29 DEC 2014
Oxfam urges Commission on Poverty to implement pilot scheme to help ethnic minority children lay solid foundation for Chinese learning
Oxfam recently published the ‘Survey on the Chinese Learning Challenges South Asian Ethnic Minority Kindergarten Students from Low-Income Families Face’. Survey results showed that many ethnic minority parents lack Chinese language abilities and are thus unable to help their children learn Chinese. Parents also reported that kindergartens were the only places where their children learnt Chinese. However, over half of the surveyed kindergartens did not provide South Asian students with extra Chinese learning support. More than 40 per cent of kindergartens also said that they had not planned to provide such support in the coming academic year (2014/15).
Oxfam is urging the government to provide ethnic minority kindergarteners with Chinese language learning support, and extend its ‘Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework’ to preschools. In the short run, Oxfam recommends the Commission on Poverty to implement a pilot scheme to subsidise kindergartens so that they can provide ‘Chinese enhancement classes’ and ensure ethnic minority students can lay a solid foundation for learning Chinese as early as possible.
Stephen Fisher, Director General of Oxfam, said, ‘Children really begin learning a language during their kindergarten years. The government should take advantage of this time to provide ethnic minority students with appropriate support so that they can lay a solid foundation for learning Chinese. That way, when they reach Primary One, they will be on par with their Chinese classmates. This will increase their upward social mobility and help them avoid falling into poverty’.
Survey methods and results
Statistics have shown that South Asians are among the poorest ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. Oxfam commissioned Policy 21 Limited to survey kindergarteners and their parents between April and July in 2014 to better understand the difficulties South Asian children from low-income families (families with a household income of less than 50 per cent of that of the population) face when learning Chinese, as well as the support kindergartens provide. We received 271 surveys. The results are as follows:
- An absolute majority of parents felt that learning Chinese is important for their children’s educational advancement (80.4 per cent), career advancement (68 per cent) and integration into the local community (69.5 per cent). More than 60 per cent of parents hoped to send their children to mainstream primary schools.
- Close to 60 per cent of the surveyed parents could not read Chinese, and around a quarter (26.6 per cent) were not able to speak Cantonese. The parents’ lack of Chinese language skills rendered them unable to help their children learn Chinese and made it difficult to communicate with teachers.
- Nearly 80 per cent of the surveyed parents reported that the kindergartens were the only places where their children learnt Chinese.Less than 10 per cent of the surveyed kindergarteners primarily spoke Cantonese at home.
- Over half of the surveyed kindergartens did not provide South Asian students with additional Chinese learning support. 43.2 per cent further said that they had not planned on providing additional Chinese learning support in the 2014/15 academic year. Many South Asian children have thus been unable to lay a solid foundation for learning Chinese and prepare well for Primary One during their kindergarten years.
The poverty ethnic minorities face is worrying, especially because intergenerational poverty exists. Census statistics show that 32.5 per cent of South Asian ethnic minority children under the age of 15 live in poverty, while the figure is 25 per cent for their Chinese counterparts. Although the government announced the ‘Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework’ and other related measures in the 2014 Policy Address, they only apply to students in Primary One to Secondary Six – not preschool students. Without support from the government, kindergartens have often been unable to provide ethnic minority kindergarteners with extra Chinese learning support, thus missing out on a valuable opportunity to learn Chinese.
Oxfam believes that the government has the responsibility to ensure equal educational opportunities for ethnic minorities and increase their social mobility in order for them to escape poverty. To do this, the Education Bureau should extend the ‘Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework’ to kindergarteners. That way, ethnic minority kindergarteners will be able to attend the same classes as their Chinese counterparts in Primary One.
In the short run, Oxfam believes the Commission on Poverty should implement a pilot scheme that subsidises kindergartens so that they can provide ‘Chinese enhancement classes’ and hire additional teachers and teaching assistants. The teacher-to-student ratio should be 1:10, and all ethnic minority students should be grouped together irrespective of their ages. The Bureau should also continue to provide funding to support research in Chinese teaching and learning methods, and related teaching materials, as well as offer educational activities for ethnic minority kindergarteners.
Moreover, the government should further support ethnic minority children and parents in learning Chinese. Such support could include extending after-school tutorial classes at Support Service Centres for Ethnic Minorities to kindergartners and providing childcare services while parents attend Chinese classes. This kind of support can provide children with extra support so that they can learn Chinese at home and thus better overcome the challenges they face when learning Chinese.
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Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilises the power of people against poverty.
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