The Chinese Learning Framework for the Desegregation of Ethnic Minority Students in Hong Kong

 By Lana Miskulin

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background: School Segregation in Hong Kong

3. The ‘Chinese as a Second Language Learning Framework’ as a Solution

3.1. Support Measures for Schools and Teachers

3.2. Support Measures for Students and Parents

4. Future Plans

5. Recommendations

6. Conclusion

7. References

8. Key Terms and Definitions

9. About the Author

1. Introduction

Sustainable Development Goal 10 of the United Nation’s2030 Agenda aims to reduce inequality within and among countries and one of its main targets is to ‘empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status,’ by 2030 (United Nations, 2017). It is, therefore, important for countries to analyze the issues that lead to discrimination in their settings and identify ways toward inclusive development in an appropriate manner. 

Around 6.4% of the Hong Kong population are ethnic minorities (Hong Kong 2011 Population Census Thematic Report: Ethnic Minorities, 2013), a large number being persons of school-going age who often face many restrictions in succeeding academically. One such restriction is the inability for non-Chinese speaking students (NCS) to adjust to the Hong Kong education system due to the language barrier which leads to school segregation (Kapai, 2015; Zhou, Cai, and Wang, 2016). 

The Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) has set out to eliminate school segregation by introducing The Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Concerned Learning Frameworkwhich has been designed and implemented in primary and secondary schools as a way to ‘enabl[e] [non-Chinese speaking students to bridge over to mainstream Chinese Language classes’ (EDB, 2017). This entry discusses this framework to desegregate and integrate ethnic minorities in mainstream Hong Kong schools.

2. Background: School Segregation in Hong Kong

The term ‘ethnic minorities’ refers to persons who reported themselves being of non-Chinese ethnicity. Theyare shown in the Population Census sorted by ethnicity and presented in descending order of their sizes in 2011.

According to the Population Census (2011), among the ethnic minorities aged 5 and over, 44.2%  reported that English was the language most commonly spoken at home. English is followed by Cantonese (31.7%), Filipino (3.7%), Indonesian (3.6%), Japanese (2.2%), Putonghua (1.0%), and other Chinese dialects (other than Cantonese and Putonghua) (0.3%).

Based on these numbers, it is clear that more than half of the ethnic minority population did not speak Chinese (Cantonese) at home. This became a particular problem after the handover of Hong Kong to China when many schools in Hong Kong switched the medium of instruction from English to Chinese (Kapai, 2015; Law and Lee, 2012). After, NCS children of primary and secondary school age would often get placed in ‘designated schools’ that were set by the Education Bureau to focus on teaching minority students (Kapai, 2015; Law and Lee, 2012). Parents with better financial status would enroll their children into private schools with English as the medium of instruction or international schools which often do not prepare students for a future in Hong Kong due to their international curriculum (Groves and O'Connor, 2017). This led to school segregation, with Hong Kong Chinese and ethnic minorities studying separately in different schools and within different curricula.

The segregation of schooling of minorities from the majority has had a strong impact on development. The gap has led to discrimination and prejudice against minorities and deprived the Hong Kong community of the opportunity to function as a whole. For sustainable and inclusive development in Hong Kong changes needed to be made in education of ethnic minorities. The best way of achieving this has been by eliminating segregation, which would allow NCS students to be integrated into the local community and would provide local students with the opportunity to learn about cultures other than their own for understanding and peace between the communities.

The Hong Kong government has made progress towards school desegregation and integration of NCS students into public schools. A notable change was the removal of the label ‘designated schools’ in the school year 2013/2014 (Kapai, 2015). However, the schools that were ‘designated schools’ still had ethnic minority students as the majority of their school population. The removal of the label was a good start towards desegregation, although it also showed the need for further action towards integration. NCS students’ low level of Chinese  was identified as the biggest obstacle for their enrolment into public schools (EDB, 2008). To respond to this problem, in 2014/2015 the Hong Kong government implemented the ‘Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Concerned Learning Framework.’

3. The ‘Chinese as a Second LanguageLearning Framework’ as a Solution

The framework aims to integrate NCS students into the mainstream education by creating a curriculum with Chinese as second language learning. This allows NCS students to participate in the same classes with Chinese-speaking students and learn to become independent in local mainstream classes. As such, this framework has been a step forward for Hong Kong and beneficial for ethnic minority students, their parents, and teachers.

