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LCQ3: Financial assistance for ethnic-minority students

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Helena Wong and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (April 30):


     Based on the data from the censuses of 2001, 2006 and 2011 and using poverty line as a tool, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service conducted an analysis of the poverty situation of the ethnic minorities and released its report in December last year. The report showed a deteriorating trend of the poverty situation among the ethnic minorities, with their poverty rate rising from 17.3 % in 2001 to 23.9% in 2011, which was also higher than the overall poverty rate of Hong Kong (20.4%). In addition, a survey conducted by a concern group has found that 69.9% of responding low-income South Asians with children studying in kindergartens, primary or secondary schools had not applied for financial assistance from the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number and percentage of the recipients of various financial assistance schemes under SFAA who are ethnic minorities, with a breakdown by ethnicity of such recipients;

(2) whether the leaflets and application forms prepared by SFAA for financial assistance schemes are available in ethnic-minority languages; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) of the measures in place to ensure that schools will distribute leaflets and application forms of SFAA to ethnic-minority parents who have financial difficulties and will provide them with related assistance;

(4) regarding the interpretation and translation services (including telephone interpretation and enquiries service, on-site (escort) interpretation service, on-sight interpretation service and written translation service) provided by "the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents" funded by the Home Affairs Department, whether it knows the usage of and relevant statistics on such services last year; and the number of times of the ethnic minorities using the services for applying for student financial assistance last year; and

(5) whether SFAA has issued specific guidelines to frontline staff on how to handle enquiries or complaints made by applicants who know neither Chinese nor English; if it has, of the details of such guidelines; if not, the reasons for that?



     Our reply to Hon Wong's question is as follows:

(1) The Government's policy on student finance is to ensure that no student is denied access to education due to lack of means. Students passing the means test of the Student Financial Assistance Agency (SFAA) and meeting the eligibility criteria of individual financial assistance schemes can receive various kinds of education-related financial assistance administered by the SFAA, such as the textbook assistance and the travel subsidy. Students from families in receipt of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) may receive grant for school-related expenses under the CSSA Scheme direct. They do not need to submit application for financial assistance to the SFAA (Note: except for post-secondary students).

     Since the SFAA does not require student-applicants to declare their ethnicity at the time of application for financial assistance, the SFAA does not have information on the number of applicants by ethnicity. As a matter of fact, the SFAA handles all applications for financial assistance in a fair, impartial, efficient and non-discriminatory manner, irrespective of the applicants' ethnicity, in a bid to ensure that families with financial needs are given appropriate support.

(2) At the pre-primary education level, the Education Bureau (EDB) and the SFAA have translated the information leaflets on the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme and the Kindergarten and Child Care Centre Fee Remission Scheme (KCFRS) into six different languages of the ethnic minorities, namely, Hindi, Indonesian, Nepali, Tagalog, Thai and Urdu, and have arranged for the distribution of the leaflets to kindergartens and District Offices so that the leaflets can be readily made available to parents of the ethnic minorities. In the 2014/15 school year, the SFAA will post the leaflet on KCFRS in different ethnic minority languages on its website for the parents' viewing and downloading.

     Furthermore, for all KCFRS recipients who are studying at the upper classes of kindergarten, including children of the ethnic minorities, the SFAA will send out application forms for financial assistance for primary and secondary students to their parents towards the end of the school year so that the parents can continue to apply for financial assistance for their children when the children progress to Primary One. Kindergartens have been informed of the arrangement and they will help explain the arrangement to parents of the ethnic minorities when necessary.

     As regards financial assistance at the primary and secondary levels, the SFAA has currently made available the relevant information leaflet in both Chinese and English. In the 2014/15 school year, the leaflet will be translated into six more languages of the ethnic minorities, namely, Hindi, Indonesian, Nepali, Tagalog, Thai and Urdu. The leaflets will be distributed to schools, Regional Education Offices of the EDB, District Offices and District Social Welfare Offices of the Social Welfare Department so that the leaflets can be readily made available to parents of the ethnic minorities. Leaflets in different ethnic minority languages can also be viewed and downloaded from the SFAA's website at the same time.

     To enable parents of the ethnic minorities to have a better and more direct understanding of the SFAA's schemes, starting from 2014, the SFAA will make use of platforms such as briefing sessions organised by the EDB every year on arrangements of Kindergarten Admission, Primary One Admission and Secondary One Admission for parents of the ethnic minorities to inform them of the application procedures for various financial assistance schemes and to answer their enquiries. Briefing sessions for 2014 will be held in May, September and December 2014 for parents of Kindergarten and Primary Six students of ethnic minorities.

