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


Principles for Developing a Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Classroom

By Yulia Nesterova

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Definitions

  3. Principles of Teacher Education for a Cross-cultural Classroom

    1. Recognition of the Past

    2. Reflection

    3. Active Learning

    4. Respect and Reciprocity

    5. Building a Relationship

    6. Knowledge and Meaning Construction

    7. Action

  4. Challenges

  5. Concluding Remarks

  6. References

  7. About the Author

1. Introduction

According to a United Nations (UN) report (2004), educational institutions have curriculum and teaching methods that are culturally inappropriate for Indigenous children and aim to assimilate them instead of promoting their cultures and languages. Such a process leads to language and culture loss, and alienation from both the mainstream and home societies and discourses. The teachers who work with Indigenous children are often representatives of the dominant group whose knowledge, culture, and language dominate the classroom. Not to contribute further to the estrangement of Indigenous communities, teaching and learning must be re-thought and re-shaped to include Indigenous cultures and knowledges so that education becomes relevant to Indigenous lives and sustainable for their communities.

How can we prepare teachers for re-constructing such environments and developing and maintaining just classrooms in which no child is made to feel his/her knowledge, culture, language, and contribution are irrelevant and inferior? How can teachers of a dominant group learn to relate to Indigenous children whose cultural differences are immense, and whose relations with that group have historically been of an unequal and unfair nature? How can teachers contribute to revitalization of Indigenous cultures and their further development?

The entry aims to discuss a possible strategy that has a potential to help institutions educate future and current teachers. Drawing on Indigenous and Postcolonial theories and methodologies that are used for research with culturally different others, it is suggested how they can be used as a framework that help teachers who educate Indigenous children. Such a framework will address power relations that affect what and whose knowledge and values students learn and how the process is carried out; and negate harmful effects of interaction among groups of different socio-cultural backgrounds.

2.                  Definitions

Culture is seen in this paper as a ‘framework of belief’ or ‘world picture’, as articulated by Butler (1986, pp. 94, 95) that is always “local, contextual, and performative” (Denzin, 2003, pp. 231-232).  Culture represents certain power arrangements that communicate a certain version of reality and moral norms to the people that live within that culture. In the case of Indigenous people versus a dominant group, Indigenous ‘world picture’ with all its knowledge, discourses and paradigms has been deemed unsuitable and primitive, whereas the dominant culture has been seen as unquestionable and unchallengeable. Throughout the paper the word ‘Other’ is used to imply differing knowledge systems and cultures of Indigenous peoples whose lives have been built on asymmetrical power relations and inequality that continue to shape cultural dominance and social privilege of the dominant culture (Jones and Jenkins, 2008).

3.                  Principles of Teacher Education for a Cross-cultural Classroom

A culturally-appropriate model of a classroom that is inclusive of Indigenous children is a decolonizing classroom that is grounded in values and knowledges of all students participating in the learning process. Material and discusrive oppression, exclusion, and overlooking of Indigenous children and their traditional knowledge are disrupted in such a setting by the teacher (Swander and Mutua, 2008, p. 34). The teacher carries the brunt of responsibility in this situation as s/he is responsible for radically rethinking and planning cross-cultural encounters between the teacher and students and between students of different cultural backgrounds. The teacher needs to make sure that Indigenous students feel included and accepted as having equal worth. S/he thus needs to create an ethical space that rests on ethics of care and love, respect for individual uniqueness and emotionality along with personal responsibility of the teacher and students (Denzin and Lincoln, 2008, pp. 12, 14). Issues that the teacher is to encounter in thinking about, planning, and implementing activities and projects are of a moral and political nature and can be unsettling and challenging at first. Below seven principles are suggested. They can help educate teachers to establish a respectful, reflective and ethical cooperation; encourage inclusion and prioritization of personal and specialized knowledge of Indigenous children; and privilege sharing among groups.

3.1. Recognition of the Past

The teacher should be culturally and historically aware of the colonial period of his/her country that exploited Indigenous people and appropriated their resources, as well as the suffering of such groups of people that continues happening these days due to systemic inequalities and negative representations (Dillard, 2008, p. 288; Sunseri, 2007, p. 97). S/he then needs to be able to educate students on the harm that has been done by the dominant group to Indigenous communities while at the same time to keep clarity, calmness, and strength to help transform injustices without trying to develop guilt in young people (Dillard, 2008, p. 288; Liamputtong, 2010, p. 23).

3.2. Reflection

The next step after recognizing how the past influences the present society should be for the teacher to rethink the dominant epistemologies and reflect upon his/her own position as a teacher who comes from the dominant group but educates Indigenous children in a largely mainstream classroom (Wright, 2003, p. 202). This need is dictated by the struggle of interests and ways of knowing and being of the teacher and of the Other that occurs in the classroom (Jones and Jenkins, 2008, p. 473). The teacher can address the issues of conflicting knowledges and perspectives by following three steps. First, the teacher critically (re)assesses his/her own biases and rethinks his/her own experiences and perceptions (Bat, 2009, pp. 3, 7). Second, the teacher should work to locate him/herself in the “between” position that is oriented to building a relationship rather than understanding of the culturally different Other (ibid, p. 482). Third, the teacher compares the codes of ethical behavior of his/her culture and of the culture(s) Indigenous students come from, learns from the difference, and in spite of conflicting interests, treats students with respect and integrity.

