25 February 2020
Demonstrators wearing anonymous masks, also known as Guy Fawkes masks, gather during a protest at in Tsim Sha Tsui on Nov. 5. Hong Kong's young people are engulfed in feelings of anxiety, anger and frustration. Photo: Bloomberg
Demonstrators wearing anonymous masks, also known as Guy Fawkes masks, gather during a protest at in Tsim Sha Tsui on Nov. 5. Hong Kong's young people are engulfed in feelings of anxiety, anger and frustration. Photo: Bloomberg

Five things govt can do to restore hope among the youth

As the political storm triggered by the extradition bill misadventure has morphed into a broader anti-government protest movement, Hong Kong’s young people, including secondary school students, who have been at the forefront of the street demonstrations are engulfed in feelings of anxiety, anger and frustration.

Amid the growing disenchantment, the youth seem to have little or no tolerance for anything associated with the government or any proposal that comes from the establishment.

Worse still, violence is now gripping school campuses across the city so much so that behaving disrespectfully and even violently towards school heads and teaching staff is considered by quite a lot of young people as “trendy”, with school rules being trampled underfoot on many occasions.

Granted, it is a good thing when young people care about the society.

However, when politics overrides everything, when violence becomes the new norm, and when swearing like a trooper has become the only way young people express themselves, the only consequence is that our core values such as common decency and the rule of law will get twisted and distorted to such an extent that the youth may no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

So, amid the ongoing social upheaval, how should the government treat the demands of the youth? How should it formulate proper youth policies?

In my opinion, there are five urgent tasks lying before the administration in this regard.

In July 2017, during her inaugural speech after taking the reins of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she had gained “a deeper understanding of why our young people felt anxious and were uncertain about the future.”

“After the election, I pledged that as Chief Executive I would identify the crux of the issues and take a more macro approach to pave the way forward for Hong Kong,” she said.

“In due course, we will take forward specific measures to provide more opportunities for young people to take part in public policy discussions and implementation,” Lam added in her inaugural speech.

“By doing so, we aim not only to enhance their understanding of and trust in the government, but also to nurture future talent and leaders in society and politics.”

Given the current crisis, I believe apart from building a dialogue platform, which the government is already fine-tuning, the chief executive must overhaul her governing team and reformulate her governance strategies with resolve and foresight in order to put society back on the right track and rebuild trust between the administration and the youth.

Second, as we all know, our young people aren’t born to be valiant or bigoted. The reason why many of them are behaving in a violent way over the past few months is that they have been purposefully fired up and soft-soaped as “heroes” by people with secret and sinister agendas.

As such, there is definitely a necessity to enhance civic education in our existing school curriculum and to boost the sense of national identity among the teenagers.

Third, under the policy of school-based management, schools in the city must bear the responsibility of upholding professionalism among teachers and maintaining order on the campuses by curbing politicization and violence, rather than succumb to pressure from students or alumni.

Meanwhile, schools and teachers should be restricted from advocating their own political stance in class, because, after all, schools are supposed to be a place for learning and personal growth.

Fourth, in order to restore the young people’s faith and trust in society, “money investment” alone is definitely not enough.

Rather, the government must ditch its “paternalistic mindset”, listen to the views of the young people with patience, and incorporate their opinions as well as suggestions into the policymaking process.

And finally, fifth, as economy and politics are two sides of the same coin in society, authorities must address the issue of blocked social mobility, so as to restore hope for the future among the young people.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 30

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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President of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals