Your voice: Hong Kong needs to address its noise pollution problem; university isn’t for everyone (long letters)

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  • City needs to fix laws regarding noise, as prolonged exposure to loud sounds from construction and traffic can negatively affect your health, one student writes
  • Another says that schools should promote other postsecondary options besides college, as some students may not be interested or cannot afford the cost
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Noise pollution is a serious issue that can have a damaging effect on your physical and mental health. Photo: Shutterstock

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The problem with noise pollution

Choi Lok-yin, St. Paul’s Secondary School

If you live in Hong Kong, something like this has happened to you: it’s a Saturday morning, and you’ve had a long week. All you want to do is lie in bed for a few more hours and drift in and out of sleep. But then you hear the dreaded sounds of construction outside, and the drills are so loud you can feel the vibrations in your bones. So you hop out of bed and decide to get as far away as possible from the earth-shattering noise.

Scenarios like this are a part of life in Hong Kong. Noise is a big source of stress in the city. In 2020, 5,287 noise complaints were made, accounting for 26.9 per cent of total pollution complaints that year. Around half of noise pollution comes from a person’s neighbourhood, public places and construction.

The 7 most annoying sounds in Hong Kong

Traffic also plays a big part in the city’s noise pollution problem. According to the Environmental Protection Department, about 900,000 people are currently affected by traffic noise because of a lack of proper urban planning, which has resulted in highways running just outside people’s living rooms.

With the pandemic forcing Hongkongers to stay home more, many have realised just how loud construction work can be and how difficult it is to have lessons, meetings, or even just a quiet environment for studying. The noise makes it too difficult to concentrate.

Some might say that you must learn to live with it, especially in a busy city like Hong Kong. But the truth is that prolonged exposure to noisy environments can cause physical and psychological harm. If you are continuously around noise above 90 decibels for long periods of time, it can cause hearing damage.

How do you find a quiet space in such a noisy world? Photo: Shutterstock

There are other side effects, too: according to the Environmental Protection Department, loud noises can cause insomnia, headaches, and nausea. National Geographic adds that children who live in noisy areas have been found to suffer from stress and impairments in memory, attention levels, and reading skills.

Current government policy doesn’t clearly state how loud noise can be or the time after which it would be considered a nuisance, and police are responsible for sorting through complaints and deciding which ones have merit. The government should make the law about noise pollution and nuisance reports clearer, so the public would have more confidence in the law and be more willing to report those who violate it, and the police would have clearer guidelines to follow.

According to the current rules, Saturday is not a public holiday. This means that the hours allowed for construction from Monday to Friday are the same on Saturday. Therefore, as long as it is carried out between 7am to 7pm, it is in line with the law. However, considering that many people stay home on Saturdays to relax or catch up on their work, the government should amend the law to guarantee its citizens one more day of silence per week.

Study finds air pollution caused 9 million premature deaths globally in 2019

Construction companies should also adopt quieter methods and set up noise barriers as much as possible to protect people in the neighbourhood.

People can also do small things for their neighbours so they don’t contribute even more noise. For example, keep the volume down on your TV, only do repairs during the day, and don’t be loud in the evening.

Still, although there are things people can do to be less noisy, the responsibility really lies on the government to make – and enforce – stricter laws.

A little peace and quiet would be good sometimes. Photo: Shutterstock

Victor Wu, 17, Burnaby South Secondary School, Canada

Many Hong Kong students are familiar with the local Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) curriculum, and those who go to international schools are well acquainted with the International Baccalaureate (IB), the British A-level system, or even the US’ Advanced Placement classes and exams. What do these curriculums all have in common? They are centred around exams and academic performance. Too many students nowadays are pressured to do well at school in order to attend a prestigious university. However, grades are not the only indicator of success.

University isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be presented as the only option for students. But society tries to convince us otherwise. For example, when we walk outside, we can see many advertisements for tutorial lessons or study books that promote students’ high scores or brag about the universities their clients have attended. Students may also feel pressure from their families to go to a well-known school because they think it’s the most sure-fire way of getting a good job.

Is university necessary for financial success?

There’s nothing wrong with attending university. You can dive deeper into topics that you’re passionate about, meet new people and have new experiences.

But what’s wrong is demeaning people who don’t want to, or can’t, attend university, or pressuring them into going. Some people would prefer going into a trade or getting an apprenticeship where they can learn practical skills and start earning money right away. Some might want to start a business or work freelance. There are many options a student can choose from after secondary school, besides attending university. Furthermore, if a person wants to learn, university isn’t their only option: advanced skills like coding can be self-taught through online boot camps or professional certificate programmes offered by sites like Coursera.

We shouldn’t put down students who don’t want to take on thousands of dollars of debt. Photo: Shutterstock

Higher education costs a ridiculous amount of money. To attend university, you have to pay high tuition fees, as well as room and board – and these numbers get scarier if you study abroad. Take the US for example, where the average student loan debt a graduate has is US$25,000. The debt can stick with you long after you graduate, especially because of the high interest rates they have. If someone wants to skip university so they don’t end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt, that’s not something we should look down on.

Schools should offer more technical and hands-on skills so students can have a more well-rounded education. Whether it be woodwork, robotics or even Home Economics (cooking, cleaning, and other things required for taking care of a home), these practical skills are just as valuable as academic knowledge. Schools should encourage students to explore their passions and not force them into a one-size-fits-all path. University isn’t the only way to succeed. The students of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, and we need people with unique perspectives and skill sets to improve the world we live in.

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