It is of public consensus that poverty is one of the most serious problem faced by Hong Kong. Beneath the glamour as praised by the international community, there lies an M-shaped structured society, literally meaning the widening income gap. Although the government seems to have played its role to equalize learning opportunities by providing free education for all and handing out various subsidies, unfortunately, the struggle for impoverished families to meet the education needs of their children has not been eased.
To begin with, underprivileged children do not enjoy as much aid and resources in studies as their affluent counterparts since low-income households could not afford tutorial classes for their children. While tutorial classes are not indispensable, they could definitely give a push to facilitate children’s learning. For instance, the tutors would given them extra exercise that are tailor-made according to their weaknesses in special areas. They could also fill in the gaps in children’s learning and follow up on their progress. Yet such tutoring services are often charged at a high price by money-greedy tutorial centres. Paying for these fees would inevitably bring a heavy financial burden to the family’s account. Therefore, when having questions in studies, impoverished children may have nowhere to seek help. Their misconceptions and queries in studies may accumulate like a snowball running downhill, adversely affecting their performances in assessments.
Moreover, children from grass roots backgrounds have less guidance from their parents. In order to make ends meet, their parents often have to work extensively long periods of time, engaging in demanding labour activities. Many of them work as security guards, street cleaners or sales. Not only are they paid unfairly low wages, but they also have to work unreasonably long hours. As a result, the time they spend at home with their children is minimal. Children are at a crucial stage of character development. They are prone to make mistakes and go astray easily, often by following what their peers do and neglecting the consequences. When the time spent on parent-children communication is insufficient, parents could not effectively inculcate correct values in the young minds and teach them to distinguish right from wrong. Children lack moral education from their parents or a role model to follow. It is more likely that their behavior will deviate from the norm, which undermines their chance to focus on and thrive in studies.
Apart from that, parents from disadvantaged families are often not well-educated and hence cannot arouse children’s curiosity in learning and inspire them. The majority of them may only hold a secondary education diploma, but have never attended tertiary education. Their knowledge and international exposure is very limited. Children have curious minds and like asking questions about possibly everything in this world. Their parents may not know how to answer them and satisfy their curiosity. I have seen parents simply ignore their children or respond by snarling, “Shut up! Don’t disturb me!” This shatters children’s desire for knowledge and give them the wrong impression that asking questions is a strict “no”. How are they supposed to become a critical or creative thinker if they have been taught since toddlers that raising doubts is discouraged? It even becomes harder to change their mindsets once they grow older. As a consequence, it is less likely for them to unleash their potential in learning.
The issues lie with the fact that the marginalised community are actually locked in a vicious cycle. There is evidence that children born in the lower class are more likely to suffer thanks to cross-generation poverty, since the education system fails to let them climb up the social ladder to improve the lives of their family. Hence how could society join hands to ensure that impoverished children have equal access to learning opportunities?
There is no doubt that the government plays an indispensable role since it has the most resources in terms of both man-power and money. They could allocate more subsidies for families that live under the poverty line. Families could use them to purchase textbooks, stationery or other learning materials to assist their children’s learning.
Besides, different non-government organizations or social centres could organize more tutorial classes for free or at low prices. They could invite volunteers from universities or secondary school students to teach needy students. Those tutors are experienced enough to handle the learning needs of children. What’s more, they could put old book collection boxes around and later distribute them to families in need. Children could make use of them wisely to enrich their knowledge without having the guilt of bringing a burden to their families.
The above measures are effective in the short term. In the long term, the Labour Department could offer more vocational training for the grass roots so that they could learn a new skill and seek a better job. The poor parents could then have more income and resources to finance and support their children’s education.
All the above measures could help to promote equity and ensure those who are not born with a silver spoon in their mouths will have a fair chance in pursuing tertiary education. With concerted effort, underprivileged children will not be deprived of equal education opportunities.