Gao’s study on the identity of Chinese language teachers’ teaching South Asian students in Hong Kong shows mostly positive findings , with language teachers feeling successful when teaching NCS students and excited to learn about their students’ culture, religion, and customs (Gao, 2012). Ku, Chan, and Sandhu’s research report (as cited in Kapai, 2015) gives data from the students’ perspectives on their Chinese language teachers. The responses are generally positive on the matter of schools respecting their religious and cultural practices, although there are still issues with teachers’ attitudes towards ethnic minority students. As Figure 1 shows, for example, 30% of ethnic minority students feel that their teachers dislike teaching them and 31% feel that the teachers care more about their Chinese students.

Figure 1.  Students’ perception of teachers’ attitudes towards them (Ku, Chan & Sandhu, 2005, extracted from Kapai, 2015).

Figure 1. Students’ perception of teachers’ attitudes towards them (Ku, Chan & Sandhu, 2005, extracted from Kapai, 2015).

Nevertheless, these findings show that good foundations for the framework do exist; however, there is a need for careful monitoring of progress and for more focused teacher and student education about diversity and multiculturalism.

3.1. Support Measures for Schools and Teachers 

With the framework, the government aims to further education and training for Chinese teachers in methods of teaching Chinese as a second language. This training is provided through seminars and workshops for professional development and adjustment of the existing curricula to the NCS students’ needs (EDB, 2014, 2016). Schools are not allowed to adopt a Chinese Language curriculum with pre-set simpler contents and lower standards for their NCS students, which may be slightly over-restrictive and make the Chinese language learning less accessible to them (Kapai, 2015). 

Each school is eligible for financial support as long as it admits 10 or more NCS students or 6 or more for special schools that do not offer the ordinary school curriculum. The funding provided is to be used strictly for the NCS students and their integration into the local system. However, there have been reports of lack of an efficient system to monitor the use of funds which is affecting the equality of opportunities provided to ethnic minorities (Kapai, 2015).

3.2. Support Measures for Students and Parents

The framework aims to prepare NCS students to sit the examinations to attain the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) in the Chinese Language. This diploma enables them to continue their studies and professional development. An alternative is the Applied Chinese Learning course, offered in senior levels of secondary education, which aims to provide NCS students with practical Chinese for daily life and employment and is recognized as “Attained” and “Attained with Distinction” in the HKDSE. 

As for primary school levels, the NCS students can join the 4-week Summer Measures Bridging Program introduced in summer 2007. It has since been extended from enrolling incoming NCS Primary 1 entrants to also accepting NCS students proceeding to Primary 2, 3, and 4. It aims to help NCS students adapt to the new learning environment and expose them to using Chinese as the medium of instruction within a real classroom setting. Since 2013, parents of NCS students have been able to accompany their children which is a necessary action as parents of NCS students lack knowledge about the mainstream education system (Kapai, 2015; Zhou, Cai, and Wang, 2016)

4. Future Plans

Future plans for the framework include expanding it to kindergarten. So far, the enrolment in most kindergartens has been through interviews conducted with the child and the parents in Chinese. While student admission in kindergartens continues to be the same, the EDB has provided bilingual templates of the application forms and relevant information in Chinese and English. Also, the Free Quality Kindergarten Education Policy, which gives grants comparable to the salary of one teacher to kindergartens admitting eight or more NCS students, has been implemented since 2017/2018.

There are also plans for secondary level NCS students. For those taking the HKDSE (Chinese Language), the University Grants Committee-funded institutions may consider applications case by case to provide flexibility in the Chinese language requirement for NCS students that could not reach Level 3 or above. This would enable NCS students that were not able to master the language (e.g., late-comers) to still have an opportunity to continue their education and professional development.

5. Recommendations

The Learning Framework is a well-thought and organized set of guidelines towards a sustainable education. There are many strengths that this framework has; however, there are also limitations that need to be taken into consideration when re-evaluating the framework. 

