Oxfam’s language support program improves ethnic minority children’s Chinese language skills and future opportunities

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With support from the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (SIE) Fund, Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK) successfully completed its project “Start from the Beginning – Chinese Supporting Scheme for Non-Chinese Speaking Students (NCS) in Kindergarten,” benefiting 74 kindergartens, which is about one-fifth of Hong Kong’s kindergartens, as well as 1,200 NCS students and 170 teachers.

At a recent sharing seminar and exhibition held at the University of Hong Kong, kindergarten teachers participating in the project presented their ideas, experience, teaching materials and achievements in the hope of perfecting the pedagogy of Chinese as a second language for NCS students in Hong Kong.

Fluency in Chinese is the key to advancement

Government statistics show that one in three South Asian children in Hong Kong live below the poverty line. “One of the main contributing factors to their plight is their lack of Chinese proficiency, as this affects both their studies and their future employment, observes Kalina Tsang, director general of OHK.

As a charitable organization committed to creating a world without poverty, OHK took matters into its own hands in 2015 and established the NCS Children’s Chinese Enrichment Support Program with the aim of improving their language skills in Cantonese and thus their long-term competitiveness.

Collaboration breeds success

Building on OHK’s notable results in the first five years, the SIE Fund has arranged for it to adopt the Pay-for-Success (PFS) model for this program in 2020, fostering increased collaboration between the public, private and miscellaneous sectors for the benefit of more NCS students. .

The project is now the first PFS project in Hong Kong as well as the first PFS project in the world focusing on language education for ethnic minority children. Also known as the Social Impact Bond (SIB), the PFS is a public-private partnership that funds effective social services through performance-based contractual arrangements. The project lasts three years and if the target result is achieved, investors will be reimbursed for their initial capital and their financial return.

The project did not disappoint. With the support of SIE Fund, three investors including Wu Jieh Yee Charitable Foundation, Lee Hysan Foundation and OHK, and the collaborative efforts of key project partners – Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong and the Center for Child and Family Science at Hong Kong University of Education – have achieved remarkable results.

The project was also awarded the “Outstanding Social Service Awards” by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) as part of its 2021 Best Practice Awards in Social Welfare, in recognition of the project’s outstanding performance in the welfare sector. social services.

Provide a wide range of support

The project, as Tsang explains, aims to halve the skill gap between Chinese and non-Chinese students. It provides four seed schools and 70 schools in the network with advanced professional training courses for their teachers and academic support covering six areas.

In the seed schools, consultant teachers teach NCS students directly through a curriculum based on the Dynamic Enrichment Learning Mode (DELM), an innovative pedagogy developed by the team that combines curricula from main language and second language, where students learn with Chinese classmates in groups. setting.

The teachers of the 70 schools in the network are trained according to the “Train-the-trainer” model, which gives them relevant knowledge on program design, teaching methods, assessment tools and implementation for the teaching Chinese as a second language. Project consultants also work closely with schools in the network through workshops and school visits to refine educational content.

In addition, the project provides teachers with professional development through inter-school knowledge exchanges in the form of workshops and seminars. Parenting support is also offered to help children transition from NCS kindergarten to primary school, including workshops, a form-filling service and a hotline.

A wide range of fun teaching materials have been developed to facilitate effective Chinese language learning, including quirky picture books filled with bright colors and adorable characters, Cantonese nursery rhymes that include lots of vocabulary in Cantonese tones genuine, flashcards and worksheets, and more. .

Non-participating schools can also benefit from these teaching materials by downloading them from the project’s online platform, which was created with the aim of sharing the materials with more parents and teachers, and thus benefiting more of NCS children.

Overcome the obstacles

The pandemic of the past two years has resulted in frequent suspensions of classes. To overcome these obstacles, OHK and its partners had to resort to online courses, online storytelling courses and a four-week summer enrichment course via Zoom. Families without internet access and tablets can apply for free services from social welfare agencies and receive Wi-Fi eggs. online learning.

In face-to-face classes, OHK provides teachers with face masks with transparent windows so that children can observe teachers’ oral movements and learn the pronunciation of Chinese words accurately.

Obtain remarkable success

Over the past two years, the project has helped NCS children make tremendous progress in Chinese language acquisition and enabled them to understand and speak Cantonese with confidence.

Comparing pre-test and post-test scores, K2 students in seed schools improved by almost 100%, while K3 students also improved by 96%. Specifically, the assessment scores reflect that the children’s pronunciation of Chinese characters improved by three times, and their word association ability by a whopping 409%.

The improvement in students’ Chinese language proficiency was demonstrated in the sharing session featuring teachers, parents and children. Mr. Kashif and Ms. Payal are very pleased with their children’s big leap in Chinese fluency, noting that they can finish their homework on their own. “My child was recently admitted to a local primary school and he had no problem adjusting to the new environment,” adds Ms Payal.

Their toddlers from Pristine Kindergarten, a participating seed school, showed everyone their impressive Chinese skills by singing three Cantonese nursery rhymes in a row with loud and clear pronunciations. They also read Chinese vocabulary from picture books without hesitation.

The project also benefited teachers, equipping them with the skills and confidence to effectively teach Chinese to NCS students; After joining the project’s “Train-the-trainer” program, teachers achieved an effect size score of 1.99 in Chinese teaching, meaning they managed to increase the grades of children of three levels.

Paving the way to a bright future for NCS children

As the project enters its third year, the focus is now on sharing teachers’ valuable experience and ideas through workshops and the project’s online platform.

Dr. Tikky SP Chan from Hong Kong University of Education, one of the project’s main partners, encourages teachers to use the newly created online platform for useful teaching resources. “If you find it useful, please share it with your colleagues and friends so that more NCS students can benefit from it,” she says, hoping there will be more teacher-to-teacher exchanges in the future.

Looking ahead, Tsang firmly believes that the children of the NCS are among the future stalwarts of the city. OHK will continue, she reaffirms, to work with its partners to perfect the project and provide well-established Chinese learning pedagogy to improve the Chinese language skills of NCS students. “It is a sine qua non condition that ensures them equal access to future study and employment opportunities,” she concludes.

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