3.3. Active Learning

Another component of a culturally-appropriate framework is teachers’ openness to engage in the process of “always becoming” (Giroux, 2009, p. 82). The teacher needs to want to be an active learner and not to see him/herself as an expert. This implies that s/he understands that knowledge is not something fixed, universal, and available only to experts. As Giroux (2009, p. 83) maintains, the teacher should overcome the dangerous idea that s/he knows the answer. Instead, s/he needs to engage in an open and respectful conversation and meaning-construction with students, by seeing his/her knowledge as partial and their knowledges as valuable and important to form shared perspectives (Sunseri, 2007, p, 101). Thus the teacher should be open to learn, unlearn and learn again and see this process as an enriching experience for him/herself and the students. The potential benefit of the experience is that learning from difference in the long run can provoke meanings beyond own culture and thus lead to new thoughts, ideas, and discoveries (Jones and Jenkins, 2008, p. 480).

3.4. Respect and Reciprocity

Readinness to learn about the past, to be reflective, and to become open to learning require the teacher to have respect for the culturally different other and seek reciprocity while engaging with the other. Respect in this context should be for culturally specific ways of being and doing. The teacher does not need to know about peculiarities of the culture, yet s/he hasto respect differing views, experiences and interpretations and give an equal voice to them in the classroom (Sunseri, 2007, pp. 99, 100). As a first step, the teacher should shed discrimination and prejudice s/he has towards the other. Then remove the boundaries between themselves and the other so that there is a possibility of creating a space in which they see the other as an equal human being (Dillard, 2008, p. 288). The next step would be to seek for a transformative dialogue in which the teacher looks and listens deeply to what the other has to say as well as has a strong belief in the humanity and equality of those who go through the learning process (Dillard, 2008, p. 287).

3.5. Building a Relationship

The teacher has a responsibility to develop and help students create a special kind of relationship in the classroom. Such relationship should be based on trust, respect, reciprocation, collaboration, and cooperation (Liamputtong, 2010, p. 23; Wright, 2003, p. 202). Another trait of the cross-cultural classroom relationship is development of a compassionate mind in students so that they listen to others carefully, acquire knowledge with an open mind, and reconsider their positions (Sunseri, 2007, p. 100). Openness and compassion will help them participate in building a platform to discuss what is, and is not happening in and within the negotiated relations, and whose story is being told and whose story is being shadowed (Fine as cited in Jones and Jenkins, 2008, p. 475). Establishing friendly and close relationships with Indigenous children on their culturally-appropriate terms will diminish power imbalances and unequal hierarchies (Mauthner and Doucet, 1998, p. 120; Wolf, 1996, p. 35).

3.6. Knowledge and Meaning Construction

The teacher should be able to involve Indigenous children in meaning-making and knowledge sharing and place their perspectives as a central part of their learning process (Bat, 2009, pp. 3, 7).  The practice of legitimizing non-dominant knowledge will, first, support the teacher in educating students to rethink and (de)construct the dominant discourses and legends (Denzin and Lincoln, 2008, p. 10, 14). Second, for Indgenous students to progress in their studies and being able to relate to learning, knowledge should be constructed from everyday lives of people and their communities rather than abstract and detached perspectives (Saavedra and Nymark, 2008, pp. 255-257).

3.7. Action

The purposes of teaching should not be seen as transmitting knowledge and values. The teacher should see him/herself as a social justice activist. Teaching should therefore be approached as a responsibility to the individual (student) and communities (Dillard, 2008, p. 280). Responsibility to the individual implies enhancing in students moral agency, producing moral discernment and commitment to justice and ethic of resistance against (epistemic) violence and oppression (Denzin and Lincoln, 2008, p. 14). Responsibility to the community embodies developing moral ties to the group of people the teacher works with. To be able to achieve the goal, the teacher should embrace compassion and focus on political and social action and reflection. Embracing compassion requires an explicit intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and struggle against dehumanizing contexts and conditions of those who the teacher educates (Dillard, 2008, p. 288). Focus on socio-political action and reflection guides teacher’s attempts to promote political and social change in the community rather than creating universal theories (ibid., p. 280).

4.                  Challenges

This approach to educate teachers for the cross-cultural classroom that responds to the needs of Indigenous children poses big challenges to the education system. It is teachers who will need to critically re-think and re-learn the role they traditionally occupy as transmitters of a predetermined set of “knowledge and curriculum” (Lewison et al., 2002, p. 383). They will need to be motivated to be open to complexities for this rather radical stand will require them to break away from a safety and comfort of textbooks, “testing and right answer” heritage, and usual practices; and to apply more conflicting, interactive and Indigenous-child-centered methods (Lewison et al., 2002, p. 383; Wolk, 2003, p. 103). It will also be challenging for them to encourage students’ interests in sociopolitical issues, to educate them to be open to multiple perspectives, to “go beyond personal or psychological responses”, and to take action (Lewison et al., 2002, 386). For some teachers it may be hard to see students as someone who can contribute to the meaning- and knowledge-construction equally to adults for the dominant view of what a child represents, is a blank paper that needs to be filled with text.

5.                  Concluding Remarks

These principles can help prepare teachers to re-learn their ways of relating to and educating children of various socio-cultural backgrounds so that the encounters are ethical and culturally-appropriate. First, they introduce teachers to the approaches that recognize complexity, competing views, and existence of other forms of knowledge and creative spaces. Second, they encourage the idea of creating different meanings together with other people as we learn, unlearn, and re-learn. This component can help teachers understand that knowledge is not something fixed, and engaging in an open and respectful conversation and meaning-construction with the other can help reflect on the position of the teacher within the classroom and in relation to students in a more critical way. Third, internalizing and employing the principles can help teachers address unequal power relations in the classroom as the focus is shifted from learning about the other to learning to build relationships in which students and teachers learn from each other. This way power of the teacher over his/her students is transformed to power of the teacher and students to create something meaningful and ethical together. Finally, the spaces established on these principles can help negate harmful effects of interactions between groups of different socio-cultural backgrounds.


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About the Author

Yulia Nesterova

PhD Student in Education (Policy, Administration and Social Sciences Education), The University of Hong Kong


Website:  Yulia Nesterova