'Out of school' ethnic minority young people in Hong Kong

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


This study provides an in-depth understanding of the ‘out of school’ phenomenon for ethnic minority young people in Hong Kong by focusing on its extent, reasons behind the phenomenon, and description of ‘out of school’ life. The study employed qualitative research methods. A case study approach was adopted. The fieldwork comprised 15 in-depth interviews and 2 observations with 11 ‘out of school’ ethnic minority young people, and provided nuanced understanding of the phenomenon. The fieldwork was augmented with an additional 22 in-depth interviews with 20 other stakeholders related to ethnic minority education. In order to understand the dynamics of the ‘out of school’ issue, I spent time in three schools gaining a sense of the specific contexts of the schools and the life of ethnic minority young people in Hong Kong. Interviews were conducted over an eight-month period, between October 2012 and May 2013. At least five to seven days, which spread over the same period, were spent in each school. Each interview with case study participants lasted for about two hours, while other participants were interviewed an average between one and two hours. The family interview with a young girl and her parents lasted for three hours. Each observation lasted an average of one hour. In addition to fieldwork, key documents, such as census reports, and national and international educational statistical reports related to school attendance and‘out of school’ students, were analyzed. The schools made available the documents related to school enrolment, attendance, and dropout records. Document analysis provided another perspective on the ‘out of school’ phenomena. Moreover, the study is informed by critical race theory and employed critical race methodology in its line of inquiry to understand critically the ‘out of school’ issue for ethnic minority young people in the privileged Chinese context. Although limited data were available in estimating the right number of ‘out of school’ ethnic minority young people in Hong Kong, this study found that a good number of ethnic minority young people are ‘out of school’. This included the pre-primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and post-secondary age-groups. In terms of reasons for being ‘out of school’, it was found that the ethnic minority young people’s school failure was more than simply a consequence of academic failure, rather there were many other interrelated factors. Similar to work on school failure in both developed and developing contexts, the key influences are multi-level — with individuals themselves, within families, within schools and within the community. Moreover, this study found other factors that wider literature cannot explain. This thesis unearthed the relationship between school failure and differences in schooling culture, which is a factor not previously identified in the international literature. The relationship between school failure and other factors, such as citizenship status and racism in the context of Chinese privilege in Hong Kong, had also been uncovered and insights were provided regarding this issue. The results of the present study strongly suggest that focusing only on Chinese proficiency is a limited response on the part of the government towards the issue of the school failure of ethnic minority students. For the ‘out of school’ life of ethnic minority young people, all the six dropout young people participants in the study were working after (and sometimes before) they dropped out of school. Of the four at risk of dropping out students, one student was working beyond school time, and the other three students were passing time after school by staying home and playing. The young child, who never went to any school, was receiving education at home from her parents and elder sister. This thesis discussed the implications of the findings and significance of the study at the levels of policy, practice, theory, and methodology. The study emphasized that the ‘out of school’ issue for ethnic minority young people should not be understood from the point of view of their so-called ‘deficits’. The issue should rather be conceptualized at the intersection of multiple inequalities and disadvantages that make ethnic minorities vulnerable to school failure. Moreover, racism in Hong Kong that represents Chinese privilege and oppression in relation to ethnic minorities should be properly acknowledged and considered at the centre of these critical understandings. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Hong Kong Institute of Education
  • KENNEDY, Kerry John 甘國臻, Supervisor
  • BLAISE, Mindy, Supervisor
  • HUE, Ming Tak, Supervisor
Award date26 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Dropouts
  • Minority students
  • Minorities -- Education
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Hong Kong Institute of Education, 2014


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