Inclusive Education

Looking Outside the School: ‘Out of School’ Ethnic Minority Children in Hong Kong*

Bangladesh Education Article
Bangladesh Education Article
Written by Editor

MIRON KUMAR BHOWMIK


Abstract: There is a growing literature including popular media articles reporting many issues about the current education provision for the ethnic minority students in Hong Kong. The Equal Opportunity Commission has also formally noticed Education Bureau of its concerns about the education of ethnic minority students. It especially recognized an issue with reference to the disproportionately low participation rates of ethnic minority children in upper secondary and post-secondary education compared to the majority ethnic Chinese children. This paper uses two important frameworks to focus on the extent of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children in Hong Kong i.e. ‘Five Dimensions of Exclusion’ by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and ‘Seven Zones of Exclusion’ by Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE). An analysis of 2006 census data confirms that a good number of ethnic minority children are not within the school; this includes the pre-primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and post-secondary age-group children. This paper concludes with suggestions concerning a research and policy agenda in the area of ethnic minority education in Hong Kong.

Key Words: Out of School Children; Ethnic Minority Students; Drop Out

Introduction
There is a growing literature reporting many issues about the current education provision for the ethnic minority students in Hong Kong (Chong, 2011; Connelly, Gube & Thapa 2012; Heung, 2006; Hong Kong Unison Limited, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012; Hue, 2011; Kapai, 2011; Kennedy, 2011a, 2011b; Kennedy & Hue, 2011; Ku, Chan & Sandhu, 2005; Loper, 2004; Novianti, 2007, Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service 2000, 2002). Many popular media articles are also continuously featuring these issues (e.g. Benitez, 2011; Bhowmik, 2012a, 2012b; Cheng, 2011; Deng, 2011a, 2011b; South China Morning Post, 2006; Thapa, 2012; Zhao, 2011). In addition, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has formally notified the Education Bureau (EDB) of its concerns about the education of ethnic minority students (Equal Opportunities Commission [EOC], 2011). While the focus of the related research has been on the provision of adequate education (Education Bureau [EDB], 2011a, 2011b; Education Commission [EC], 2000) and the extent to which such provisions meet the requirements of the Racial Discrimination Ordinance (Home Affairs Bureau [HAB], 2008), little attention has been paid so far to the status of ethnic minority students (‘immigrants’ or ‘citizens’), the entitlements that such status gives them in the Hong Kong context, the extent to which there remains ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children in Hong Kong (possibly as a result of their status) and the policy implications of these issues (Bhowmik & Kennedy, 2012). The following framework reflects the areas of research relating to ethnic minority students in Hong Kong and also the questions that at this stage remain unanswered (Bhowmik & Kennedy, 2012).

Table 1: Framework for Research on Ethnic Minority Students in Hong Kong


Source: (Bhowmik & Kennedy, 2012)

While it seems that to date all the research has been on the ethnic minority students who are already in the schools, the above mentioned framework clearly shows that there has been no research yet on the ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children. In addition, equal opportunities commission especially recognized an issue that there are disproportionate low participation rates of ethnic minority children in upper secondary and post-secondary education compared to the majority ethnic Chinese children (EOC, 2011). This paper therefore focuses on the extent of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children in Hong Kong. For this it employs two important frameworks i.e. ‘Five Dimensions of Exclusion’ by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2010) and ‘Seven Zones of Exclusion’ by Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE) (Lewin, 2007) and analyses 2006 census data (Census and Statistics Department, 2007). 

‘Out Of School’ Construct
UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2010) use ‘Five Dimensions of Exclusion’ as a framework for better understanding ‘out of school’ students. The framework has five dimensions of exclusion. Dimension 1 considers children of pre-primary school age who are not in pre-primary or primary school; Dimension 2 refers to children of primary school age who are not in primary or secondary school; Dimension 3 includes children of lower-secondary school age who are not in primary or secondary school; Dimension 4 considers children who are in primary school but at risk of dropping out; and Dimension 5 includes children who are in lower-secondary school but at risk of dropping out.

Another framework provided by Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE) considers ‘Seven Zones of Exclusion’ to understand ‘out of school’ children (Lewin, 2007). Zone 0 refers to the children who are out of pre-primary school; Zone 1 contains those children who are never enrolled in primary school; Zone 2 considers those primary children who are dropped out at the early stage or before completing the cycle; Zone 3 includes those primary children who are in school but at risk of dropping out; Zone 4 includes those children who failed to transit to lower secondary school; Zone 5 considers those lower secondary children dropped out before completing the cycle; Zone 6 contains lower secondary children who are in school but at risk of dropping out.

Both frameworks put significant emphasize on ‘meaningful participations’ of students which is something more than only attending school. While students are coming to the school it is not always case that they are actively engaged in their school and classroom activities. There are also students who have attendance and progression problems. Literature in this area strongly suggests that all these types of students are at the risk of dropping out (Hunt, 2008; Lewin, 2007; Rumberger, 2011). Therefore, both ‘meaningful participations’ and ‘at risk of dropping out’ have a strong relationship with access, transition and exclusion in education.  

