Promotion of Racial Integration and Prevention of Racial Discrimination in Schools
Education is the key to the future of our children. Not only does education enable individuals to develop their potential, it is also instrumental to attainment in other areas, such as employment. Ensuring equal access to quality education for all members of the community is fundamental to developing human resources to the full, and maintaining the competitiveness of our society. As well, it is essential for achieving equality and harmony in society.
In this regard, schools are at the heart of our children’s education and overall development. Schools should welcome children from diverse backgrounds and enable them to benefit from everything that education can offer, including knowledge, social interaction and good citizenship. However, this objective can only be met if schools, educators, teachers, parents and students work together towards creating an inclusive and racially harmonious learning environment, which is crucial to the delivery of high quality and equitable education.
In recent years, an increasing number of schools have opened their doors to ethnic minority students. Other schools are strongly advised to join their ranks because a culturally inclusive school environment can benefit not only ethnic minority students, but also all other students from diversifying their language exposures, deepening their acceptance towards others and developing their global perspectives. While adherence to the law is essential, schools are encouraged to think beyond the law and embrace the fact that ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong are an integral part of our society. Understanding how the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) is applied in school and promoting racial integration are not limited to those schools admitting ethnic minority students. All students as future pillars of our society should be equipped with these knowledge and attitude.
The aim of this booklet is to educate. With the help of real situations and examples, not only is the law explained, but the principles behind the law in practical context are further clarified. In particular, the objectives of the booklet are the following:
To inform and educate schools, educators, teachers, parents and students about the principles of racial equality;
To inspire all stakeholders to work together on embracing and adhering to these principles;
To explain the application of the RDO in kindergartens, schools and other educational institutions; and
To provide useful suggestions to help educational institutions conform to the RDO, as well as the general principles of racial inclusion and integration.
The RDO, which was passed in 2008, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, descent, national origin and ethnic origin. The RDO is applicable, among others, in the areas of education and the provision of goods, facilities and services. Therefore, the RDO is binding on schools, tutorial centres, kindergartens, other educational institutions and child care centres.
By understanding and adhering to the RDO, not only can schools fulfil their legal obligations and create equality and inclusion in school, but they can also prevent discrimination complaints and litigation.
For parents and students, this booklet helps you understand your rights and obligations under the RDO and the channel for redress if you or your children have been discriminated against on the ground of race. For the schools, it serves as a reference for devising policies and measures for the promotion of diversity and inclusion, through which students can develop and thrive in a multicultural environment.
A. Direct Discrimination
Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably on the ground of his or her race. For example, if a school decides to refuse admission of a student because of his/her ethnic origin, this may constitute a violation of the RDO. (Refer to FAQ#1 from Parents/Students)
Section 26 of the RDO states that it is unlawful for the responsible body of an educational establishment to discriminate against a person based on his/her race:
- In the terms on which it offers to admit that person to the establishment as a student;
- By refusing, or deliberately omitting to accept, an application for that person’s admission to the establishment as a student;
- Where the person is a student of the establishment:
- In the way it affords the person access to any benefits, facilities or services, or by refusing or deliberately omitting to afford the person access to them; or
- By expelling the person from the establishment or subjecting him or her to any other detriment.
Direct discrimination may also occur if students, who have been admitted to a school, receive less favourable treatment based on their race. Less favourable treatment may arise from differences in the type of or access to school support, in the handling of requests or enquiries from students or parents, in participation in school activities/clubs or forums, and in the exercise of disciplinary action. For example, if a student from a particular race receives harsher disciplinary action compared to other students due to his/her race, this may constitute racial discrimination under the RDO.
Although Child Care Centres are not registered as schools, they are considered to be service providers under the RDO. If a child care centre refuses to provide service to a prospective user due to his/her race, this may be a violation of the RDO.
Section 27 of the RDO states that it is unlawful for any person concerned with the provision of goods, facilities or services to discriminate against another person who seeks to obtain or use those goods, facilities or services (with payment or not):
- By refusing, or deliberately omitting to provide, the second- mentioned person with any of them;
- By refusing or deliberately omitting to provide the second-mentioned person with goods, facilities or services of the like quality, in the like manner and on the like terms as are normal in the first-mentioned person’s case.
Under the RDO, discrimination on the ground of the race of a near relative is also unlawful. A near relative means a person’s spouse, parent or child, grandparent or grandchild, sibling and in-laws.
