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HKBU research finds Government’s educational support for ethnic and linguistic minority students inadequate

21 May 2013

(From left): Mr. Jan Gube, Dr. Jan Connelly and Mr. Chura Bahadur Thapa share the research findings with the media
(From left): Mr. Jan Gube, Dr. Jan Connelly and Mr. Chura Bahadur Thapa share the research findings with the media


A research project led by Dr. Jan Connelly, Associate Professor of Education Studies, found that whilst all surveyed teachers of Non Chinese Speaking (NCS)/Ethnic Minority (EM) students welcomed the Government’s support measures for NCS/EM students, 92 per cent of these teachers said they needed a lot more support from the Government not just in teaching Chinese, but in curriculum adaptations, resources and professional development related to teaching Chinese-as-a-second language and most importantly on how best to teach students from diverse cultural backgrounds.


NCS/EM students represent approximately 3 to 4 per cent of the total Hong Kong student population. Many are from low socio-economic backgrounds and attend government designated schools or schools admitting NCS/EM students. Eight years ago, the Government launched a policy to support the learning needs of NCS/EM students.


Dr. Jan Connelly, with the research assistance of Mr. Jan Gube and Mr. Chura Bahadur Thapa, conducted research throughout 2011-2012 to evaluate the effectiveness of the Government’s policy of educational support measures for NCS/EM students. The research aimed to answer the questions: Do the support measures (1) alleviate the language and cultural barriers? (2) facilitate the smooth integration of NCS/EM students into Hong Kong society? (3) impact (positively) the educational opportunities of NCS/EM students?


Participants were drawn from six schools (four primary schools and two secondary schools) that enrol NCS/EM students. Data was obtained through in-depth interviews with school principals and Education Bureau (EDB) personnel, and focus group interviews with 40 classroom teachers. Online questionnaires were administered to the teachers and also to NCS/EM students in the six schools (406 respondents).


The research revealed that the focus of the Government support was primarily on Chinese language acquisition, but not on support to NCS/EM students that could alleviate the obstacles of cultural barriers, cultural awareness, respect and understanding. Among the six schools surveyed, only one school was brave enough to go beyond the single focus on Chinese language support and address cultural barriers, by employing Ethnic Minority Teaching Assistants, by the Principal and staff making home visits and by encouraging cultural interactions within the school community.


In addition, the research found that the policy of designated schools was creating further divisions between and within schools resulting in separatist education and negative labeling. Inside some designated schools, NCS/EM students were separated from local Chinese students, thus limiting opportunities for mutual respect and multicultural awareness.


The research proposes that if schools refined the support and built communication links between schools and NCS/EM families it would positively impact the educational opportunities of NCS/EM students. However, despite the support given to schools by the EDB, NCS/EM students were still not reaching local students’ level of Chinese proficiency and advancing their educational opportunities.


Based on the findings, the following five recommendations are made that call for urgent independent research related to policy and pedagogical practices, that would:


(1)  systematically monitor and analyse (i) the assessment data (TSA results and HKDSE outcomes, and school retention) of NCS/EM students (ii) measure the effectiveness of support programmes so as to inform future government policy;  

(2)  develop a coherent Chinese-as-a-second language curriculum and a new Senior Secondary Chinese subject for tertiary entry that addresses the needs of NCS/EM students, their teachers and future employers;

(3)  inform the nature of professional development and a teacher specialism at postgraduate level related to Chinese-as-a-second language and teaching effectively inside culturally and linguistic diverse contexts;

(4)  develop guidelines for school-based curriculum incorporating of cultural diversity content;

(5)  inform government on how best to dismantle the designated schools policy yet retain financial support structures linking funding to NCS/EM students and their needs.