My mother is now working part-time in a primary school, helping ethnic minorities with their homework. Not for the first time, she says that these kids are struggling under the Hong Kong education system.
Take a six-year-old Pakistani girl at the school as an example. She only knows Urdu, meaning she can’t speak Cantonese, let alone write simple Chinese characters or even count in the language.
There are 100,000 people from ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, mostly of South Asian descent. According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report on Ethnic Minorities 2014, 27,000 of them live under the poverty line.
In a Chinese-dominated society like Hong Kong, reading and writing the native language is essential. Minorities must get good grades in Chinese if they want to get into university and, ultimately, get a good job. I’m not being pessimistic when I say even local students like me, whose mother tongue is Chinese, have struggled to get a passing grade in the public exam on the subject. So how can ethnic minorities cope?
And that’s when the vicious circle kicks in. The parents of the minority students at the school where my mother works mostly have limited education and low-income jobs. If their kids cannot get ahead, they will end up doing poorly paid jobs, just like their parents. The result: poverty across generations.
That’s why integrated education is the best way forward. It can help minority students master Chinese by giving them extra tuition and teaching materials, like those my mother is offering now.
Even though the government spends more than HK$200 million on integrated education each year, it’s still not enough.
Unfortunately, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has other uses for public money. One of them is a scholarship scheme to attract foreign students from countries that are part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure plan. Leung would rather give money to them than increase subsidies for integrated education, which could help 1,500 minority families already in Hong Kong climb out of poverty.
Leung should think about the saying “the children of today are the future of tomorrow”. The minority students that benefit now from integrated education may make a huge contribution to Hong Kong years down the road.