Intergenerational Poverty

Children recieving their books at the doorstep.

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Ethnic minorities children are susceptible to intergenerational poverty in Hong Kong, because the education system prioritzes Chinese [Cantonese].

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James: Intergenerational poverty is very difficult to talk about and to work on. If we are talking about intergenerational poverty, it definitely isn’t something that we can fix in the short-term. It also hasn’t been a lot of time since we started. Honestly, if we are talking about intergenerational poverty, we can only find the obvious features of intergenerational poverty. We are just starting to try to fix this. We can outline what is intergenerational poverty: the most obvious example is the intergenerational poverty among ethnic minority children. In Hong Kong, ethnic minority children are learning Chinese [in Hong Kong, people refer to Cantonese when speaking about Chinese], but you can imagine ethnic minority children, or especially Southeast Asian children who learn Chinese face a lot of difficulties. Because in Hong Kong, the schools assume that Chinese is your first language. When you go home, you are expected to go home and listen to your family talk in Chinese, but for the ethnic minorities, the schools teach Chinese as the first language, but when they go home, they find that nobody is able to support them or speak with them in Chinese and nobody can teach them Chinese characters. For ethnic minority children, learning Chinese is very difficult. The typical social problem is that when they have to find work when they are older, if their Chinese is not good they will end up in the 3D work: dirty, dangerous, and demeaning. For example, they may work in security, as a dishwasher, or in manual labor. If ethnic minority children do not learn Chinese well, when they are older, they will continue to work in the 3D work. They won’t be able to leave the poverty. This is the typical symptom of intergenerational poverty. In Lai Chi Kok [a district in Hong Kong], I am doing a series of using story books to encourage ethnic minorities children to read, and to have volunteers to read with them to allow them to learn more Chinese. This is one of the ways we try to fix intergenerational poverty.

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Children choosing books.

The parents of ethnic minority children are very clear that they would like their children to learn Chinese well for them to be able to do their homework. While us Chinese children we want the best grade, at some point the ethnic minority children fall behind so much on Chinese that the ethnic minority families are already quite happy if their children can catch up on their basic homework skills. I would think homework is important for them, not because of the grade. For ethnic minorities children, the question is how can they can do their homework, and can they catch up? Because if they don’t understand Chinese in the first place, then in their whole school year they won’t understand. In the following year, they won’t understand another level of Chinese either. The gap is only wider. The concern is that a lot of homework is taught in Chinese. In school, Chinese is not one subject. Maybe there are 8 subjects at school, and 6 of them are taught in Chinese. So why is Chinese so important? Because if you don’t understand Chinese, it doesn’t mean only your Chinese subject is bad. You are going have difficulty understanding maybe in math class, and maybe your life education class [class on social knowledge], and a series of problems will result.