It appears that both frameworks consider ‘out of school’ construct for the students up to the end of lower secondary level. Perhaps their most usages in the context of development might be one of the reasons for that. Yet, drop out discourse in the context of USA considers students until the achievement of high school diploma (Rumberger, 2011). While there are two different upper limits we see from the literature, I will generally use the construct here to identify ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children all through from pre-primary to post-secondary level of education in Hong Kong. 

‘Out of School’ Children in Hong Kong

Before looking at the extent of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children, it is important to have an understanding first on the scenario of overall ‘out of school’ children in Hong Kong. There is a dearth of research both nationally and internationally that has examined ‘out of school’ children in the context of Hong Kong. For example, Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Reports (e.g. UNESCO, 2010, 2011) does not report on educational statistics of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, while this report provides all the basic educational statistics for rest of the world. However, Global Education Digest report by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2011) provides some statistics on ‘out of school’ children not only in Hong Kong but also in other jurisdiction in the region.

Global Education Digest reports that 13% pre-primary age-group children in Hong Kong were not in school in the year 2009 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2011, p. 94). It is to mention here that pre-primary education has not been yet compulsory and free in Hong Kong. And Hong Kong has a policy of 12 years free education of which 9 years are compulsory. The typical compulsory education age-group is 6-14 that normally covers grades from I to IX. Global Education Digest also reports on the percentage and number of out of school children of primary and lower secondary age-groups in the year 2009. While the percentage of ‘out of school’ children for primary age-group was about 2%, the percentage for lower secondary age-group was 9% (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2011, p. 134). The World Bank (2012) data centre also provides some useful statistics about ‘out of school’ children in primary level in Hong Kong. It is to be noted that there are inconsistency in 2009 ‘out of school’ children data between the two datasets. While Global Education Digest reports ‘out of school’ figure for Hong Kong primary age-group children 6000, the World Bank data centre reports primary ‘out of school’ children about 12000. However, these international reports make it very clear that the phenomenon of ‘out of school’ children does very much exist in Hong Kong context. But nothing is mentioned publicly about the existence of this phenomenon. It apparently looks like not an area to have concentration yet. And these data do not report about the upper secondary and post-secondary age-group students. Given this context, identifying the right number of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children is very difficult.

Ethnic Minority Population in Hong Kong

The general discourse encouraged by the HKSAR government about ‘ethnic minorities’ refers to the ‘people from non-Chinese ethnicities’ (Census and Statistics Department, 2007, P. 2). According to the 2006 census (2007, P. 15), about 5% (exact figure is 342198) of the total population of HKSAR were ethnic minorities mainly belonging to the ethnic group of Filipinos, Indonesians, White, Indians, Nepalese, Japanese, Thais, Pakistanis, Koreans and Bangladeshis etc. The recent summary result for 2011 census shows an increase of the total number of ethnic minority population, which does now account for 6.4% (the number is 451183) of the total Hong Kong population (Census and Statistics Department, 2012, p. 37). The numbers of ethnic minority children under the below 15 and 15-24 age-groups are 32289 and 41936 respectively which is about 15% less than the corresponding figures for the year 2001 (Census and Statistics Department, 2007).

‘Out of School’ Ethnic Minority Children in Hong Kong

Educational statistics on ethnic minority children are not readily available and there are significant inconsistencies in data presented for the ethnic minorities not only in education but also in other areas (Chung & Leung, 2011; Kennedy, 2011a, 2012). For example, the number of ethnic minority children enrolled in primary and secondary schools in the year 2007-08 were 5583 and 3272 respectively (Mrs. Shek, Education Officer, Education Commission, EDB), whereas another source (Hong Kong SAR Government, 2008, pp 6-7) reports this figure 5671 and 3097 respectively. And the 2006 figure reported by census data in the previous year was just double of the mentioned 2007-08 data set, 12879 and 7036 respectively (Census and Statistics Department, 2007). The Equal Opportunities Commission (2011) has also asserted the need for using the forthcoming 2011 population census to capture the information for ethnic minority population in general, and school age children in particular in order for formulating appropriate education policies and support measures. 

Table 2 shows the school attendance rates of ethnic minority students by age-group. In the year 2006, about 16% ethnic minority children were not attending to school in their pre-primary ages while this rate for whole population is 11%. There is also considerable gap in the school attendance rates of ethnic minority students under age-group (17-18) compared to the whole population. The most important statistics from this table is the school attendance rate for ethnic minority students at the age (19-24) is only 6.7% where the rate for whole population is 37.3%. These both age groups (17-18 and 19-24) are the time for potentially attending upper secondary schools and higher education.

