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Helping Ethnic Minorities Learn Chinese More Effectively

 

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March is designated by the United Nations to raise public awareness of racial discrimination and champion the common cause of harmony and equality for people of all origins.  Today I went to an event organised by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Caritas Youth and Community Service to celebrate this particular International Day, where I also briefed the participants on the further support provided for ethnic minorities by the current-term Government.

 

Hong Kong is Asia’s world city and embraces cultural diversity.  As at 2011, there were a total of 450 000 ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong, while the population is close to 200 000 after excluding foreign domestic helpers, representing an increase of more than 20% over a stretch of 10 years.  Most of them have already settled well into this city, and some were born and grew up here.  They have all made significant contributions to the development of Hong Kong.

 

In his Manifesto, the Chief Executive proposed to review existing policies to reduce estrangement and help ethnic minorities integrate into the local community by, inter alia, providing support for learning Chinese.  You might have already noticed that portraits of ethnic minorities appear on both covers of the Chief Executive’s first two Policy Addresses.  Also, two of our Executive Council Members are former chairpersons of the Equal Opportunities Commission.  When it comes to the topic of better support for ethnic minorities, we always have dedicated and intense discussions.  After taking up the post of Chief Secretary for Administration, I have also paid a number of visits to the ethnic minorities and their service centres in a bid to understand their needs.  By doing so, I will be able to better assist the Chief Executive in developing appropriate policies to fulfil his election pledges.

 

In the Policy Address delivered in January this year, the Chief Executive proposed a series of new initiatives in education, employment and community outreach under the banner of “Support for Ethnic Minorities” to help ethnic minorities, especially the younger generation and newcomers, integrate into the community more smoothly.  I am delighted to learn that many organisations which have all along worked for the rights and well-being of ethnic minorities (such as the Hong Kong Unison and Oxfam Hong Kong) have shown their support for the initiatives.

 

Chinese is the first language for over 90% of the population in Hong Kong.  For ethnic minorities to integrate into the community, their Chinese language proficiency is crucial.  Just a few days ago, the Special Needs Groups Task Force (Task Force) under the Commission on Poverty (CoP) discussed in depth the initiatives supporting ethnic minorities in learning Chinese as set out in the Policy Address, and commended the efforts of the Education Bureau in that regard.  I am grateful to the Task Force for its generous inputs over the past year or so.  As we are about to celebrate this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I would like to talk about how the Government is going to put the initiatives into effect, and encourage the education sector and ethnic minority parents to give their best possible support and co-operation.

 

There are currently about 15 600 non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students in local public sector schools or schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (8 200 in primary schools and 7 400 in secondary schools).  In the light of the Task Force’s advice, the Education Bureau has formulated the Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework (Learning Framework) to help NCS students, including ethnic minority students, overcome the difficulties in learning Chinese.  Instead of setting a simpler Chinese Language syllabus for NCS students, the Learning Framework aims to enhance learning effectiveness and enable their early bridging over to the mainstream classes.  We believe that suitable support and adequate complementary measures should be in place to ensure NCS students to have equal opportunity as their Chinese-speaking peers to learn Chinese and acquire the equivalent proficiency.  To that end, the Education Bureau has recommended a systematic and intensive learning mode with small steps to help ethnic minority students learn Chinese more effectively.

 

We are fully aware that students are different in terms of academic abilities and needs.  We will therefore continue to provide subsidies for eligible NCS students to acquire other internationally recognised Chinese language qualifications.  We will also provide progressively, starting from the next school year, an Applied Learning (Chinese Language) subject at senior secondary levels.  The standard of the subject will be pegged at Levels 1 to 3 of the Qualifications Framework.  NCS students at senior secondary levels can choose to sit for the HKDSE’s Chinese Language paper or Applied Learning (Chinese Language) paper, and/or acquire other internationally recognised Chinese language qualifications for articulation with multiple pathways.  NCS school leavers may also take advantage of the Vocational Chinese Language courses being developed.

 

We will enhance the complementary measures for implementing the Learning Framework.  For teachers, the Education Bureau will launch a Professional Enhancement Grant Scheme to enable them to obtain relevant qualifications for teaching Chinese as a second language.  More training courses, workshops and experience sharing opportunities on teaching Chinese as a second language will also be provided to enhance their professional capability and teaching effectiveness.

 

We will provide schools with an additional recurrent funding of around $200 million.  With the abolition of the so-called “designated schools” funding mode in the current school year, additional recurrent funding is now provided to all schools admitting 10 or more NCS students.  More funding will be made available in the coming school year for schools to implement the Learning Framework and set appropriate learning targets and teaching strategies for NCS students with different paces of learning, and to build an inclusive school environment and enhance communication with ethnic minority parents with a view to encouraging NCS students to learn Chinese.  We will also provide diversified professional support for schools.  Furthermore, the schools may flexibly deploy resources to help NCS students learn Chinese in classes and/or after school.  In addition, we are planning for the provision of additional recurrent funding for special schools admitting six or more NCS students having regard to their specific circumstances.

 

As for schools admitting only nine or fewer NCS students (or special schools admitting less than six NCS students), they may apply to the Education Bureau for the necessary funding for providing diversified after-school support in learning Chinese.

 

The Education Bureau will invite experts to devise a study framework for assessing the effectiveness of the support measures for NCS students and examining the quality and efficacy of the support service with a view to improving the measures from time to time.

 

The success of the above measures hinges on the leadership of principals, professionalism of teachers and active co-operation of parents.  The CoP will continue to follow up on the work of the relevant policy bureaux.  At the same time, I would be happy to see organisations working for the well-being of ethnic minorities take on the monitoring role and help ensure effective implementation of the initiatives.

 

Let’s join hands to give ethnic minorities better support for their integration into the community.



Mrs Carrie LAM
Chairperson of the Commission on Poverty

16 March 2014