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Moses Mui make the argument that language programmes are crucial for minorities and have been lacking for too long.

With the drastic increase in Chinese language usage both in the public and private sectors after the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, ethnic minorities have experienced various barriers in accessing equal opportunities in education and employment when compared with local Chinese counterparts.

At present, there is no standardised Chinese language curriculum for non-Chinese students. Although school-based teachings sound more tailor-made for schools with students of different level of Chinese proficiency, the lack of standardised curriculum has caused confusion for both the students and the teachers in learning and teaching effectively.

The level of Chinese language being taught is insufficient for them to participate in the public examination with their local Chinese counterparts. Worse still, it is so varied that they could not even communicate in their daily life and work environment.

Learning a language effectively not only depends on the teaching in class, but also through interacting with others in that language environment. Though minority students could choose to study in mainstream schools, the difficulty in catching up with the Chinese language syllabus and the lack of cultural sensitivity of many mainstream schools have driven minority students to schools which have a concentration of minority students.

Inability to interact with local Chinese in school and lack of participation in extracurricular activities further place them under a vicious cycle of language learning difficulty. This negative impact imposes on over 27,000 students in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.

Besides, although universities have started to consider other Chinese language examinations (such as GCE and GCSE) for university entry, it does not guarantee obtaining higher education could put ethnic minorities in the same level playing field in the employment market.

Allowing minority school leavers and graduates to participate in the employment market not only depends on the certificate of education they hold, but also whether their Chinese competency and communication skills are recognised by the employers. Undeniably, the lack of recognised
Chinese language curriculum for non-Chinese speakers cannot give any confidence for employers in hiring minorities. Furthermore, the minority population is not a single distinct group, but consists of people with various backgrounds regarding their ethnicity, religion, and migration status. Migrants may have overseas qualifications not recognised in the local market, acting as a barrier to equal employment opportunities.

The lack of opportunity has led to poverty for ethnic minorities. According
to a study conducted by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the poverty situation of the ethnic minority population is alarming. Comparing statistics from the population census in 2001 and 2011, the poverty rate of the ethnic minority population rose from 17.3% to 23.9%. Among the six predominately non-Chinese ethnic groups, the Pakistani, Indonesian and Thai ethnic groups have poverty rates higher than the whole population (20.4%), with poverty rates of 51.1%, 29.4% and 27.4%, respectively.

Recognising the importance of alleviating the poverty situation as defined, the most recent policy address saw the government promise to allocate resources for the development and implementation of the “Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework” for non-Chinese speaking students and vocational Chinese language courses or school leavers.

Though the impact of these new initiatives are still unforeseeable, minorities and advocates have been expecting the introduction of Chinese language learning supportive measures could bring about positive changes to their lives, especially in the areas of education and employment where minorities face the most challenges.

Acquiring the ability to master the local language is quintessential for education and employment. But the purpose of language goes beyond that. It facilitates integration and identity building through gaining the ability to access to information and participate in social activities. Minorities need to interact with others, know about the culture and history, take part in the institutions and the society so that they could expand their knowledge base and be seen as part of the community.

Therefore, when we deal with the language competence of ethnic minorities, we should tackle social exclusion of the minorities at the same time.

Integration is a two-way process. It is also crucial for the majority to understand and recognise the minority. Poverty alleviation is all about gaining momentum for upward social mobility. Lack of communication and even discrimination seriously jeopardise minorities’ access to equal opportunities. An inclusive society requires all parties’ devotion. The government should take the lead in generating a society without discrimination and embrace equal opportunities in Hong Kong’s education and employment systems.

Mr Moses MUI
Chief Officer (Family & Community Service)
The Hong Kong Council of Social Service