Table 2: School Attendance Rates of Ethnic Minority Students by age-group


Source: (Census and Statistics Department, 2007, p. 43)

The proportion of Ethnic minority students studying full time courses in Hong Kong is about 4.0% in the year 2006, amongst them 2.9% belonged to the age-group below 15 and the rest are to age-group 15 and over (Census and Statistics Department, 2007, p. 51). Table 3 shows that, a total of 8845 students (18%) under the age-group below 15 are not in any full time courses at school. What is not clear though from this statistics is which education level they belong to mostly. But it can be assumed that they mainly belong to pre-primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and higher education group which is also consistent with the analysis that has been presented in the case of table 2. If we assume the primary enrolment figure (12819) is stable over time a number of interesting points could be made (Kennedy, 2011a, 2012) from this statistics (table 3):

About 48% ethnic minority children are out of pre-primary education in Hong Kong. Only 28% of primary-age cohort ethnic minority students can move into lower secondary level. And about 19% and 6% of that cohort can make upper secondary and sixth form respectively. The participation rate of that cohort in all sort of post-secondary education is only 10%. 

Table 3: Ethnic Minority Students are at Full-time courses by age-group in 2006


Source: (Census and Statistics Department, 2007, p. 51)

It is very clear from the analysis of Tables 2 and 3 that a good number of ethnic minority children are not in Hong Kong schools. Now we will look at what these quantitative data mean using two ‘out of school’ frameworks we mentioned before.

If we consider ‘Five Dimensions of Exclusion’ (UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2010) framework for Hong Kong context, dimension 1 and dimension 3 definitely prevails in Hong Kong education in the case of ethnic minority children based on the data and statistics available. It is not clear about dimension 2, because the particular age-group (6-11) specific population data is not available at the census report to reach into any conclusion. Since there is major transition issue from primary to lower secondary and lower secondary to upper secondary exists in school as analyzed above in table 2 and 3, it is very likely that many ethnic minority students in primary and lower secondary level are not meaningfully participating in their school and learning activities which ultimately leads them to the risk of dropping out. Therefore, it is fair to say that dimension 4 and 5 also prevails in Hong Kong education in the case of ethnic minority students.

Table 4: ‘Out of School’ Ethnic Minority Children in Hong Kong

‘Seven Zones of Exclusion’ framework (Lewin, 2007) reveals that ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children definitely prevails in zone 0, zone 4 and zone 5 based on the data and statistics available. It is not clear whether ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children prevails in zone 1 and zone 2, because the particular age-group (6-11) specific population data is not available at the census report to reach into any conclusion. Since there is major transition issue from primary to lower secondary and lower secondary to upper secondary exists in school as analyzed above in table 2 and 3, it is very likely that many ethnic minority students in primary and lower secondary level are not meaningfully participating in their school and learning activities which ultimately leads them to the risk of dropping out. Therefore, it is fair to say that ethnic minority students also prevail in zone 3 and zone 6.

Both frameworks clearly show that ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children prevail in pre-primary and lower secondary level. In addition, the analysis of table 2 and 3 confirms that ‘out of school’ children also very much prevail in upper secondary and post secondary level.  

Research and Policy Implication
It is clear that there has not been enough data available in public domain to identify the right number of ‘out of school’ children overall in Hong Kong and for ethnic minority in particular. Even if where data are available there are significant inconsistencies found in some cases. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more, consistent and better quality data in this area and that data need to be disaggregated so that the extent of ‘out of school’ phenomenon for both Chinese and ethnic minority children can be determined. However, the analysis of the 2006 census data (Census and Statistics Department, 2007) in the previous section showed that a good number of ethnic minority children are not within the school; this includes the pre-primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and post-secondary age-group children and young people. In addition, from a deeper discourse of access and transition in education, very little is known about the ‘meaningful participation’ of the ethnic minority children in Hong Kong schools and those ethnic minority children who are ‘at risk of dropping out’ given that both have a significant relationship with the access, transition and exclusion in education. This paper, therefore, strongly argues for a need to research extensively in the area of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children in Hong Kong. While understanding on the full extent of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority children in Hong Kong is very important, in-depth understanding on the reasons for being ‘out of school’ children and exploring what their ‘out of school’ life looks like are even more important for varieties of social, political, economic and cultural reasons.


Acknowledgement

The research reported here is drawn from the General Research Fund project, Exploring Cultural Diversity in Chinese Classrooms: Can Assessment Environments Cater for the Needs of Ethnic Minority Students in Hong Kong, [GRF-HKIEd840809] funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council. The views expressed here are those of the authors.


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*This article was first published in Comparative Education Bulletin. To cite it: Bhowmik, M. K. (2013). Looking Outside the School: ‘Out of School’ Ethnic Minority Children in Hong Kong. Comparative Education Bulletin, 15, 34-46. Retrieved from http://www.fe.hku.hk/cerc/ceshk/doc/CEB2013_15.pdf 


MIRON KUMAR BHOWMIK: PhD Researcher, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong.

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