Early language learning key to integration

Updated: 2013-01-08 06:18

(HK Edition)

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Early exposure to the Chinese language is seen as key to helping ethnic minority students benefit from the Hong Kong education system and to take their place in the community, according to a working group set up by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

The report, published in 2011, contained a number of recommendations which included providing language and cultural programs for ethnic minority children at pre-primary level to help them lay a solid language foundation for learning Chinese.

It also recommended intensive Chinese language courses for migrant students and an alternative language proficiency certificate which would be recognized by employers and further education establishments.

Following the publication of the report, the government stressed it was fully committed to helping non-Chinese speaking students (both ethnic minority and mainland Chinese students) adapt to the local education system and integrate into the community and had instigated numerous measures which include providing extra language support in schools and running community-based Chinese language fun projects.

At kindergarten level, parents of non-Chinese speaking (NCS) children are encouraged to apply for subsidies to help pay fees at local kindergartens, where they could gain early exposure to the Chinese language, through the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme introduced in 2007.

"Such a naturalistic and holistic approach to language learning in local kindergartens is considered essential for communication purposes, and is thus conducive to NCS children's development of Chinese language skills, social development, adaptation to local primary schools and early integration into the society," former education secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung said in a written reply to a question put to the Legislative Council by Emily Lau last year.

Suen also outlined a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue. This includes enhancing school-based professional support focusing on facilitating children's acquisition of Chinese in an authentic environment in kindergartens and schools, curriculum development, and empowering teachers through seminars, workshops, and focus group interviews.

Suen said the department also planned to target ethnic minority parents through briefings, the Support Services Centre for Ethnic Minorities funded by Home Affairs Department, and through promotional material broadcast on radio programs, newspapers and at the government's Maternal and Child Health Centers.

Pilot projects were also held during the summer, to motivate ethnic minorities children to learn Chinese through fun activities such as drama and creative art.

Current Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim added that the University of Hong Kong had also been commissioned to operate the Chinese Language Learning Support Centre in 15 venues in districts with more NCS students to provide remedial programs for NCS students after school or during holidays.

"The support measures are developmental in nature and subject to refinement as appropriate to meet the changing circumstances and needs. We are actively reviewing the support measures, taking into account the views of stakeholders, so as to further enhance the learning effectiveness of NCS students," said Ng.

In February, last year a motion was passed by the Legislative Council which called on the government to review its education policy in the light of the report.

In September 2012, the government announced its intention to provide subsidies to help NCS students' pay exams fees for overseas Chinese Language examinations to ensure that no NCS students will be discouraged to attend the examinations because of lack of means.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and look forward to furthering the cooperation with the government and the stakeholders to ensure equal education for all," said the EOC spokesperson.

(HK Edition 01/08/2013 page4)