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Hong Kong schools

University study finds Hong Kong teenagers can be materialistic, self-centred and distrustful of the government

Researchers interview more than 2,400 pupils to seek answers about their behaviour and what they find ‘is a cause for concern’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 November, 2017, 6:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 November, 2017, 10:20pm

Nearly a third of Hong Kong’s teenagers have one thing on their minds: cash.

That was what a university study found after interviewing 2,474 secondary school pupils from 20 city schools in an attempt to learn about the moral character and social behaviour of teenagers.

The results, which were published on Thursday, were a cause for concern, said Professor Daniel Shek Tan-lei, chair professor of Applied Social Sciences at Polytechnic University, which conducted the survey with Wofoo Social Enterprises, a group that provides social services to the young and elderly.

“Our society is too materialistic and neglects the development of the whole person,” Shek said.

Thirty per cent of pupils polled said they agreed with the statement that making money was more important than other things.

Also, more than 19 per cent agreed money buys respect.

More than 45 per cent considered both of those concepts widely accepted by their peers in Hong Kong.

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“Materialism is a characteristic in Hong Kong society,” said Shek, who co-authored the study and is also the chairman of the Family Council, a board that advises officials on family affairs.

Shek claimed the concept of “money is not everything but we can do nothing without money” was widely accepted by many people in Hong Kong.

Not only did the pupils display signs of materialism, but also showed distrust towards the government and political parties, according to the study interviewing teenagers in junior and senior levels between January and July this year.

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Nearly 47 per cent said they did not trust the Hong Kong government, while 57 per cent did not trust pan-democrats, and close to 63 per cent did not trust the pro-establishment political parties. More than 70 per cent said they did not trust the mainland government.

Shek believed the mistrust might come from a lack of understanding of government and the mainland.

Professor Ma Ngok, a Chinese University of Hong Kong political scientist who was not part of the study, said the lack of trust towards local and mainland officials was not limited to secondary school pupils.

“Governments’ behaviour cannot induce trust from people,” he said. “Lack of trust is a general impression rather than stemming from a specific incident.”

Some pupils also showed an inclination towards being self-centred. More than 17 per cent of pupils said they thought their feelings were more important than those of others, and more than 22 per cent thought they should be excused regardless of their behaviour.

But, Shek said to his surprise, pupils underestimated the influence of the media and the internet on their moral development.

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Close to 70 per cent of interviewees said the media had no, or slight, influence on their moral development, and about 57 per cent said the internet posed limited influence.

“It was a surprising and unexpected finding,” he said. “So much information is available on the internet but can youngsters differentiate whether that information is right or wrong?”

Shek said many previous studies had already identified the effect the internet and the media had in influencing youngsters’ behaviour.

A way to improve the character of teenagers, he added, was to include moral education in schools, as well as teach social and emotional learning instead of focusing solely on academics.

James Lam Yat-fung, a secondary school principal, said his school taught pupils morals, but the crucial lessons that shape a child’s character were also learned at home from parents.