B. Indirect Discrimination
Indirect discrimination occurs when a uniform requirement or condition, which cannot be justified on non-racial grounds, is applied equally on people of different races but which has an unfair effect on a particular racial group because (i) only a smaller proportion of people from that racial group can meet that requirement compared to the proportion of people of other racial groups, and/or (ii) the condition is to the detriment of the persons of that particular group because they cannot meet it.
a. Language requirement in schools
Under the RDO, language is not covered under the definition of race and schools are not required to change the medium of instruction. However, as language used by people is often associated with their race, treatment based on language may discriminate against certain racial groups.
Indirect discrimination in education may occur when a school imposes a requirement across the board on every student/prospective student, but it has a discriminatory effect on those who come from certain racial groups and the requirement is not justifiable on non-racial grounds. Indirect discrimination relating to language may arise in the following circumstances:
Language requirement during admissionIf a school requires, in the absence of any justifiable reason, all school place applicants and their parents to speak Cantonese during interviews as a pre-requisite for applying to the school and people of a certain race are less able to comply with this requirement (Refer to FAQ#2 from Schools/Kindergartens & FAQ#1 from Parents/Students).
School notices and communicationIf the school only provides communications in Chinese to ethnic minority parents who do not speak, read or write Chinese, without any justifiable reason (Refer to FAQ#3 from Schools/Kindergartens & FAQ#5 from Parents/Students).
In short, schools need to make sure every student has an equal chance to learn without language barrier.
b. Religion and school rules
Although the RDO does not cover religious discrimination in Hong Kong, drawing a clear line between race and religion is often difficult. Religious and cultural practices may be linked to racial identity. In certain religious groups that are closely associated to people of particular racial origin(s), racial identity sometimes includes religious identity. In such cases, any imposed condition or requirement that affects religious practices may constitute indirect discrimination on the ground of race. It would be appropriate for school uniform rules to respect and take into account the cultural, religious and racial practices of students. Otherwise, children’s rights relating to racial equality under the law may be affected. For details, you can refer to the booklet “Racial Equality and School Uniform” published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) via the following link:
(Refer to FAQ#6, 7&8 from Schools/Kindergartens & FAQ#8 from Parents/Students)
Racial harassment is any unwelcome conduct towards another person on the ground of his or her race.
Section 38 of the RDO prohibits harassment in education establishments. It states that it is unlawful for:
- A person who is, or is a member of, the responsible body of an educational establishment to harass a person who is seeking to be, or who is, a student of the establishment;
- A person who is a member of the staff of an educational establishment to harass a person who is seeking to be, or who is, a student of the establishment ; or
- A person who is a student of an educational establishment to harass a person who is seeking to be, or who is, a student of the establishment;
- A person who is seeking to be, or who is, a student of an educational establishment to harass a person –
- Who is, or is a member of, the responsible body for the establishment; or
- Who is a member of the staff of the establishment.
There are two types of racial harassment.
A. Unwelcome conduct
If any member of the school engages in unwelcome conduct towards another person on the ground of the race of that other person or a near relative of that other person, in circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by that conduct, this may amount to racial harassment.
Racial harassment can be in any form–physical, visual, written, online, verbal or non-verbal–and even a single incident may constitute racial harassment. Examples of such acts may include:
- Engaging in name calling, which people of certain racial groups may find offensive or impolite;
- Making racial jokes and/or making fun of someone’s accent, appearance or traditional food;
- Using an offensive language when communicating with people from certain racial groups.
(Refer to FAQ#5 from Schools/Kindergartens & FAQ#3&7 from Parents/Students)
B. Hostile environment
If any member of the school, alone or together with other persons, engages in conduct that creates an environment which intimidates another person on the ground of his/her race, this may be considered a hostile environment. For instance, a group of students paints some racially derogatory graffiti or threatening messages on a wall in the school playground on the ground of some students’ race. This could make the students of that particular race feel offended or intimidated even though the graffiti or messages did not directly target a particular student.
Sometimes a student may joke about another student without the intention to harass. However, intention is not a relevant factor when considering liability for the unlawful act of racial harassment. There is liability for harassment even if there is no intention or motive to offend, humiliate or intimidate. Therefore, we suggest that schools, kindergartens and tutorial centres raise the awareness of all students and staff about this provision with a view to creating a racially respectful learning environment.
