Poverty among ethnic minorities
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Poverty among ethnic minorities

This photo, taken by Ducky Tse, was first exhibited at the ‘Do you read me?’ photo exhibition.

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The Situation

According to the 2016 report on poverty among ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, the poverty rate among South Asian children (29.1 per cent) is significantly higher than that of all children in Hong Kong (i.e. 15.3 per cent). With the former more than double than that of the latter, it is clear that a considerable number of ethnic minorities live in poverty.

Since many South Asian children have a limited grasp of Chinese, their career options as adults are often limited to ‘3D’ jobs, i.e. dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs; these are often low-paying jobs too. As such, this fuels intergenerational poverty.

One of the most direct ways of enabling these children to escape poverty is by providing them the support necessary to become proficient in Chinese. Oxfam Hong Kong has thus been conducting research on how to better support non-Chinese speaking students’ Chinese learning as well as on government policies in this area, and are undertaking public education initiatives to make the needs of ethnic minorities more visible.

The Four Poverties in Hong Kong



Start from the Beginning – Chinese Supporting Scheme for Non-Chinese Speaking Students in Kindergarten (2020 – 2023)

Befriending the Chinese Language

Since 2015, Oxfam Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong and the Education University of Hong Kong launched the ‘Start from the Beginning – Chinese Supporting Scheme for Non-Chinese Speaking Students in Kindergarten’ project. The project has entered into its 6th year and cover 96 kindergartens. It is also the first Pay-for-Success1 project in Hong Kong with cross-sector collaboration. The programme has been further enhanced to provide professional training to teachers and parental support on kindergarten primary transition, the new elements are:

•    Enrichment curriculum: provide interactive enrichment classes for non-Chinese speaking children (build on the basis of learning Chinese as a second language which suits the need of NCS students).

•    Learning and teaching packages: Develop a new set of teaching materials composed of original pictured stories, nursery rhymes, worksheet exercises and teaching realia (such as word cards, picture cards, learning tools and toys, etc).

•    Dynamic Enrichment Learning Mode (DELM): Provide additional individual/group activity to NCS students during school hours.  NCS students will learn Chinese in a systemic way through stories, songs and games.

•    Teacher professional development: Apply train-the-trainer mode to equip teachers with teaching Chinese as a second language knowledge and strategies. We will also provide inter-school exchange opportunities and on the job training for teachers.

•    Online learning community platform: An online learning platform will be built for resources sharing. A community will be formed through workshops, co-teaching, classroom observation and knowledge dissemination.  

•    Parent support: Organise a series of parents’ talk on primary one transition, station at kindergarten to help parents to fill primary one admission form, prepare videos on primary one admission and an overview of support to NCS students of primary schools (by district). 

1Pay-for-Success also known as Social Impact Bond (SIB). It is a public-private partnership which funds effective social services through performance-base contractual arrangements and enables governments to partner with high-performing service providers by using private investments to develop, coordinate or expand effective programmes.  It leverages on investors’ risk-sharing to enable funding of more innovative or preventive interventions which are currently not yet covered in the government budget. 

Overcoming the Language Barrier

Khan Usra

‘To live in Hong Kong, we must learn Chinese,’

-Khan Usra

The mother of two participants of our porject  'Start from the Beginning' , she is happy that her children study at one of the kindergartens implementing the pilot scheme.


Currently, there are about 451,000 people of non-Chinese descent living in Hong Kong. Without any support in Chinese language learning, however, many ethnic minority children find it difficult to pick up the language. Their lack of proficiency in Chinese often limits their job choices and contributes to the higher-than-average poverty rate among the ethnic minority population.

Oxfam has been working with the University of Hong Kong and the Education University of Hong Kong to implement the ‘Start from the Beginning – Chinese Supporting Scheme for Non-Chinese speaking Students in Kindergarten’ from 2015. Through pictures, stories, songs, experiential learning, group and individual learning, we aim to demonstrate effective ways of teaching ethnic minority children Chinese.

‘To live in Hong Kong, we must learn Chinese,’ said Khan Usra, a Pakistani mum of two who study at one of the kindergartens implementing the pilot scheme.

