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The Need for Community Outreach in the Era of COVID-19

At Chatteris, we work with a network of community partners to provide enriching educational opportunities for learners outside of our school programmes. Colin McGinness, who oversees our Community Outreach Programme, explains why these beneficiaries need additional support now more than ever.

It will come as no shock to anyone reading this, but the world we live in is now irrevocably different from the one we inhabited pre-pandemic. The tragic loss of life, and enduring health concerns caused by COVID-19 are of grave concern to everyone, and the threat of newer and stronger variants feels ever-present.  But there are also further issues that lurk just out of sight. The economic and societal toll that the pandemic has wrought has been borne by many of us, though this burden has fallen primarily on the already at-risk and disadvantaged. Before continuing, I feel it’s important to stress that the problems I outline below do not represent a condemnation of responses to the pandemic i.e. lockdowns and alterations to services etc. Rather, I hope to highlight existing problems that this pandemic has heightened while also demonstrating the need for community outreach to help ameliorate these conditions as best we can. To do so, there are several statistics that I believe are illustrative of these issues.  

As of this writing, the richest 10% of the global population brings home roughly 52% of all income. The bottom half of the population in contrast will earn only 8%. During a period of economic precarity and contraction caused by the pandemic, the number of billionaires actually increased while many people were forced out of work as certain industries like hospitality, retail and tourism faltered. In Hong Kong specifically, poverty hit a 12-year high in November, and while government social spending has correspondingly increased, the economic impact on the disadvantaged remains stark. Increasing income inequality has been trending up for at least two decades, and would have likely continued had there never been a COVID-19 in the first place. However, the pandemic has laid bare the economic balancing act required by many just to survive and highlighted some key areas where organisations can fill in the gaps until they are reformed or addressed by the public sector. One of these areas is education, and Hong Kong is a perfect example of the disparities in this sector. 

A Chatteris Tutor collaboratively teaches an online lesson to a class of primary students | Image by Chatteris

In 2012, just under 64% of students in Hong Kong received private tuition, with an average of 4.9 hours of private tuition per week. This was nearly double the figures from 1996, and while up to date information is difficult to find, the trend is revealing. With the closure of schools throughout the pandemic and the efficacy of online learning debatable, the ‘education gap’ has certainly expanded. Those with access to private tutors are thus better positioned to handle the changes to education that the pandemic requires, and are also more likely to have access to better at-home resources to enhance their remote learning. This leaves those who cannot afford private lessons at a significant disadvantage, as they are often forced to share limited space at home with siblings who are also trying to learn from home, and parents who may be either out of work or working from home. 

This is where organisations like Chatteris can help by providing services for those that can’t pursue them in the private sector. While we do not offer specifically one on one private tuition for students, we do offer a host of community outreach programmes that connect our Native-speaking English tutors to students from a variety of different backgrounds. Through our Refugee Storytelling programme, we are able to offer online reading sessions for young students associated with the Hong Kong Society for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (HKSAR) in small groups to help practice their literacy and speaking skills. With our collaboration with the Heep Hong Society, we have provided small-group English sessions for students with Special Educational Needs that are missing that individual support they may have gotten while in school full-time. Through these and other community outreach programmes with partners such as Loving Kids Community Service Centre, Chatteris is able to play a small role in helping students and others through an unprecedented time. 

Enthusiastic students participate in a workshop with Chatteris Tutors at Heep Hong Society | Image by Chatteris

With the pandemic and its knock-on effects unlikely to abate soon, it will be critical for non-profit organisations to promote community outreach both through their own teams, but also through private sector partnerships. Our recent collaborations with private partners have connected employees of large firms with students and other Hong Kong non-profits, receiving positive feedback from both the beneficiaries and the volunteers themselves. On average, Hong Kong has a volunteer rate much lower than that of other economically developed areas (less than half of the US, Canada or the UK).  We hope that our successful partnerships will highlight both the existing need for volunteers in the community, as well as the benefits of more people getting involved. 

While ‘no man is an island’ is true even in the best of times, the need for community and connection is enhanced in times of crisis. It is unfortunate that this specific crisis means we must exist in various degrees of separation for our own health and safety, but it does not preclude the need stated before. As governments remain occupied with public health responses to the pandemic and mitigating the macro-economic factors at play, it is crucial that organisations, both private and non-profit work together to take up the slack and help everyone get through this difficult time.

If you’re looking to enhance the English learning opportunities of deserving beneficiaries in Hong Kong, apply now to become a Chatteris Tutor.

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