A boy does tricks on his scooter at the East Coast Park Precinct, North Point, on April 11. Photo: Sam Tsang
Paul Yip
Paul Yip

Five areas where John Lee can improve the lives of Hong Kong youth

  • Hong Kong has a duty to its young people. We need education reform to better recognise non-academic talent, more resources for schools and teachers, better community support and help for families, plus improved job and training opportunities
At the inaugural ceremony for Hong Kong’s government, President Xi Jinping said the city’s future depends on our young people. So it is our duty to prepare them to help Hong Kong achieve its sustainable development goals and cope with an ageing population. This means strengthening their skills and training.
Looking back at Hong Kong’s youth policy over the past 25 years, there is much room for improvement. Although education and social welfare expenditure has increased over that period, it has yet to effectively address young people’s needs and concerns, leaving them increasingly anxious and filled with a sense of hopelessness.

The mental health of young people presents a major challenge, with wide-ranging implications on both their physical health and holistic development.

That said, I hold out hope that the new government can deliver, because a society without hope is one that is unmotivated and incapable of pushing through reforms that can improve the well-being of society.

To effectively implement youth policies requires comprehensive support, building relationships and creating a platform for communication and trust. Here are five areas where there we can look to improve things.

First, curriculum reform. There have been many rounds of education reform since 1997. Unfortunately, little has been achieved, largely because of our exam-driven curriculum. For more than a decade, universities have offered 15,000 government-funded places every year. Yet, many young people who are not so academically gifted struggle to compete for these places, having found the previous six years of high-school learning both defeating and demoralising.

Yet, they could be very talented in other areas. If we could increase the quota of tertiary education places and provide multiple pathways to employment, we would have the space to make our curriculum more interesting and diversified, to better nurture young talent. Parents would then become more supportive of different pathways for their children.


Hong Kong students prepare for university entrance exams amid latest wave of pandemic

Hong Kong students prepare for university entrance exams amid latest wave of pandemic
Second, help for teachers. Teachers need more support to enable them to focus on student development and their own personal development. Our engagement with teachers suggests that their experiences are far from ideal, with little appreciation from management.
Additional resources are needed, especially for schools that have students with special educational needs, who are more vulnerable and need more help. We can’t expect to achieve better outcomes if we don’t have teachers who are well equipped for the challenge.

Third, community support. Community resources can provide additional support to schools, to build a safe and happy learning environment. For example, Project WeCan by Wharf (Holdings) has made good use of the resources of the company and its partners to provide alternative learning experiences for young people, especially those who might be struggling academically.

Also, some schools have opened up their spaces for young people in their district who require after-school support. While doing so may have involved hurdles related to administrative duties, insurance, cleaning and security, these have been overcome by the active participation of a community committed to bringing about positive change.

Secondary school students leave after classes in Shek Kip Mei on January 20. Photo: Sam Tsang
Fourth, family support. Support has been hampered by the increasing number of family separations and divorces in Hong Kong. The anti-extradition-bill protests in 2019 sowed further discord in families, leaving young people feeling unsure of who they can trust with their problems.
Long working hours mean many parents are unable to spend as much time with their children as they would like or give them enough attention, while others, driven by competition, push their children so hard to excel academically that it leads to a strained relationship. Providing positive parenting workshops could help all parents better use the family as a protective net.

Finally, we need to support youth development and career paths by improving on-the-job training opportunities. Proper training will prepare young people for the job market and improve their upward mobility. At the moment, there are insufficient good options for those who do not get a place at a government-funded university but cannot afford to attend a self-funded establishment.

Reach out to hearts and minds of young in Hong Kong

Meanwhile, postsecondary education pathways need to expand so young people of diverse abilities can make the most of their potential. Whether it is working in cutting-edge technology, training to be a pastry chef, tattoo artist or barista, every trade needs skills and offers opportunities for development. Abandoned school buildings could, for example, be transformed into places where young people can pursue their dreams, and even host start-up companies.

To rebuild community trust and harmony, we need real action to help young people. It would be encouraging to see the community give a second chance to young people jailed for the 2019 anti-extradition-bill protests, and help them re-enter society.
Young people don’t need government slogans talking about improving their quality of life. They do need to be listened to, to have their needs taken seriously, and to be able to engage with the government. Hopefully, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu will deliver on his commitment to result-oriented governance and consolidate a vision of a better future, to bring much-needed hope to young people in Hong Kong.

Paul Yip is a chair professor (population health) in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong