Elevating minorities: Education, employment and incentives

“Equality and inclusiveness is not a mere slogan. It represents a core value of Hong Kong,” said the city’s chief secretary Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in a recent blog post on a government site. But does the government’s walk match their talk?


Mr Cheung touched on policies catering to the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, which amount to some 263,000 people (or 3.8 percent) of the city’s population. Many face language barriers and cultural differences as challenges in moving up the economic ladder.

There have been policies established to help this small group of people in the areas of education, employment and welfare services. More than HK$500 million has been earmarked for these policies starting in 2019.

Education

The government will allocate more resources in a more systematic manner to schools admitting non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students. These institutions will receive more resources to help them learn Chinese more effectively.

A five-tiered subsidy for kindergartens based on the number of NCS students admitted will also be in place. This will replace the original flat-rate subsidy provided for kindergartens with eight or more NCS students. A kindergarten with 31 or more NCS students will enjoy a maximum subsidy that is double the existing rate.

A new grant under a three-tiered structure will also be introduced to ordinary schools admitting NCS students with special educational needs. They will receive grants according to the number of such students admitted.

These are on top of the “Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework” that acts as a bridge to mainstream Chinese classes.

Schools respond to incentives

Puja Kapai, associate professor at Faculty of Law of The University of Hong Kong, tells Harbour Times that the five-tiered structure is “certainly an improvement” on the previous mechanism, which simply looked at whether schools had more than a certain number of NCS students.

“The new tiered system recognises that the resource implications are different for such varied numbers of NCS students,” she says.

“This also would go a long way towards addressing the phenomenon where schools were courting admission of the minimal number of NCS students just to become eligible for the block grant and not more than that because of the challenges entailed in teaching diverse groups,” Ms Kapai adds.

She believes that the schools would now have an incentive to grow their programs because they would have additional resources under the new tiered system.

Work, work, work, work, work, work (a la Rihanna)

As for employment, the Employees Retraining Board will offer more language and industry-specific training courses on top of the 41 English-taught courses for ethnic minorities. It will also relax the educational attainment criteria for enrolment in Chinese language courses.

The government has also relaxed Chinese language proficiency requirement for government jobs, and the public services will step up recruitment and outreach efforts to encourage ethnic minorities to join them.

For community services, NGOs will be commissioned to set up district outreach teams to proactively reach out to ethnic minority families, according to Mr Cheung.

“A widening of the spectrum of industries which ethnic minorities can join means they can apply themselves to an area they are motivated by or where they have strengths, and a wider group of NGOs may now have resources specifically to carry out this work,” says Ms Kapai, who welcomes these new measures.

In mid-2018, the government set up the Steering Committee on Ethnic Minorities Affairs to lead different bureaus to work on measures supporting this small group of people in Hong Kong.

If it matters, measure it*

But Ms Kapai points out the effectiveness of the support measures must be evaluated to improve.

“While resource-allocation is a starting point for addressing inequalities, they are not the end-point. Monitoring and evaluation are an indispensable part of the commitment to tackling inequalities, especially where they are rooted in systemic or institutionalized disparities based on ethnicity or race,” she says.

“Without monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and corresponding transparency of the outcomes of such independent processes, it would be difficult to assess whether there is progress and improvement in real terms in benefiting the target stakeholders here,” Ms Kapai notes.

She calls for data-driven approaches, as she believes they are the most efficient in determining areas for future focus and progress.

*Nod to The Fraser Institute for that credo.

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)