Dear Readers,
Welcome to our blog. In this blog, you’ll be reading about everything related to Education in Hong Kong. Our current focus is on the Non-Chinese Speak Students (NCSS), and with time more groups as well. I (Dharya) and my team members will have something for you every week. We’ll also be having guest writers, who are related to education or personal development in Hong Kong in various capacities.

Tuition Culture: Observations of Non-Chinese Students in Hong Kong

In all the 8 years I have spent in Hong Kong, there was one thing that made me very curious about… It is all around us but we still don’t know what exactly it is… That peculiar thing is the Tuition Culture in Hong Kong. Now, wait! I am not talking about it as a whole, as the tuition culture is quite massive in Hong Kong. In fact, it is everywhere around us. We see it in fast-food restaurants, on bus advertisements and many more. What catches my attention is the absence of this tuition culture for the Non-Chinese Speaking Students (NCSS).

This is the one place, where there is a lack of material on. What I mean to say is that, whilethe tuition culture in Hong Kong is everywhere around us, you don’t see any of it being focused on NCSS Students. But this is also because of the general Hong Kong demographics, which is 90%+ Chinese. Meaning that the local Chinese tuition culture will, of course, be well highlighted. However, the NCSS one is lost. Though, that doesn’t mean that this particular group isn’t part of the tuition culture. In fact, NCSS tuition culture does exist. For example, I have seen this particular culture at a part-time job of mine, which is an NGO for the Non-Chinese, where there is dedicated time for NCSS primary school children to come and study, under a dedicated teacher. They do what normal children at tuition do, do their homework and some further work on their school materials.

This system is quite prominent in centres dedicated to Non-Chinese people in general. With Education for Change (EFC), we want to give a better platform for the NCSS tuition culture to thrive. We want to encourage this tuition culture, and to be a bridge between NCSS students and the local education system

Many government and non-government organizations serve different subsections of the Ethnic Minority (EM) population in Hong Kong (HK), and many individuals themselves identify with the term. However, recently, there have been discussions on whether or not the label ‘Ethnic Minority’ is helping or hurting the community’s overall well-being. It may be helpful to break down why some people identify with the term or while others are deterred by it.


According to the Hong Kong Government census report, the term Ethnic Minority (EM) refers to ‘persons who reported themselves being of non-Chinese ethnicity’, representing 8% of the local population. A vast majority (80%) of them represent various Asian (non-Chinese) subcontinents. 


Here are some of the reasons individuals may find the term ‘Ethnic Minority’ a hinderance: 


  1. It is not simply a numerical ‘minority’


It is more than just a number’s case; even within HK, the social context changes. 


For example, if an Indian Hong Kong resident is in India or another South-Asian nation, they may not be considered an ‘ethnic minority’ anymore. So, it’s not an identity label rather a contextual one. This fact can be easily forgotten, misunderstood or overlooked socially (discussed more below).

  1. ‘Ethnicity’ is a self-identification (by definition)


However, it may be overused as a social description based on others’ perception of individuals. 


People may choose to identify with different ethnicities. Additionally, 2nd generation children of immigrants or individuals with mixed heritage may have unique cultural contexts. However, both, these and other individuals, may be socially prescribed labels that they themselves do not identify with


  1. ‘Ethnicity Minority’ issues are Hong Kong issues; HK issues are EM issues 


When discussing housing, education, career or mental health issues faced by Hong Kongers, EMs are left out of the conversation. 


Similarly, many see ‘EM issues’ as ‘their’ issues, failing to recognize that EMs also face struggles that everyone else in HK does, with the intersectional layers of race or ethnicity. Inclusive opportunities need to be a part of all of these discussions at every step.

  1. An umbrella term for vastly varied heritage, culture and more


Grouping them all together under one big umbrella diminishes not only their diversity and uniqueness, but also oversimplifies their existence. 


This overgeneralization creates room for stereotypes and microaggressions while failing to understand the complex layers of self-identification, different generations of immigration, and cultural differences within and amongst subgroups. 


  1. The label creates room for stereotyping or prejudice


What is the first thing you think of when you hear: Ethnic Minority in HK?  


Who does it refer to? Are they rich or poor? Do they have any physical characteristics you can describe? How about personality characteristics? Where do they live? How else could you describe them?


The overwhelming majority, including individuals who identify with the term themselves, may perceive someone ‘inferior’, ‘with low socio-economic status’ or ‘less accomplished’. Anyone that they meet that doesn’t check the boxes as expected, is considered an “exception to the rule”, when there are no set rules to what this vast and varied population represents. This allows for those rules to still linger on, as our minds inherently search for simple explanations and patterns to make sense of the world (stereotypes).


For example: based on the census data and discussion, white Hong Kongers are Ethnic Minorities in HK. However, that is rarely the picture that comes to mind or is the intended population when HK community members describe EM. This reiterates that it’s more than just a numeric representation. 


Noting all these challenges of the term ‘Ethnic minority’ in Hong Kong, a widespread majority continue to use and identify with it. Check out our second blog (Defining Ethic Minority in Hong Kong: Part II) that explains and explores some reasons why the term might be helpful and therefore used across the board.