With her family set to stay here for the long haul, she sent her kids to a Chinese kindergarten so they could start learning the local language from a young age. ‘Lo see (the teacher) says my children are picking up Chinese very well [through this programme],’ she said.

Since the pilot scheme began two years ago, teachers and parents have seen much improvement; some kindergarteners even scored top marks in their Chinese exam.

With the success of this scheme, we’ve also been urging the Education Bureau to establish a Chinese as a second language curriculum, and provide sufficient resources and support to kindergartens that admit non-Chinese speaking students. We also encourage these kindergartens to ensure teachers are adequately trained.

More than just a job search service

Foundation Certificate in Early Childhood Care and Education for Non-Chinese Speaking Learners

'we’re happy to share that the students – who come from ethnic minority backgrounds – have gained a deeper understanding of childhood education through the lectures and internships.’

Learn more & enrol


Young people from low-income and ethnic minority backgrounds often lack access to a wider range of employment opportunities, mainly due to their limited Chinese proficiency. This unfortunately makes it difficult for them to end the poverty they face. At the same time, the number of non-Chinese speaking students is on the rise every year, but many kindergartens do not employ non-Chinese speaking teaching assistants, or their teachers are not trained in this area. 

Identifying these gaps, Oxfam Hong Kong launched the “Foundation Certificate in Early Childhood Care and Education for Non-Chinese Speaking Learners” with the support of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund) and the Kerry Group. Through the programme, youths can explore a career path in early childhood education, while young ethnic minority children receive better support at school. 

The course spans a total of 80 hours of theoretical lessons (covering topics like the basics of early childhood care and education, classroom management and communication skills with parents) and 32 hours for an on-site internship. After completing the course, participants have access to one-on-one job matching services to help them enter the workplace. 
The first batch of students are about to compete the course. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of early childhood education, our students have also had the opportunity to practice what they learnt during their placements.  

Employment Capacity Building Programme: Breaking Barriers with Multimedia


the response has been overwhelmingly positive. One participant said: ‘I never knew I’d have the chance to do this kind of work!’

Due to the language barrier, many minority ethnic people’s only choice is to work in low-paying jobs. The labour participation rate among South Asian women has also remained relatively low compared to the rest of the population because of the language barrier and limited access to learning opportunities. In fact, few courses are offered in a language they understand that also cater to cultural preferences, such as all-female classes. 

To make classes more accessible to these women, we worked with our partners Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers – Kowloon and social enterprise Under Production to offer participants graphic design, video production, photography and other courses. Through them, participants gained skills to work in the creative industry – an industry that is growing and where the language barrier is less of an issue. 

"Do you read me" Photo Exhibition

Do you read me?

A photo exhibition on how ethnic minorities learn Chinese’ was jointly organised by Oxfam and photojournalist Ducky Tse in 2014 to raise the awareness about the challenges ethnic minorities face when learning Chinese.


Together, we can transform more lives!

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Oxfam’s Policy research and advocacy (selected)

jul 2022Oxfam and SIE Fund’s first Pay-for-Success project in Hong Kong offers ethnic minority kindergarten students Chinese enrichment classes and online platform for public access of teaching resources
JAN 2020A Study on the Challenges Faced by Mainstream Schools in Educating Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong, infographic
JAN 2018Oxfam's response to the government's submission of public comments on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to Chinese language education for non-Chinese speaking students in Hong Kong
aug 2016Oxfam's comments on the revision of the ‘Pre-primary Education Curriculum Guide’ (2006) (discussion draft): Guidelines for the establishment of Chinese as a Second Language for non-Chinese speaking children*
jan 2016 Survey on the Enhanced Chinese Learning and Teaching Support For Non-Chinese Speaking Students in Primary and Secondary Schools
nov 2014‘Do you read me?’ photo exhibition
dec 2014Survey on the Chinese Learning Challenges South Asian Ethnic Minority Kindergarten Students from Low-Income Families Face 
jan 2014Second-language education policies abroad and in Hong Kong

*Report in Chinese only