The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher

, Volume 25, Issue 5–6, pp 763–770 | Cite as

Struggling to Thrive: The Impact of Chinese Language Assessments on Social Mobility of Hong Kong Ethnic Minority Youth

  • Elizabeth K. Y. Loh
  • Loretta C. W. Tam
Regular Article


The paper explores how the policy of alternative Chinese qualifications policy affects ethnic minorities’ (EM) social mobility, and how such multi-exit assessment framework affects Chinese as a second language learning and teaching in Hong Kong. Chinese language (CL) qualifications other than the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) have been accepted by the University Grants Committee-funded institutions in Hong Kong as university admission requirements, including General Certificate of Secondary Education, International General Certificate of Secondary Education, and General Certificate of Education. These international qualifications are oftentimes considered lower-level non-equivalents to HKDSE in the job market. Even high achievers in these examinations are criticized by local employers as less-than-competent in workplace Chinese communication. Moreover, civil service jobs traditionally popular among EM require a Level 2 in HKDSE or specific government tests, which “implied” the said alternative qualifications as insufficient for career advancement. CL teachers and EM students are thus torn between the manageable alternative qualifications to improve university admission chances, or the difficult HKDSE examination as well for better career opportunities, which reduce their chance of upward mobility. Through triangulation of interview data from an EM focus group (N = 8, all female), relevant surveys, and government documents, the authors argue that EM students’ academic advancement is highly related to their CL proficiency, and alternative qualifications do not necessarily suffice to improve their social mobility. The paper also looks into the policy’s implicated challenges for curriculum planning and design faced by CL teachers, and recommend that policy reviews be carried out based on recent demographic shifts and classroom realities to better equip EM students’ CL proficiency, so as to increase their employability, smoother social integration into Hong Kong society, and to resolve the intergenerational poverty.


Ethnic minority Chinese as a second language Alternative qualifications Forms of capital Career advancement Social mobility 



The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to all the informants who agreed to be interviewed for the current study. Special thanks also go to Translate for Her (TheM), a volunteer team dedicated to providing language and social support to ethnic minority women in Hong Kong for their fieldwork coordination.


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Copyright information

© De La Salle University 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Chinese Language and Literature, Faculty of EducationThe University of Hong KongPokfulamHong Kong
  2. 2.Centre for Advancement of Chinese Language Education and Research, Faculty of EducationThe University of Hong KongPokfulamHong Kong

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