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Frequently Asked Questions on “Chinese as a Second Language” (CSL)

Importance of Chinese

1. Both Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong. Why does Hong Kong Unison seem to find it important that that ethnic minority learn Chinese in school?

- Hong Kong Unison cares about Chinese language learning because many ethnic minorities reflect to us that it is increasingly difficult in Hong Kong to be competitive in the job market and gain access to opportunities and information if they only know English but not Chinese. Written Chinese and spoken Cantonese are the most commonly used languages in Hong Kong. We think that the government has the responsibility to provide enough opportunities and support to help ethnic minorities become proficient in Chinese, especially in the public education system. This is why we advocate for an effective Chinese as a Second Language policy.

2. Does Unison think that learning Chinese would solve all problems ethnic minorities face in Hong Kong?

- No, learning Chinese is important but it does not solve all the problems ethnic minorities face in Hong Kong. Unison is also working on other areas such as preserving the identities of ethnic minorities and addressing the discriminatory attitude of some members of the public against ethnic minorities.

About Chinese as a second Language (CSL Curriculum)

3. In Unison’s CSL policy proposal, does having CSL mean putting all ethnic minority students in schools using Chinese as the medium of instruction (CMI)?

- No, CSL is supposed to be a more effective way to teach the Chinese language to ethnic minority students. CSL should apply to both CMI (Chinese as a medium of instruction) and EMI (English as a medium of instruction) schools, because students in both types of schools need to study Chinese Language as a core subject.

4. In Unison’s CSL policy proposal, does having a CSL curriculum mean that ethnic minority student will learn Chinese language at a lower standard?

- No. CSL is supposed to be a different and more effective way of teaching Chinese to students whose mother tongue is not Chinese. It does not mean that ethnic minorities should be taught a lower level of Chinese language under CSL. We strive for a CSL policy that can give ethnic minority students a chance to learn as much Chinese as they need.

5. Do we have to sacrifice ethnic minority students’ English by letting them learn Chinese?

- No, because both Chinese and English are the core subjects in schools. And our English syllabus in HK is already designed as a English as a second language’ syllabus, which is to teach students whose mother tongue is not English.

6. IGCSE & GCE AS/AL can be considered as alternative Chinese qualifications during university admissions. Why should ethnic minority students learn the local level of Chinese?

- Because the levels of GCSE and GCE are only about that of local Primary 2 and local Primary 6 to Form 1 respectively. The level is too low and limits your job options to very few sectors in Hong Kong.

Types of schools

7. Why is it better to mix ethnic minority and Chinese students in the same school?

- This enables ethnic minority students to understand mainstream society better and helps ethnic minority students learn the Chinese language by providing a better Chinese-speaking environment. A mixed environment is also better for preparing all students for a diverse and multicultural society and promoting intercultural understanding and racial harmony.

8. Does ‘mainstream school’ = CMI school?

- No, mainstream schools include both CMI and EMI schools.

9. Will ethnic minority students lose their cultural identities in CMI or mainstream schools?

- A multicultural environment should be established in all kinds of school. With effective teacher training and education of the students, multicultural environment will be established even non-Chinese speaking students are the minority in schools, and it is regardless of language the school uses as the medium of instruction.

10. Will ethnic minority parents be blocked from helping their children’s studies if they go to a CMI school?

- Effective communication should be established in ALL kinds of schools. Both schools and parents share the responsibility to communicate. With the subsidy of EDB, schools should be able to overcome the language barrier and talk to parents by hiring ethnic minority staffs, using interpretation services etc.

11. Is Unison asking the government to close down all designated schools?

- No, Unison is asking the government to introduce measures to ameliorate the problem of over-concentration of ethnic minority students in these schools so as to prevent ethnic minority students from being excluded from mainstream society.

Unison's work

12. Does Unison only care about Chinese language learning? What other issues does Unison care about?

- Unison cares about whether ethnic minority children and youths have enough opportunities and support to learn Chinese well in school. We also care about different issues, such as racial discrimination, equal access to public services, diversity in Hong Kong, employment and vocational training opportunities, quality of interpretation services, naturalization, opportunities for higher education, quality of education for ethnic minorities etc.

13. What has Unison done for ethnic minorities?

- We advocated for legislation against racial discrimination, lobbied for the GCSE/GCE Chinese examinations to be accepted as an alternative Chinese language qualification for university admission, pressed for reduction of GCSE and GCE exam fees through subsidies, advocated for a change in Primary 1 and Secondary 1 school places allocation to give ethnic minorities a wider range of school choices, helped launch the first IVE Foundation Diploma Course for ethnic minority students etc.

14. Why does Unison care about ethnic minority Issues?

- We care because we believe people are born equal regardless of their skin color or background. We strive to promote equal opportunities in all areas, such as higher education and employment (including civil service entry).

15. What does Unison think about the CSL measures proposed by the government in January 2014?

- We are not satisfied with the current measure and we think more has to be done. The Education Bureau plans to implement the Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Framework in the coming September 2014, but crucial details such as the concrete curriculum, benchmarks, teaching materials, teacher training, assessment and monitoring mechanisms, are absent and unavailable to the relevant stakeholders. Also, the Education Bureau has not done enough to consult various stakeholders, particularly ethnic minority parents and students, causing disappointment and complaints towards the government and the current education measure. Unison is worried that attempts to implement this apparently ‘loose’ Learning Framework are likely to lead to chaos in September.

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