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Hong Kong schools

Out with the old, in with the youth: Hong Kong commission chief calls for a fresh approach to young people’s issues

City needs youth policy, education reform and less fragmented government services which leadership front runner Carrie Lam is seen as well poised to deliver

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 11:32am

The head of Hong Kong’s youth commission has called for a complete rethink on how the city approaches and provides services for young people, just days ahead of the leadership election.

In an interview with the Post, Commission on Youth chairman Lau Ming-wai said the city needed a No 2 official willing to drive the development of a dedicated youth policy and a less fragmented set-up of government departments to provide services.

Lau, 36, said his past two years as commission chairman had revealed just how compartmentalised the government’s handling of youth issues was.

“For example, in education, you should not just look at just the symptoms,” he said.

“We talk about topical issues like the TSA [Territory-wide System Assessment] and student self-harm, but the way I would want education to be reviewed is to start by asking what education is for and what students, employers and society want out of [it].”

Lau highlighted the situation facing special education students, who receive services under three separate government departments: the Education Bureau; the Labour and Welfare Bureau; and the Food and Health Bureau.

Unlike many developed societies, including the United Kingdom, Sweden and neighbouring Macau, Hong Kong has no formal youth policy.

The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society – a government body – is in charge of that country’s youth policy, which states clearly: “All young people should have access to good living conditions, power to shape their own lives and influence over the development of the society.”

The policy maps out an action plan and lists more than 40 different objectives in three key areas: youth influence; self-sufficiency; and mental health – all of which are supported by annual funding.

All other Swedish government departments are required to follow up on youth-related issues and report to the agency every year. Similarly, Lau said, Hong Kong should introduce a youth policy that extends beyond one administration’s term and the Commission on Youth should be chaired by the city’s chief secretary to improve coordination between departments.

Lau was a member of a government committee set up last year to examine the causes of student suicides in Hong Kong. The committee concluded there was no direct correlation between the city’s education system and an increased rate of suicides.

Nevertheless, the youth commission chairman urged the government to review the city’s education system.

“If you say education is the killer of these students, then for sure it’s not. But the truth is, in some cases, student self-harm ... things that happen in school are a factor,” he said.

Despite intense criticism against Lam being disconnected with the youth, a keyword search of all candidates’ manifestos found the word “youth” mentioned 16 times in Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s, four in John Tsang Chun-wah’s and one in Woo Kwok-hing’s. The word “young” and its variations were mentioned 35, 15 and 5 times respectively.

Lau also encouraged the government to reserve more positions for young people on official bodies.

“In a hypothetical advisory board with 30 people, let’s just say there are three to four [young people under 25],” he said, adding the age and ratio would require debate.

Being a leading voice on such issues, Lau advised chief executive contender Lam on the youth initiatives featured in her manifesto, making it likely that his demands will be met if the election front runner succeeds this Sunday.

Despite being in a favourable position with the election front runner, Lau said family responsibilities made it unlikely that he would join the government full time, even if Lam wins.