     Moreover, the SFAA has started collaboration with the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents (CHEER) to publicise and provide information on application for financial assistance to ethnic minorities. Staff of the CHEER Centre will assist families of the ethnic minorities in making application for financial assistance.

     Through enhanced publicity and the afore-mentioned arrangements, together with support from the CHEER Centre, we believe that needy families of the ethnic minorities will be offered the appropriate assistance.

(3) On pre-primary education, the SFAA conducts briefings for kindergartens each year to explain to the sector details about the application for the KCFRS and to answer questions raised by the sector on matters relating to KCFRS application. Opportunities are also taken to exchange views on the processing of applications from needy families including families of the ethnic minorities. Kindergartens are appealed to include the KCFRS as one of the agenda items in their Parents' Day and to assist needy families, including families of the ethnic minorities, to apply for fee remission under the KCFRS. The SFAA will also advise kindergartens to introduce and distribute the leaflet on the KCFRS in different languages to parents of the ethnic minorities.

     On financial assistance for primary and secondary students, the SFAA has been collaborating closely with schools to provide needy families (including families of the ethnic minorities) with appropriate assistance, which include:

* Every year in late April, the SFAA provides schools with Application Forms and Guidance Notes on Application for Assessment of Eligibility for Financial Assistance for Primary and Secondary Students for the next school year for distribution to first-time applicants with financial needs. For the coming year, information leaflets published in different languages will also be made available for distribution to the applicants. From past experience, applicants who encounter difficulties in application will normally approach the school for assistance, which will invariably render assistance to the parents, including parents of the ethnic minorities, as far as possible.

* For students who have received financial assistance from the SFAA in the past school year, the concerned families will be issued with the pre-printed application forms to facilitate their applying for assistance in the next school year. Families which have particular difficulties in understanding the application procedures will be provided with appropriate assistance by the SFAA/their schools.

* Under the current Principal's Recommendation Scheme, students with special financial difficulties may submit application for financial assistance for primary and secondary students at an earlier time (around early April every year) for fast-track processing by the SFAA on the recommendation of their schools. Schools admitting students of the ethnic minorities may recommend them for assistance under the Scheme having regard to their financial circumstances.

* Before the start of a school year, the SFAA will distribute the Explanatory Notes to Schools for Application Processing to inform schools of the details on how to handle applications for various financial assistance schemes for primary and secondary students, including applications made by first-time applicants and continuing applicants.

     As a matter of fact, through daily contact with students, teachers can better understand the students' needs and difficulties and render them apt support. The SFAA will continue to appeal to schools and work closely with them to provide needy students of the ethnic minorities with the necessary assistance.

(4) Whenever the need for translation and interpretation services arises, the relevant bureaux/departments (including the SFAA) and public bodies may procure such services in accordance with the established rules and procedures so as to assist the ethnic minorities in using public services. Moreover, the Home Affairs Department has commissioned the Hong Kong Christian Service to run the CHEER Centre to provide translation and interpretation services. The statistics of translation and interpretation services provided by the CHEER Centre in the 2012-13 financial year are set out below.

Translation and                 No. of times such
interpretation services         service was provided

Telephone interpretation
and enquiry service             3369

On-site interpretation
service (Note 1)                515

On-sight interpretation
service (Note 2)                141

Translation service             36

Simultaneous interpretation
service                         9
Total                           4070

Note 1: On-site interpretation service is provided upon the request of government departments, such as the Department of Health. The interpreter will be physically present at the same place as the public service providers and the ethnic minority service user to provide face-to-face interpretation.

Note 2: As for on-sight interpretation service, ethnic minorities can bring along English documents, such as letters from the Housing Authority or schools, to the CHEER Centre and interpreters will provide verbal translation of the documents from English into seven ethnic minority languages to the ethnic minorities.

(5) According to SFAA's existing guidelines, frontline staff may seek telephone interpretation and enquiry service from the CHEER Centre if they come into contact with an applicant of the ethnic minority who cannot communicate effectively in Chinese or English. If the enquiry cannot be fully resolved, the frontline staff will refer the case to their supervisor. According to past experience, applicants of the ethnic minorities usually make enquiries with the SFAA through the assistance of their relatives or friends who can communicate in English. Hence, the SFAA has not encountered special difficulties in communicating with applicants of ethnic minorities on matters relating to application for financial assistance.

     The SFAA will upkeep its efforts in this regard so as to ensure that families with particular difficulties in understanding the application procedures will be provided with appropriate assistance and students in need will not be deprived of the opportunity to obtain financial assistance because of the language barrier.

Ends/Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:50


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