by Midori Hiraga
Published in Hongkong Standard, 2 October 1995
A MAINLAND student was forced to repeat five years of her education when she migrated to Hong Kong seven years ago.
Second-year university student Joyce Suen Chun was 19 when she arrived in the territory and was placed in Secondary 4.
"Those years in secondary school were just a waste of time. Most of what I learnt in China was just repeated," she said.
Ms Suen, 26, finally finished her long education last May when she received a degree in Business Administration from the Chinese University.
Repeating the school years was the only way she could obtain a university place, she said.
"If the universities had a system to qualify migrant students from the mainland, I could have saved several years of my life."
Ms Suen's plight is not unique. A recent survey by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups revealed that most migrant students experienced similar humiliation when looking for a suitable school, and many were forced to repeat a few years in order to enter the Hong Kong education system.
Hong Kongers say the reason for mainland students being forced to repeat school years is that their English is poor. But Ms Suen said this was untrue.
"The Hong Kong public believes migrant students are bad at English," she said. "This might be true for primary and early secondary students." But she said this was because mainland students did not start learning English until they entered secondary school.
"But university students in the mainland are quite good at English. English has always been a problem for me, but compared with other Hong Kong students I wasn't too bad," she said.
When Ms Suen left her home in Hunan province in 1988, she was a second-year university student studying for an accountancy degree. Although she was the youngest in her class, she was one of the top students.
But when she came to Hong Kong the universities did not accept her mainland qualifications, and had no way of qualifying students.
The Chinese University required Ms Suen to pass the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) and the Higher Level Examination.
To pass the two exams, she had to go back to Secondary 4 -- at the age of 19.
"I wanted to join Form 5 to speed up my journey to university. But most of the HKCEE was taught in Form 4 so I had to go back another year," Ms Suen said.
Studying with younger classmates was a depressing and humiliating experience.
"I was isolated, and seldom spoke to my classmates or made friends with them. I became very shy," Ms Suen said.
Looking for a school was another problem she had to face. Several government schools rejected her because she was over 15, the upper age limit for compulsory education in Hong Kong.
She became dejected and wanted to give up her education. Her father spent a month searching for a school. Ms Suen and her family received no help from the government or social workers.
"We didn't know if there was any assistance we could have applied for at the time," she said.
After this humiliating experience, a friend of Ms Suen's parents told her about the Mong Kok Workers' Children School, where she finally found a place.
Today the situation for new migrants has improved somewhat. At that time the government paid little attention to migrant students, and few teachers or students spoke Putonghua.
"Now the public knows about the situation of migrant children, and the government also tries to help them. So the situation is much better," Ms Suen said.
The number of migrants is increasing, with about 7,500 school-age migrants coming to Hong Kong between October 1993 to September 1994.
The Education Department has begun 60-hour courses to help new immigrant children adapt to Hong Kong, and is aiming to review its induction and English courses.
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