Zubin Foundation: Private schools failing low-income ethnic minorities

Private and international schools in Hong Kong are required by the government to use 10 percent of their annual income to help financially needy students, but the reality is these students are not getting enough help.

The case is highlighted in a report titled Missed Opportunities for English Language Education for Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong by The Zubin Foundation.

The Zubin Foundation is a local think tank that aims to help ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. Its report revealed that the money is not fully utilized, and that both private and international schools heads are not aware of this responsibility.

“We are talking about 800 students that could benefit each year up to a total worth of HK$121,851,026. This is a massive and missed opportunity for our ethnic minority children,” says Ms Susan Colins, author of the report.

Most of the ethnic minority children are affected as they speak English and find it difficult to learn Chinese at school. Since private and international schools offer classes in English and provide excellent education, the money that is not being used could go to these students who are often from poor backgrounds.

The requirement to use 10 percent of the school’s annual income to provide scholarships to students is written in the service agreements between the private and international schools and the government. According to the report, 58 percent of the schools are unaware of this and there is no organization tasked with checking up on this.

“In each school year, the School Sponsoring Body shall set aside a sum, which shall not be less than 10 percent of the School’s total school fee income, to provide scholarship and/or other financial assistance for deserving students. The SSB shall use its best endeavours to ensure full utilisation of the scholarship and/or other financial assistance,” the provision reads.

As these schools are given free land – the scarcest resource in Hong Kong, Ms Colins argues that they have a responsibility to give back to society.

“We therefore call on the international, private and [direct subsidy scheme] schools in Hong Kong that are required to provide financial assistance scholarships… to look closely at what they can do to use their scholarship funds in the way that they were intended,” the report says.

One way for the schools to better use the money is to put together a website and make it known what they offer as part of their scholarships. Students from a poor family need to pay for not only education but also uniforms, school trips and such.  

The think tank also calls on the government to address the issue by offering clarity.

“The Education Bureau should clearly define what is meant by the words ‘scholarship’, ‘financial assistance’ and ‘deserving students’ [in the provision] so that the schools understand what the government had intended by including this condition in the service agreements,” the report says.

The report also cites human rights symbol Mr Nelson Mandela’s quote that says “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

According to co-author of the report Ms Shalini Mahtani, it is better for the ethnic minority children to get an excellent education in English than poor education in Chinese. Many of these children fail to embark on a promising career path because of the Chinese language.