T: +852 2520 5736   F: +852 2865 2815  E: info@chatteris.org.hk

Chatteris Tutor teaches a class at a primary school.
17 Feb 2021

Addressing the Opportunity Gap: Contemporary Challenges in Hong Kong Schools

Chatteris’ own Aarohi Narain tells us about the challenges faced by Newly Arrived Children and Cross-Boundary Students in Hong Kong schools.

Thanks to support from the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation, Chatteris’ “One for One, Adopt a School” programme has expanded in scope this academic year. Seeing how students from less privileged backgrounds lack access to meaningful opportunities to develop their English language skills, Chatteris pioneered the “One for One” programme to address the opportunity gap.

Now, the programme has evolved to reach two new beneficiary groups: Newly Arrived Children (NAC) and Cross-Boundary Students (CBS). 

Chatteris Tutors placed within our "One for One, Adopt a School" programme support a higher proportion of disadvantaged students.
Through our “One for One, Adopt a School” programme, we support schools with a higher proportion of underserved students, including NAC and CBS | Image by CBLMC

“Last year, we identified that schools catering to two specific groups of students – Newly Arrived Children and Cross-Boundary Students – were especially underserved… It was the catalyst to undertake new fundraising proposals to support these schools and, with the support of the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation, we were able to start these new projects this year,” says Programme Director George Tarling. “It was a natural extension of our services to start adapting “One for One” to reach new underserved groups of beneficiaries to fulfil our mission and vision.” 

Under the current framework, NAC refers to a minor who has been in Hong Kong for less than a year before their first day of attending a Hong Kong school. In Hong Kong, the majority of these children arrive from Mainland China, but the term covers arrivals from anywhere outside Hong Kong. 

On the other hand, CBS refers to a student who lives in Mainland China but is a Hong Kong permanent resident. As permanent residents, these children are entitled to study at Hong Kong schools, commuting every day from Mainland China.

Because these terms may be applied to students of different nationalities, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, ages, English proficiencies and beyond, it’s crucial to recognise that student experiences are not homogenous.   

However, certain key themes do emerge. For instance, NAC and CBS typically come from underprivileged backgrounds. Furthermore, these groups tackle similar problems when learning English. 

Tutor Aarohi must consider how best to support the NAC and CBS in her classes.
Chatteris Tutor Aarohi must consider how best to support the NAC and CBS in her classes | Image by Aarohi Narain

“Both of these groups have typically missed out on a lot of exposure to the English language compared to their peers at schools in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, English lessons begin on the very first day of schooling whereas it is rare for NAC to have enjoyed this amount of formal English education. Especially for those coming from Mainland China, they would have only begun studying English at Primary Level Four,” George notes. 

“Even though CBS may have enjoyed more formal English learning, they still live in areas that are culturally and linguistically focused on the Chinese language. They have substantially fewer chances to use English outside of their lessons in their personal and social lives, and typically have less opportunity to practise and use the language with their families.” 

Both groups of students are expected to rapidly adjust to the English language curriculum in Hong Kong. However, various studies have shown that students need more formal support to excel within the current system. 

George highlights that English language learning has been identified as the main factor affecting the adjustment of NAC: a 2002 study found the inequality in English proficiency was so great that some older primary NAC students “even have difficulty recognising the [English] alphabet”. And although comprehensive formal data is missing, many students are held back multiple school years because they fail their final exams, especially in English. 

Travel restrictions and online schooling arrangements during COVID-19 have heightened the challenges faced by CBS.
Travel restrictions and online schooling arrangements during COVID-19 have heightened the challenges faced by CBS | Image by Caitlin Godly

“Anecdotally, it is common in our partner schools to see, for example, a 16-year-old student held back in a class of 13-year-olds due to their struggles with English exams, with all the subsequent distress this adds to their confidence, learning, and social integration,” he adds. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation

Students living in Mainland China have now gone through a year of fully online learning. With many lacking the appropriate technology to participate in online classes and complete assignments, the digital divide is stark. 

When in-person classes– currently halted– were being conducted, CBS were still unable to enter Hong Kong due to COVID-19 restrictions. During that time, teachers catered to Hong Kong-based students while also delivering their lessons online to students engaging through Zoom or other software. This hybrid format meant that teachers struggled with adapting and delivering lessons that engaged both kinds of students while skirting the Mainland’s online firewall. 

Tutors placed by Chatteris in primary and secondary schools with high proportions of NAC and CBS have come up with their own unique ways to manage this balancing act. Through innovative lesson design and tailor-making activities to encourage confidence and build fluency, tutors have been making a positive impact on both these underserved groups and Hong Kong-based students. 

Leave a Reply