Hong Kong lowers Chinese language recruitment hurdles

By on 25/03/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Chief Secretary for Administration, announced the Hong Kong government is easing the Chinese language requirements for entry to the civil service (Image courtesy: Exploringlife).

The Hong Kong government is easing the Chinese language requirements for entry to 22 civil service grades, in a bid to promote equal opportunities for the city’s ethnic minorities.

The move, which follows a review of Chinese language requirements across the civil service, was announced by chief secretary for administration Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung in a blog posted on the government website last week.

“The government, as the largest employer in Hong Kong, is leading by example with these measures to ensure equal access to job opportunities in the government for ethnic minorities,” Cheung wrote in the blog. “We recognise their potential and will help them leverage it in serving the community.”

Tongue tied

Proficiency in English and Chinese has been an entry requirement for all posts in the Hong Kong civil service since January 2003, under the government’s policy of promoting biliteracy in English and Chinese languages and trilingualism in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Candidates for posts at degree or professional level must pass the two language papers in the civil service Common Recruitment Examination (CRE), while lower level jobs require at least Grade E in Chinese and English in Hong Kong’s school-leaving exam or equivalent, or are benchmarked against expected attainment levels in a given school year group.

But advocacy groups for the city’s ethnic minority groups, who make up 3.8% of its population, argue that the Chinese language requirement bars them from the civil service. Publicly-funded schools make no special Chinese provision for children who do not speak it as their mother tongue, many of whom have low attain

Language barriers

Under the new rules, the pass mark in the CRE will be lowered from Level 2 to Level 1 in eight ‘degree’ or ‘professional’ grades, including posts such as treasury accountant and analyst/programmer.

And across 14 ‘technical’ and ‘operative’ grades, the requirement will be lowered from  Secondary 3 level to Primary 6 level for some posts, such as laboratory attendant, and from Primary 6 level to a written test in simplified Chinese for other posts, such as chainman, a role that involves transporting equipment for surveyors.

The changes bring the total number of civil service grades in which the Chinese language requirement has been lowered since 2010 to 53 – just over one in eight of the 400 categories of civil service position in Hong Kong.

Labour Party legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung called on the government to design a Chinese-as-a-second-language curriculum and exams for ethnic minority pupils and to lower the language requirement for more civil service positions, especially in the health, housing and education departments and the police, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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