Teaching Chinese to Ethnic Minority Students in Hong Kong Preschools:The Role of Multicultural Teaching Assistants

Year: 2019

Author: Ng, Catalina, Sau, Man, Chung, Kevin, Kien, Hoa, To-Chan, Tikky, Sing, Pui

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Changes in classroom demographics are a worldwide phenomenon. With an increasing number of students of non-Chinese ethnicity, particularly from South and East Asian backgrounds, Hong Kong preschools are becoming linguistically and culturally more diverse. However, the majority of local preschool teachers are Chinese and were primarily trained to teach local students, so their teaching skills are not adapted to the cultural diversity of students’ life experiences and learning styles. Despite a growing need for culturally diverse teachers, the percentage of teachers from ethnic minority has decreased (Saluja, Early, & Clifford, 2002). Most parents of ethnic minority (EM) students cannot speak Chinese and inadequate support at home poses further obstacles for EM children to learn Chinese, which generally constitutes a necessary step to access better job opportunities. Furthermore, lower proficiency in Chinese language affects EM students’ future academic achievement, (Tsung & Gao, 2012; Tsung, Zhang, & Cruickshank, 2010), compromises their upward social mobility and hinders their social integration. Therefore, the importance of bilingual teaching assistants has been gradually recognized and promoted (Gao & Shum, 2010). This presentation is based on a large-scale project named PLEM. We conducted the focus group interviews with 32 teachers and 19 multicultural teaching assistants (MTAs) who were from South and East Asian backgrounds and enrolled in a Diploma Programme to be trained as teaching assistants in the field of early childhood education. Using multi-informants, this study aims to examine the roles of MTAs in Hong Kong preschools. The results showed that the roles of MTAs were not limited to being a translator of school notices and an interpreter between teachers, EM students and parents, but also consisted of providing assistance to teachers by incorporating cultural elements in the curriculum to enhance the understanding of teachers towards the cultures of EM children which in turn helps improve the learning of EM children and reduces the stereotypes of teachers towards EM students. MTAs created a culturally responsive environment and enhanced meaningful and pleasurable learning among both EM and local children. They also helped the class teacher communicate with EM children and understand their emotional and/or other adaptation problems at the beginning of the school term. They encouraged EM children and increased EM children’s sense of belonging. Overall, MTAs played vital roles in assisting the learning and teaching of EM children and teachers in preschools to fulfill the goal of education for all in a socially just world.