The 60th Anniversary Musical – The Secret to Success Cum The Establishment of The Preparatory Committee of LCU Alumni Association Organised by Li Cheng Uk Government Primary School

平等機會委員會主席陳章明教授致辭 (只備英文版)


Dr Choi, Ms Ho, Mr Memon, Mrs Iglesias, Ms Gurung, teachers, parents, students, ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me here tonight.

First of all, on behalf of the Equal Opportunities Commission, may I congratulate all of you on being able to witness and celebrate the 60th anniversary of Li Cheng Uk Government Primary School. Sixty years for sure is no short time, and continuing any legacy for that long is no easy feat. In the case of LCUGPS, one of the most ethnically diverse primary schools in Hong Kong, that legacy is no doubt rich and enlightening. It's a legacy of opening up to differences, facilitating exchange, and cultivating harmony. It's a legacy everyone else in the city can learn a lesson from, as we find ourselves living in a world of increasing intolerance and narrowing minds.

When I was asked by your headmistress, Ms Ho, to give a speech about equal education opportunity, I wondered how I could make these three big words interesting and relevant to you, how I could keep your eyes off that Instagram page on your cell phone which, I have to admit, may be a lot more attractive than me standing up here on the stage.

To achieve that, I figured I should raise a more fundamental question first, to the young and bright minds in this theatre: What is education anyway? Why do you go to school at all? I'm not sure how often you reflect on this, but just because something has become a habit, like brushing your teeth or tying your shoelaces, it doesn't mean you have to stop thinking about the meaning of it all.

If you ask me, I don't think you should go to school just because your parents ask you to, or because you see your friends doing the same thing every day. Instead, go to school with the belief that you are going to discover your strength and your passion, with the confidence that what you learn inside and outside the classroom is going to transform you one day into the person you wish to become. The stamina of a fire-fighting hero may have its roots in elementary PE lessons; the eloquence of a visionary politician may be the result of years of reading and speaking practice; and the wildest idea of an inventive scientist wouldn't materialise without some math backing it up.

This is why education matters, and why I feel compelled tonight to tell you the story of a brave girl named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a girl who risked her life trying to get an education that meant the world to her.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Shabana grew up under the rule of the Taliban, an extremist group that took power in 1996. From the age of six to eleven, going to school was a potentially deadly daily ritual for Shabana, as the Taliban had banned girls throughout the country from studying. You know what Shabana did? She would dress as a boy every day, pose as an escort for her older sister, and the two of them would put their books in grocery bags and sneak off to a secret school. They took a different route each day, so that no one would get suspicious and find out where they were going. Mind you, what they called school was actually a modest house, with more than 100 people packed into one living room.

At a time when the official authorities in Afghanistan dismissed women as unworthy of education and endorsed the message that they should be forever confined to their homes, Shabana and her sister, together with other frightened and yet determined girls, were putting their lives on the line with the common goal to take back the opportunity they deserved – the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to prosper. Shabana's father once told her, "If we have to sell our blood to pay your school fees, we will." Such is the commitment we human beings are capable of, when we're determined to prove our dignity, to fight for something as basic as the right to education.

For sure, getting an education in Hong Kong isn't remotely as perilous as in the culture where Shabana was raised. Most of you probably don't have to pretend to be somebody else on your way to school. But when it comes to ensuring each and every one of you receive a fair chance at exploring the subjects you love and realising your potential, we – as a city – can certainly do more. While people may say they have nothing against equality, we continue to see children not being able to get a fair share of the opportunities education has to offer, simply because of a trait they have, such as their ethnicity or a disability.

Allow me to elaborate by way of what's most familiar to you – the challenge of learning the Chinese language. For many of you, Chinese is not your first or even second language. This shouldn't be a problem at all, as long as you have all the tools you need to build your knowledge and develop your potential, just as freely as native Chinese students. But the truth is, native Chinese speakers make up over 90% of Hong Kong's population, and as the majority they don't know how hard it is for you: they are not accustomed to seeing the language barriers and other hurdles you face in life, let alone bringing them down for you. That's why a lot of kindergartens do not take the initiative to arrange admission interviews in English for your little brothers and sisters; why many publishers are not keen on developing textbooks for you to gradually master Chinese as a second language; and why applying for university has never crossed the minds of most of your older friends, who would rather get a job to support their families the moment they graduate from secondary school, than prolong their struggle with an education system that has failed to hold their interest.

This is the opposite of equal opportunity, and we at the EOC have been working closely with the Education Bureau to try and turn things around. We are advocating stronger financial incentives for kindergartens to take in ethnic minority children and implement extra language support, so that they can socialise with their Chinese-speaking counterparts and practice the language from an early age; we are also pushing for a detailed curriculum for learning Chinese as a second language – with clear targets and comprehensive indicators – so that its effectiveness can be assessed on a regular basis; and we are suggesting that the official textbooks under development should expand into a series covering all levels of study, so that ethnic minority students do not have to place all their hopes on private publishers in finding the right materials to improve their Chinese. Last but not the least, we recommend stipulating a percentage of teachers at every school with second language learners to receive formal training in teaching non-Chinese speaking students, so that the right materials will fall into the right hands.

Needless to say, our pursuit of equal opportunity in education does not end with ethnic minority children. The student on wheelchair who has troubles navigating around campus, the autistic student whose tantrums throw his teachers off guard, the hearing-impaired student who is denied sign language interpretation in an interview, the transgender student who gets mocked in class and suspended from school… The list goes on, and so does our work.

We, of course, have no time to wallow in negativity, and tonight is a perfect reminder of some of the hard work the good-hearted people of Hong Kong have done over the years. Indeed, LCUGPS has been on the forefront of promoting diversity, respect and inclusion among young children, and I'm more than delighted to join the celebration of your 60th anniversary this evening. I'm also honoured to be in the presence of fellow guest Dr Choi, who's given me the confidence that the Education Bureau will continue to be a committed companion on the rocky road to equality and empowerment.

The famous Dutch speaker Alexander Den Heijer once said, "When a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower." Let's all play our part in filling the holes in the soil that's our education system, make sure we're watering the seeds enough, and turn Hong Kong into a vibrant and colourful garden for generations to come.

Thank you very much, and have a wonderful evening.