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Sunday, Jan 29, 2023

Hong Kong’s youth development plan must be inclusive

Hong Kong’s youth development plan must be inclusive

The blueprint promises new opportunities for Hong Kong’s youth including exchange programmes, internships and vocational courses. Yet there remain huge barriers for young people from non-Chinese speaking backgrounds in accessing these opportunities.

“Hong Kong will prosper only when its young people thrive” was the advice from President Xi Jinping during his speech at the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.

The needs of the youth, which have acquired a new focus and urgency in light of the events of the past few years, received fresh impetus following these words.

Fittingly, the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau has released a youth development blueprint which comprehensively lists the challenges faced by Hong Kong youth today and possible actions to support them in overcoming those challenges. Further signalling the importance of this agenda, a Commissioner for Youth will be appointed to oversee the implementation of youth development work.

It is encouraging to see this initiative and the amount of work that has gone into it. However, I sincerely hope that the blueprint takes an inclusive approach towards youth development, particularly regarding racial diversity. Hong Kong has a small but significant ethnic minority youth population. This youth sub-set faces many of the same challenges as other Hong Kong youth, and then some more.

One of the unique circumstances facing ethnic minority youth included in the blueprint is the struggle of Chinese language learning. We are still in dire need of measures to combat that monumental hurdle.

I have to emphasise the critical importance of Chinese language learning for ethnic minorities. This is the one issue that comes up repeatedly when engaging with employers as part of efforts to improve employment opportunities for ethnically diverse communities.

Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak Mei-kuen (third from left) and other officials attend a press conference on the Youth Development Blueprint at Art Park, West Kowloon Cultural District on December 22, 2022.

Factoring out bias and prejudice, Chinese language proficiency is a genuine occupational requirement for many, if not most, jobs in Hong Kong. Even employers who are sincere about wanting to help non-Chinese youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are hard pressed to navigate around the language requirement.

The criticality of being proficient in Chinese reading, writing and speaking cannot be stressed enough. The shortfalls of the existing Chinese-as-a-second-language education in Hong Kong must be addressed if we wish to do right by the ethnic minority children and youth who call Hong Kong home.

The blueprint mentions several new tertiary education options including vocational training. We hope that these options are equally accessible to ethnic minority students.

Accessibility does not simply mean that no one is barred from applying for the course. True accessibility implies that all students regardless of their differences can join the course and have an equal learning experience. If courses are not offered in a language that the ethnic minorities can learn in, then it is out of reach.

Students learning at a tutoring centre in Jordan on October 12, 2021.

The four chapters of the blueprint – Exploration, Hope, Empowerment and Contribution – proposes various measures such as internship opportunities, international exchange programmes, opportunities in Steam-related (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) education, and participation in public affairs. These should be actively promoted among all youth. Given that access to information is not always equal when it comes to the underprivileged ethnic minority communities, additional steps must be taken to ensure fair dissemination.

As the world faces uncertainty and headwinds, the best that leaders can do is make people resilient, skilled and hopeful. The blueprint correctly aims to do that for Hong Kong’s youth. Let’s make sure that Hong Kong’s ethnic minority youth are counted in.

They should be seen as resources that can serve all of society and not just their own communities. While it is good to provide special assistance for their unique needs, in the long run, it is more economical, equalising and prudent to empower them to be able to benefit from the measures that exist for everyone.

This is not to say that we ignore their diverse identities because therein lies the strength of diversity of thought. Policymakers need to recognise the benefits to be reaped from diversity and ensure we nurture that talent pool appropriately.

Some decades before Xi, another world leader, Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered some wise words which are all the more pertinent today given the struggles of our youth: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”.

Here’s hoping the future is equitable and inclusive, and that our youth are prepared and confident in meeting that future.


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