One limitation most worth mentioning is related to teacher education. Although teachers are receiving enough support to familiarize themselves with the concept of the framework, they lack knowledge and techniques to teach in a multicultural classroom. Teachers need to learn about the NCS students’ needs so that they can be a role model for the local students in terms of respect and interaction.

Currently, the framework focuses largely on primary and secondary education. The EDB has also made multiple attempts of including NCS students into local kindergartens; however, there has not been much success. This could be due to the fact that many kindergartens do not have teachers trained to teach Chinese as a second language. Therefore, teacher education at kindergarten level is needed as well. There is also an urgent need for compulsory and, possibly, free education from kindergarten level (Kapai, 2015).

As for parents of NCS students, informing them about the Hong Kong education system is also desired. Providing parents with more information and educating them about the framework could decrease the number of parents choosing designated schools for their children in cases when they are uninformed about other opportunities. Therefore, they need to be educated about the system, the idea, the benefits, and the current limitations. 

6. Conclusion

Hong Kong is growing as a multicultural and international city and has, acknowledged the need to integrate ethnic minority population into the local education system. The government has made the first step towards desegregation by removing the label ‘designated schools’ with the attempt to give ethnic minority students an equal opportunity in choosing schools. This movement itself was a sign of progress; however, it was not nearly enough to accomplish the goal of desegregation.

With this in mind, the government created the ‘Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Concerned Learning Framework’. This framework allows NCS students to participate in the same classes as Chinese-speaking students and to, eventually, become independent in local mainstream classes. Participating schools are provided with support measures such as financial support and teacher training in teaching Chinese as a second language, whereas the NCS students are prepared to attend the HKDSE examination in the Chinese language. 

In the future, the government plans to expand the framework to kindergarten education to encourage NCS parents to expose their children to the Chinese language from earlier ages. Future plans also include providing flexibility to secondary level NCS students in the HKDSE Chinese language requirement, which would allow late-comers to continue their education. The framework provides grounds for equal opportunities in education and for cultural exchange. It aims to reduce inequality and it promotes social inclusion of all, regardless of race, ethnicity, origin or religion. This is, indeed, a step forward for Hong Kong on its path of as a multicultural city.

7. References

Education Bureau (EDB).(2008). Developing a Supplementary Guide to the Chinese        Language Curriculum for Non-Chinese Speaking Students. Hong Kong.

Education Bureau (EDB).(2014).Enhanced Chinese Learning and Teaching for Non-Chinese     Speaking Students. Hong Kong. 

Education Bureau (EDB).(2016). Existing and planned measures on the promotion of      equality for ethnic minorities.Hong Kong.

Education Bureau (EDB).(2017). Education services for non-Chinese speaking (NCS)     students. Hong Kong.

Gao, F. (2012). Teacher Identity, Teaching Vision, and Chinese Language Education for South    Asian Students in Hong Kong. Teachers and Teaching18(1), 89-99. doi: 10.1080/13540602.2011.622558

Groves, J., & O'Connor, P. (2017). Negotiating Global Citizenship, Protecting Privilege: Western Expatriates Choosing Local Schools in Hong Kong. British Journal of         Sociology of Education, 1-15. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2017.1351866

Home Affairs Department (HAD)(2013). Hong Kong 2011 Population Census Thematic Report: Ethnic Minorities. Hong Kong.

Kapai, P. (2015). Status of Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong 1997 – 2014. Hong Kong:      Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong.

Law, K., & Lee, K. (2012). The Myth of Multiculturalism in ‘Asia's World City’: Incomprehensive Policies for Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong. Journal of Asian          Public Policy5(1), 117-134. doi: 10.1080/17516234.2012.662353

United Nations(UN). (2017). Sustainable Development Goals.Retrieved from:

Zhou, Y., Cai, T., & Wang, D. (2016). Social Segregation in Hong Kong’s Schools: 2000–           2012. Chinese Sociological Review48(3), 248-270. doi: 10.1080/21620555.2016.1166340

8. Key Terms and Definitions

NCS students: ethnic minorities under the definition of non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students of primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong.

‘Chinese language’: refers to ‘Cantonese dialect’, the official language of Hong Kong.

‘Public schools’: represents all government schools, aided schools (including special schools), caput schools and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools following the local curriculum.

About the Author

Lana Miskulin

MEd, University of Hong Kong