for some.

In response to the problem, the government has increased the number of designated schools, which receives additional funding and resources from the government to help minority students, from four to 28. Yet the policy is widely criticised for further segregating students as these schools have limited Chinese language support.

Chinese has long been a problem for minority students as they could not understand the language and catch up with the school's curriculum. It is one of the major obstacles in their pursuit of higher education.

Miss Geraldine D. Mendoza, a 19-year-old Hong Kong-born Filipino, studying in Sacred Heart Canossian College, is one such student.

"There were struggles in the first two years," Miss Mendoza said. "My classmates bullied me because of my poor Chinese."

"There was a classmate of mine who could not understand a single word of Chinese," she said. "Then she could not bear the pressure and eventually quit school."

The language difficulty for minority students is detrimental to their academic prospects since Chinese proficiency is weighted heavily under the current education system.

Acknowledging the problem minority students face, there have been calls from concern groups such as Hong Kong Unison to completely overhaul Hong Kong's educational structure and curriculum so as to enable these students to compete on an equal footing.

"The traditional method focusing on examinations and memorisation are not catered for the South Asian students," Mr Li said. "The curriculum must be carefully designed with a focus more on individual coaching as well as a thematic basis."

 

Reported by Catherine Lim  

Edited by Jim Wong

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