As service providers, Child Care Centres are also bound by section 39 of the RDO which provides that it is unlawful for staff of child care centres to harass service users, including parents or applicants.
Section 45 of the RDO makes it unlawful for any member of the school, by any public activity, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of another person(s) on the ground of race. An activity in public includes any form of communication to the public or conduct observable by the public, including on-line posting.
For instance, if a student goes to an Internet forum, publicly deriding a schoolmate of Indian origin and encouraging others to physically obstruct people with darker skin tone from entering the school campus, this may constitute racial vilification by inciting hatred toward people of another racial group. Similarly, displaying posters in public which severely ridicule a certain ethnic origin, regardless of whether it is Chinese or non-Chinese, may also be considered racial vilification.
Discrimination by way of victimisation may occur if a teacher, a school staff member or a student treats another teacher, school staff member or student less favourably by reason that he or she did or intends to:
- Bring proceedings under the RDO;
- Give information or evidence in connection with proceedings under the RDO;
- Allege that someone has contravened the RDO (except where the allegation is false and not made in good faith); or
Otherwise do anything under or by reference to the RDO.(Refer to FAQ#7 from Parents/Students)
The following examples may constitute discrimination by way of victimisation.
- A teacher refuses to write a reference for a student because he/she has made a complaint against him/her under the RDO.
- A student is offered a poor grade in conduct solely because he/she gave evidence as a witness in a case in which his/her teacher had allegedly racially harassed a classmate.
If you feel you are being discriminated against in school establishments or child care centres because of your race, you could raise these issues with the management of the school or centre. School or centre management should respond to and, if possible, resolve the complaint internally.
You may also lodge a complaint with the EOC. The law requires that complaints lodged with the EOC must be in writing and within 12 months from the time of the incident. You can submit your complaint in writing by mail, fax, electronic mail, online or in person. If you have a language need, the EOC can provide you with an interpreter upon request.
In addition, you may initiate legal proceedings within 24 months from the time of the incident under the anti-discrimination ordinances before the District Court.
A. Students/school staff/teachers/student applicants
The student, school staff, teacher, student applicant will be personally liable for his/her own act if he/she violates the anti-discrimination ordinances.
B. School Administrators/Incorporated Management Committee (IMC)
School administrators and/or IMC may be vicariously liable for their employees’ unlawful act of discrimination or harassment even if they have no knowledge of or did not approve the act, unless the school can show that it has taken reasonable steps to prevent its employees from doing so. School employees include teachers, teaching assistants, clerks in general office, janitors, etc. Service providers such as coaches, social workers and tutors may also be considered agents of the school, and school administrators/IMC would carry vicarious liability for any discrimination or harassment by their agents.
Students, parents, school staff and applicants of all racial groups are entitled to be free from harassment on the ground of race. If they have brought to the attention of the school administrators and/or IMC a certain discriminatory act, the school is advised to take practicable steps to stop the act and prevent the development of a racially hostile environment.
The EOC will assess the case and may investigate into the complaint and endeavour to resolve the case by conciliation. If a settlement cannot be reached, the complainant may apply for legal assistance from the EOC. Based on merits of the complaints, legal assistance is considered on a case-by-case basis.
Parties can propose and negotiate the settlement terms. A few examples of what can be included are:
- An apology;
- Admission to a school;
- Monetary settlement;
- Undertaking to conduct or arrange staff training; and/or
- Undertaking to change an organisation’s policy or procedures.
If you need further information regarding your rights under Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination ordinances, the complaint-handling procedures and/or training and consultation services of the EOC, please contact the EOC at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call its hotline at 2511 8211. The EOC office is open from Monday to Friday 8:45am to 5:45pm. Interpretation services can be arranged upon request, subject to the availability of the interpreter.
