CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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School is a bright light of multiculturalism

HONG KONG (SE): Multiculturalism is a term that is often thrown about with some abandon and without much thought. It is much more than just a gathering of people from many different cultural backgrounds and certainly much more than a community where the distinguishing features of the many have been morphed into one, across-the-board identity.

The United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, Australia and the United Kingdom have all adopted multiculturalism as official policy, although because of differing circumstances developed their practices in different ways.

But a common thread lies in maintaining the distinctiveness of multiple cultures, while at the same time absorbing them into one ever evolving cultural identity.

Certainly Hong Kong is a city that plays host to a wide variety of people from different cultural backgrounds, but it has never adopted an official policy on multiculturalism.

While it gets talked up as a big asset in economic terms, at the same time it is viewed as problematic in terms of what official government documents label ethnic or cultural minorities.

The term ethnic minority itself is immediately alienating. No one uses it as a self-description or identifies themselves as an ethnic minority, rather, although it is numerically descriptive, it is a term of exclusion popularised by the majority ethnic group.

Many factors affect the building a healthy multiculturalism, but in countries that have pursued it with some success education, especially of the young and especially by ensuring that they learn the social, cultural and economic language, is at the root of it.

In this aspect Hong Kong has failed miserably, tending rather to isolate non-Chinese-speaking children away from the majority Chinese and expecting them to learn what for them is a second language in the same way that their ethnic Chinese counterparts learn to develop their mother tongue.

In this context, the Caritas Wu Cheng-chung Secondary School in Pokfulam is a standout exception, as it not only accepts students from a wide cultural background, it actively recruits them and has developed a pedagogy and way of school life that regards difference as a positive to be built on, rather than a negative to be overcome.

The principal, Stephen Chan Sun-hang, told the Sunday Examiner that since he took on his job, one of his main focusses has been developing a multicultural campus life based on love and sharing.

He said that it is obvious to him that resources for the non-Chinese-speaking students and new arrivals in Hong Kong are inadequate and he is determined to do something about it.

The school has sponsored a number of creative activities over the years and this year it launched a Multicultural Week, a programme requiring each subject and functional grouping on campus to prepare different activities that promote the theme of love and sharing.

The basic philosophy of the week is keep it simple and keep it doable, while at the same time introduce differences gently so that students can absorb, see beauty in and appreciate them.

The week kicked off with Traditional Dress Day. Students were invited to wear their own national costumes and they created a scene that delighted the eye.

A number of other national costumes were also prepared at the school for students to try on and have a photo-op, allowing them to see themselves in a different light.

The Guidance Committee and the Chinese Department designed a number of booths helping national flag-, text-, festival- and custom-recognition.

Indian art is probably best represented in the henna tradition and a fine display attracted a lot of attention, as did snacks from various traditions, including egg cakes, sesame rolls and glutinous rice pudding.

Other activities during the week included International Language Day Presentation and a visit to a Buddhist temple organised by the Committee of Religious, Ethics and Civic Education.

Song and Dance Appreciation Day, organised by the English Department, also turned out to be one of the big winners of the week.

Through exposing the students to a variety of traditional art, food, customs, languages and activities in a non-threatening and enjoyable atmosphere, Multicultural Week does give them a deeper understanding and appreciation, and through communication opportunities enhances their recognition of difference as a plus, not a minus.

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