Saturday, December 1, 2012
Invited Seminar: Teenage Immigrant Students in Hong Kong
Dr. Wai-chi CHEE
Part-time Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, CUHK
"Optimism Misguided? Teenage Immigrant Students in Hong Kong"
26 Oct 2012
In recent years, due to the sharp decrease in student enrolments in the mainstream schools in Hong Kong, immigrant students from Mainland China and South Asia have become an important source of student intake. Dr. Chee showed how the demographic landscape of Hong Kong contributes to the phenomenon: low birth rate, high net migration rate and aging population led to the decrease of student enrolment in the education sector. As a result, the schools need immigrant students to fill up the vacancies in order to survive. At the same time, more and more students came to Hong Kong for education for better futures.
In order to understand the lives of these immigrant students in Hong Kong, Dr. Chee conducted fieldwork in two schools which provided an integrated programme to low-income immigrant students between 12 and 18 years old, preparing students to adapt to the Hong Kong environment and the mainstream secondary school system. One of the schools was attended by Mainland Chinese students and the other was attended half by people from South Asia and half from the Mainland. Both schools have small class sizes and are funded by the government.
Dr. Chee argued that optimism is reinforced when the new comers participated in the Integrated Programme. They do a lot of extra-curricular activities with their teachers and have the chance to visit some of the famous tourist destinations in Hong Kong. As the mode of teaching is relatively less rigid and both teachers and students are so devoted to the programme, many students have a good impression of Hong Kong and the education system. They think schools in Hong Kong are better than those they attended in Mainland. Most students praise for the safety, laws and infrastructure of Hong Kong. Many think their dreams can be realized and their futures will be rosy.
Nonetheless, there is a huge gap between the Integrated Programme and the mainstream schooling. School policies do not favor immigrant students and the language requirements in the mainstream schools are very rigid. Mismatched placement is very common, i.e. the placement of the school is seldom given to students who have the corresponding educational level. The students who cannot get a placement two months after finishing the Integrated Programme, would most likely give up. Those who are lucky to get a placement also have a hard time in catching up. The new mainland students find it hard to catch up with the English level of local students, whereas the South Asian students have difficulty in learning Chinese. All these issues create the problem of “misguided optimism” as the new students finally realize that their academic future is not as promising as it seemed in the Intergrated Programme. However, neither teachers nor students see the poor performance as a direct consequence of structural problems, instead it is linked to a lack of discipline Students are usually blamed for not working hard enough.
As a local student who was born and raised in Hong Kong, I can see there are indeed some structural problems that our education sector is facing. The recent policy of “killing school” when the school cannot recruit sufficient students worsens the situation. Together with the general atmosphere among young adults who do not want to devote themselves to being teachers, which used to be considered as a highly noble and respectful job, we have every reason to be concerned about the future of Hong Kong. In recent years, more and more South Asian young adults who failed to make a living in legal ways have turned to the gangs in Hong Kong. Their appearance and related criminal activities on local newspapers reinforce the stereotype that most Hong Kong people have towards immigrants - they are dangerous and the destroyers of social order. However, many of us fail to see how our education and employment systems discriminate against the immigrants.
Candy Hiu-yan YU
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