What is Hong Kong doing for its cold, hungry, stressed and depressed primary school kids? Not nearly enough

  • Alice Wu says Hong Kong must recognise that it needs to do more for children suffering from depression, kids on welfare, and even gifted children. But how much of the educational system is the city ready to change?
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 7:37am

If the way Hong Kong treats women is any guide, then we can be sure it is pretty cruel to its children, too.

Once again, we have news about primary school children suffering from depression: about one in five this year, according to the latest survey conducted by the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service. Last year’s figure was 13.2 per cent, or one in seven – remember our outrage then? Survey after survey finds that our kids are not all right. They’re stressed, overworked, sleep-deprived and bullied; we do not need to dive into a discussion of why, do we? We have known why for years. Yet, here we are, with even more depressed children in our midst.

And we should know that kids from low-income families are under a lot more stress. Reports on Hong Kong’s underprivileged are just downright depressing. According to a survey released by the Society for Community Organisation late last month, nine out of 10 primary school children from families on welfare live in a state of deprivation. That’s more than 200,000 kids who can’t afford tutorial classes where they can get help with schoolwork, much less extracurricular activities. That’s thousands of kids who are hungry and cold, who do not have enough food and warm clothing.

And more crushing than stress is the hopelessness of intergenerational poverty. When education is no longer a ticket out of poverty, but a daily remember of how much they lack – kids who have two meals a day, for whom toys and dance classes are unaffordable luxuries – we must recognise that all the poverty alleviation policies, and the work of countless NGOs, are still not enough.

Stress must be contagious in Hong Kong. A survey by the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education found that even gifted youngsters suffer from it, too. Well, of course. The pressure we put on our kids, be they underachieving or overachieving, is overwhelming.

The 229,600 children who are too poor to play with their friends

We blame parents for stressing their children out. We blame the Hong Kong culture of cutthroat competition. Yet, how much of the educational system are we willing and prepared to change? It is obviously a big contributor to stress. Despite all those billions in our coffers, we are unwilling to spend enough on education and we are failing to foster and retain talent.

In the IMD World Talent Ranking, Hong Kong is a disgraceful 31st when it comes to investing in and developing human capital. It is true that the Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor administration has committed more money to education. In the chief executive’s last policy address, she talked about earmarking HK$900 million for field trips. But how much more are we willing to do, so that children from all income brackets have equal access to quality education?

Hong Kong’s poorest children ‘lacking meals of meat or fish’

Will we ever alleviate extreme poverty, so that children do not have to worry about being hungry or cold? How much are we willing to change, so that children do not suffer from depression from a young age?

It is our job to open young minds and hearts to knowledge and learning. Yet, we must admit that we have been systemically inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on our children, when we push them to constantly excel academically without caring for their needs. We must also admit that, for every social problem we leave unsolved, our children are the first to suffer.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA