COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital technologies, in the YMCA and the world over. But remote learning does not always reach ‘remote’ groups, so YMCA has doubled its efforts to do so. Hong Kong-born Lucia Yip, now studying in the USA and interning at World YMCA, reports.
In Hong Kong, remote learning has failed low-income ethnic minority families, include Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Nepalese and Pakistanis. It’s not just a question of poor access to internet and technology: often, the cause lies in the deep-rooted structural barriers – many a direct result of structural racism – which had taken a toll on the low-income ethnic minority families, even without COVID.
In 2020, in the thick of the COVID pandemic, I examined some of the major determinants of poor academic performance among ethnic minority students from low-income families in Hong Kong.
First, I found that the ethnic minority students have needed additional language support to complete their classwork, and they have struggled because their parents did not speak sufficient Cantonese.
Second, living in crowded conditions made it difficult to focus on learning – a challenge which was exacerbated when more family members were at home.
Third, ethnic minority students without internet access were unable to sign into online classes and complete their assignments.
Fourth, some ethnic minority parents never finished High School themselves, and as a result their children did not have access to the help they needed.
Fifth, when they were at home the ethnic minority students with learning disabilities lost access to critical support they would have received at school.
Sixth and finally, ethnic minority students in these low-income families lacked the educational and other resources that supported learning at home.
Other determinants included a lack of parental supervision for learning (when both parents were essential workers), increased stress (because of COVID-19 anxiety or when parents became unemployed) and issues with remote learning technology.
Learning losses from the pandemic, though large for all students, seemed to be larger for those in low-income ethnic minority families. This does not indicate a lack of effort on the part of families, but rather a magnification of structural inequities in education quality and home environments which are hard-wired into society. The legacy of racism may be more apparent during the pandemic, but it operates all the time, making it more difficult for low-income ethnic minority students to thrive in school.
This is where YMCA of Hong Kong’s Social Services played an important role in helping to support these ethnic minority families in the Sham Shui Po and Cheung Sha Wan districts. The YMCA of Hong Kong reached out to these families in different ways, remotely and in person.
First, the YMCA of Hong Kong held Zoom meetings with ethnic minority families to keep them engaged and ensure that they felt supported. The meetings were mostly about understanding their current situations, their daily routines, and the areas where the YMCA of Hong Kong could offer suggestions or referral possibilities.
YMCA of Hong Kong also provided remote tutoring to students who struggled with their online classes. Ethnic minority students who did not have access to the internet were able to come to the YMCA center in Cheung Sha Wan for free in-person tutoring sessions led by interns.
Second, the YMCA of Hong Kong distributed free bread to ethnic minority families. Volunteers collected bread that could not be sold in neighborhood bakeries and redistributed it to families in need. This was a direct way of engaging with ethnic families with something “tangible” that also carried a symbolic value of care.
Third, the YMCA of Hong Kong hosted different team-building activities for ethnic minority children every week during the summer, to keep them entertained and engaged in things that did not have to do with school. The physical distance of remote learning can quickly turn into emotional distance which in turn leads to isolation. Through activities like virtual storytelling, online Pictionary and ice-breaker activities, ethnic minority children were able to experience community
Aside from these activities, the YMCA of Hong Kong dedicated time to providing a safe space for ethnic minority groups to talk about how everyone was doing personally during COVID times. Even with social distancing, these activities brought the children closer together than ever before.
The feedback from the families has been very positive. The YMCA of Hong Kong continues to be in contact with many of the families, and the word spread about the services it was providing.
It all shows the impact and reach of the organization, and the good that can be achieved through collective action.
Can you help? YMCA of Hong Kong’s financial resources have also been hit by the pandemic, and it remains a major challenge to support ever-growing numbers of ethnic minority families.
Contact YMCA of Hong Kong at +852 27088995, firstname.lastname@example.org