• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Tuesday 01st December, 2015

Mentoring in China fosters hope among disadvantaged children learning English

strong>Although popular in “western” countries as a way of improving the life chances of underprivileged children, mentoring has received scarce attention in China. Now a pioneering study conducted in Hong Kong suggests that strong support from an adult mentor can contribute to children’s academic attainment while fostering their hopes for the future.Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University devised the MnM project for children from low-income families as a combination of one-to-one support by volunteer adult mentors over a year and a program of 16 English lessons during the first six months. English language skills were included because they were considered important to children’s educational progress; but the lessons also provided a focus around which the mentoring relationship could develop. The adult mentors were recruited through non-governmental agencies involved in the project, community networks and a website. In addition to attending training and supervision sessions, they made a commitment to meeting the child they were mentoring at least once a month. The main activities listed in their contracts included meeting the children or meals, outdoor activities, sports and shopping. Tutoring was also specified.Mentoring qualityUsing a “quasi-experimental” design, the study compared a group of 75 children aged 7-12 who took part in the MnM program with a separately recruited control group of similar children from disadvantaged families. The children in both groups were assessed before and after the program took place for their sense of hope, self-efficacy, self-esteem, competence in English and overall academic performance. The researchers also adapted a standard measurement to assess children’s “hope in learning English”, and interviewed the program participants using a mentoring quality relationship (MRQ) questionnaire.The results from six and 12-month follow-up measurements suggested the combination of mentoring and English lessons had significantly improved the project children’s hopes of successfully learning English as well as their measured competence and their school results, when compared with children in the control group. No significant differences were detected overall between the MnM children and the control group when it came to children’s sense of hope, self-efficacy and self-esteem. However, after account was taken of the MRQ scores, it emerged that there had been significant improvements in the psychosocial measurements obtained from those children in the project that had enjoyed a good mentoring relationship.Participation “insufficient”This and other analyses supported a conclusion that children’s participation in the mentoring program was not sufficient in itself, and that positive results depended on the quality of the relationship between the individual and their mentor. Equally unsurprisingly, the researchers acknowledged the need for further research to investigate the factors that do most promote and sustain good mentoring relationships.The research had some technical limitations that included its reliance on self-report and self-perception measures, which increased the chance of errors and bias in the results. But it remains an innovative study, given the Chinese context and the inclusion of English-language teaching, which gave it some of the attributes of a tutoring intervention. The way is now open to future research to understand more about the way the combined ingredients interacted, including how the focus on learning English influenced the mentoring relationship. ***********Reference:Ng, ECW., Lai, MK., & Chan, CC (2014). Effectiveness of mentorship program among underprivileged children in Hong Kong. Children and Youth Services Review, 47, 268-273.

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