Equal Opportunities Commission


Chairperson’s Articles

Let's really learn language of inclusion


Education is key to better integration of Hong Kong's diverse population

Fear of the unknown is the oldest fear known to the human race, according to a saying. There is also sage advice to replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity. In the context of what I have to say, the latter is more pertinent.

It is also timely as we mark the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (or World Cultural Diversity Day) on May 21.

Non-Chinese people account for 8.5 percent of our population, which is relatively small compared with the population mix in some places around us.

Though small, this diversity is intrinsic to Hong Kong's identity as Asia's World City from a historical, social and economic standpoint.

But diversity is just a number. More indicative of how true the city is to this label is its measure of inclusion. Having an insider's view of the diversity and inclusion landscape here, I reckon there is work to be done for Hong Kong to live up to its portrayed image.

Education is the bedrock of any society and can say a lot about its values. Foundations of equality and inclusion must be laid in educational institutions so they can be carried forth into society as students move into workplace, government and decision-making roles. For any society to be counted upon as equal and just, they must ensure they have these values embedded in their education.

The education of non-Chinese speaking students has long been a focus area for the Equal Opportunities Commission. When one looks at our education system and the policies with regard to NCS students, it is not difficult to spot gaps between what these students expect to achieve and what they actually achieve.

Statistics show the picture of a racially inclusive learning environment for both NCS and mainstream students is not exactly rosy.

In 2020/21, more than one in four NCS primary (31 percent) and secondary (28 percent) students continued to be in schools (public and direct subsidy scheme schools) with more than 70 percent NCS student populations.

This does not include other schools with smaller NCS student populations where they are grouped into classes based on lower Chinese language levels and are studying separately from Chinese counterparts most of the time.

Furthermore, you will find no NCS students in 28 percent of primary and 31 percent of secondary schools falling under the public and DSS categories.

Stereotypes will abound where awareness is limited. This will lead to the inevitable "us and them" mentality.

The only way to prevent stereotypes from taking root and transforming into deep biases is to help people interact and get to know each other and encourage curiosity about each other.

This will not only replace the fear but actually help one discover the strength that comes from diversity - diversity of backgrounds, ideas and thoughts. How is this going to happen though if children are deprived of the opportunities for interacting and making friends with peers from other racial and cultural backgrounds?

Grouping students based on level of language proficiency for certain subjects may be necessary and sometimes inevitable.

However, this should not be seen as a justification for separating all NCS students from the mainstream classes. Mix students of different backgrounds as much as possible to benefit all.

Policy-wise, with the Education Bureau's enhanced support measures introduced eight years ago, it seems the gap may be narrowing. Yet, integration is more than just about figures.

The bureau has to give clear requirements and guidance to ensure racial inclusion in classrooms and introduce diversity and inclusion education into the curriculum. Equality does not mean being identical. Substantive equality should be the goal.

If policymakers were curious about turning diversity into opportunity, they would define the issue differently: how do we equip this pool of talent so they become a vital resource for the city they too call home? You would then channel energies into providing the best possible tools in the best manner possible so our racial minority population, including students, can achieve their full potential, be productive and feel they are an integral part of Hong Kong's development, growth and sustenance.


The article is published in The Standard on 24 May 2022.