SCMP Thursday, August 17, 2000


Class barriers

Although the local population is predominantly Chinese, Hong Kong has long been a multi-racial society with a large number of non-Chinese residents from different ethnic groups. Many of them were born here and regard the SAR as home. It follows that facilities should be in place to cater to their needs.

However, a survey has found that many children from South Asian ethnic minorities have encountered difficulties finding school places. There are seven subsidised schools for English-speaking ethnic minority children, but they are insufficient to cover demand.

Most people probably agree that isolating ethnic minorities in special schools is undesirable. But that has been a fact for historical reasons and changing the system, however desirable, is a complex issue.

It would be easy for the authorities to open more typical local schools, which teach most subjects in Chinese and where English is taught as a subject. But that would help only if it was acceptable to the minorities, most of whom prefer their children to go to English-medium schools.

Language barriers have been cited by the minorities as an obstacle to sending their children to local schools. Racial slurs are another problem. But all immigrant children everywhere face similar hurdles. Whether the Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese children here are placed in English or Chinese-medium schools, those problems exist as neither language is their mother tongue.

While the authorities need to help schools and ethnic minority children to overcome assimilation problems, they should not be an excuse against integration. The playground is as much a part of the learning process as the classroom. That is where friendships are formed and understanding is fostered. Language barriers are soon broken down when children play.