1. Admission policy
2. Language requirement
Although the RDO does not require schools to change the medium of instruction in teaching, there is no such specific exemption in the RDO on the language used in interviews. Kindergartens may still face indirect discrimination complaints and litigation if they, without justifiable reason, refuse to interview non-Chinese applicants because they cannot speak Cantonese or reject applications from Chinese applicants because they cannot speak English. Kindergartens are therefore advised to conduct the screening by using other assessment methods, such as observation of the child’s learning motivation, interaction with others, etc. If applicants have difficulty to understand the instructions due to language barrier, schools are encouraged to provide accommodation, such as arranging interpreters or allowing family members to interpret for the applicants, etc. (Refer to Section 4B(a) Indirect Discrimination - Language requirement during admission)
3. Communication with parents who do not understand Cantonese
4. Disciplinary action
5. Racial harassment
We suggest the school develop an Equal Opportunities Policy and clear procedures for teachers and staff to handle issues relating to discrimination and harassment, and state out preventive anti-discrimination and harassment measures in school environment. The school could also assign a specific staff member as the responsible person to handle all such matters. In this way, the school can deal with discrimination or harassment complaints in a consistent manner. In this respect, the EOC can provide consultancy and training for formulating school policies and guidelines on equal opportunity. (Refer to Section 5A Racial Harassment - Unwelcome conduct)
6. Uniform related to religious practice
7. Religious activities
8. Religious celebrations
9. Addressing complaints
10. Application of the RDO to all races
2. School Support
3. Name calling
4. Social interaction
6. Complaints about behaviour
7. Racial Stereotyping
8. Integration into the school
Parents are advised to be proactive in developing a relationship with the school and teachers. For example, parents could join the Parent-Teacher Association or attend the Parents’ Day or any other school activities to visibly demonstrate your commitment towards your child’s education. Furthermore, do not hesitate to ask questions on any specific concerns you may have about your child or the school.
If your child ever mentions any incident or situation that has made him or her uncomfortable, you are advised to bring it to the teacher’s attention so that the situation can be addressed. (Refer to Section 4B(b) Indirect Discrimination – Religion and school rules)
These are some suggestions to promote a healthy multicultural environment in schools which can create a nurturing environment for all students regardless of race, ethnicity and colour.
- Formulate equal opportunities policies in school to reflect the school’s commitment to eliminating discrimination, take proactive measures to prevent discrimination and foster inclusiveness and provide guidelines for handling complaints related to discrimination and harassment in the areas of, but not limited to, sex, disability, family status and race.
- Provide training for all staff, teachers, as well as students on cultural awareness, sensitivity and avoiding stereotyping. Encourage staff and teachers to communicate with ethnic minority parents by reminding that simple English is usually sufficient for communication with them.
- Promote the usage of interpretation as well as any other kinds of accommodation to ensure access to education, services and information by students and parents.
- Organise activities that encourage interaction of students from different racial backgrounds to generate awareness and respect for other cultures and religions. Such activities will empower the students and build bridges between them.
- Have integrated classes with Chinese and non-Chinese students studying together as far as possible.
- Consciously mix racial groups in class, in sports teams and in school-wide activities so as to promote interactions and exchanges across different racial/cultural groups.
- Promote the achievements and contributions of students of different ethnic backgrounds in school’s internal and external materials, e.g. newsletters, posters, etc.
- Make sure all school policies are applied uniformly, consistently and across the board. Wherever exceptions need to be made, make sure procedures and rules are applied in a consistent manner.
- To the extent possible, remove barriers for ethnic minority parents’ involvement in school bodies and activities, such as issuing bilingual notices for school events, arranging interpretation for parents’ day and/or holding bilingual meetings of parent-teacher association.
- Parents and schools should work together to inculcate values of mutual respect for other cultures from an early age, ideally at the kindergarten or primary school stage.
- Parents can encourage their children to integrate into the larger society by being role models themselves and taking an active part in the school and community, e.g. attending the parents’ day, joining school events for families and/or participating in the parent-teacher association.
- Parents should maintain open communication with their children and school to proactively address the children’s needs for learning and social development.
- Support Service for Non-Chinese Speaking Student : 3540 7447
- New Territories West : 2437 7272
- New Territories East : 2639 4876
- Kowloon : 3698 4108
- Hong Kong : 2863 4646
- Link: www.edb.gov.hk/ncs
Hong Kong Christian Service - Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents (CHEER)
Free Telephone Interpretation Service:
- Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog and Thai, enquiry no. : 3755 6811
- Hindi and Nepali, enquiry no. : 3755 6822
- Punjabi and Urdu enquiry no. : 3755 6833
- Link: http://www.hkcs.org/gcb/cheer/cheer-e.html#3
Home Affairs Department – Race Relations Unit
Equal Opportunities Commission
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