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Poverty among ethnic minorities

Poverty among ethnic minorities

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

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. 12.1 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.

he Four Poverties in Hong Kong



Start from the Beginning – Chinese Supporting Scheme for Non-Chinese Speaking Students in Kindergarten

Befriending the Chinese Language

Oxfam Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Education launched the ‘Start from the Beginning – Chinese Supporting Scheme for Non-Chinese Speaking Students in Kindergarten’ in 2015. The programme involves:

  • Providing interactive enrichment classes for non-Chinese speaking children (Chinese classes are held separately from Chinese-speaking children; non-Chinese and Chinese-speaking students attend other classes together).
  • Offering non-Chinese speaking students with individual/two-person and group study timeslots (1 to 1.5 hours a week) so that teachers can better meet their needs. This also gives students more opportunities to speak and ask questions.
  • Developing a curriculum, teaching materials, teaching methods and evaluation tools that target the learning needs of non-Chinese speaking students.
  • Studying theories on second language learning and cognitive theories on Chinese learning to develop a variety of teaching materials (e.g. picture books and children’s songs); developing activities appropriate for non-Chinese speaking kindergartners (e.g. reading picture books, singing children’s songs, vocabulary games, learning words through actions, etc.); helping non-Chinese speaking children to broaden their vocabulary, strengthen their mastery of the structure of Chinese characters, and improve their ability to speak, listen, express themselves, learn sentence patterns, etc.

After two years of implementing this project, non-Chinese speaking kindergartners’ Chinese has improved significantly and has made them more motivated to learn the language. They enjoy their Chinese enrichment classes because the classes have enabled the children to better communicate with their Chinese-speaking classmates and participate more actively in class, and have boosted their confidence. This project is funded by Oxfam and Social Innovation Fund.

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


'I want to find a job that has good opportunities for development, but I don’t know where to.’

With the support of our programme, Tanveer is now on his way to becoming an engineer.


Every year, tens of thousands of secondary school students graduate, but most of them cannot further their studies and instead need to work. With the few skills and little experience they have though, it’s not easy for even a Chinese-speaking graduate to find a job with a promising future, let alone an ethnic minority secondary school graduate. 

‘I want to find a job that has good promotion prospects and opportunities for development, but I don’t know where to find a job like that,’ Tanveer, a 20-year-old Pakistani secondary school graduate, said in fluent Cantonese. He, who used to work as a part-time baggage handler at the airport, wants to find a better job. Through the support of Oxfam’s partner, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong – Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers (Kowloon), a social worker asked Tanveer about his skills and expectations, and found him an elevator mechanic apprenticeship interview. With little knowledge about the industry and a low salary on offer, Tanveer was slightly hesitant at first. After learning that completing the four year programme meant that he could obtain the qualification he needed to become a registered lift worker, and eventually an engineer, he was greatly motivated to apply.

Together with the social worker, Tanveer went for two rounds of interviews and was ultimately given an offer. The in-depth career counselling services the Centre offers ethnic minorities has yielded much better results than that of the Labour Department. Aside from accompanying candidates to job interviews, social workers at the Centre also meet with candidates’ parents to help them better understand their children’s aspirations and career choices, and encourage them to support and respect their children. The aim of the Centre’s career counselling services isn’t just to get job seekers hired though, but to develop their job search skills, expand their horizons and secure jobs that offer better working conditions and prospects.

On the day Tanveer signed his contract, the social worker who accompanied him went through the contract with Tanveer’s father. Tanveer said, ‘I really hope to have my family’s support over these next four years!’

Oxfam’s Policy research and advocacy

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

Do you read me?

Do you read me?

‘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.

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