Some recent reports released by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPolyU) have triggered some deep thoughts among the educationists in Hong Kong. Together with other previous reports, educationists should have some serious reflection of what is going on.
HKPolyU has conducted a study titled ‘Character building – A shared mission for a betterfuture‘. It is anticiplated a total of five reports will be released. Until today (25 January, Thursday), three reports are available online: the first report is based on the perspective from Secondary School students, the second report is based on the perspective from Secondary School teachers, and the third report is based on the parents of the students.
Since I started to teach in the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2009, I have met so many talented students from different generations. In recent years, I observed some apparent, if not drastic, changes in the university students. I had doubts on my own observations at first; however, it seems that my observations were supported by various reports, such as the reports mentioned above.
The first major change observed is the academic performance in science among university students. It seemed to me that there was a gap between the final year students in 2014/15 and those in 2015/16. In fact, similar observations were described by the Academy of Sciences in Hong Kong (ASHK). The report was titled ‘Science, Technology and Mathematics Education in the Development of the Innovation and Technology Ecosystem of Hong Kong‘. Unlike students in the past, students nowadays are not as much interested in science; many of them are even scared of science. For science students in the university, although talented ones are still there in roughly the same proportion, many of the students have little foundation knowledge of science subjects; they might not have the basic knowledge of biology or chemistry, for example. The situation could be even more critical in some fundamental concepts of mathematics, such as the concepts of ‘rate’ or ‘statistics’, which are essential for all science subjects, no matter it is physics or life science. In this regard, I fully agree about the report of ASHK’s.
The second major change observed is about the behaviours of university students. In CUHK, for example, I have not met any students with ‘unusual behaviours’ in class, until I encountered some Year 1 students in 2013, where the ‘unusual behaviours’ were those behaviours we did not normally expect from a university student at that time; or, at least, those were the behaviours I had not observed before. Since then, a variety of ‘unusual behaviours’ has become ‘usual’ among some university students.
With reference to the second report above, I feel deeply sorry to learn about the survey, in which close to 70% of the teachers involved perceived that there was a decline in the moral standard among Hong Kong adolescents. From the perspectives of teachers, if we define any behavioural deviations from the social norm of good students as ‘a decline in the moral standard’, I will probably agree about the finding; but I want to ask why? According to the same report, the adolescents were perceived to be self-centred and materialistic in general; specifically, the adolescents were encouraged to improve their ability to cope with adversities, their emotional competence, and their sense of responsibility. (The results from the perspectives of adolescents and their parents are available in the first and third reports).
To me, the findings of the second report related to ’emotional competence’ implies on another survey conducted by Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service in 2017. The survey presented some worrying figures: one out of two Secondary School students were affected by the signs of depression, where 13.3% and 3.6% were reported as moderate and severe depression, respectively. In other words, among 20 students, there could be three moderate to severe cases. Moreover, about one-forth of the students were affected by high levels of anxiety, where public examinations, further study, and future career were identified as the main sources of stress. Most importantly, since depression is often related to suicide, another longitudinal study of the problems in youth’s well-being development conducted by HKPolyU reported that around 10% of the Secondary School students had ever thought about suicide! In fact, there was a miserable wave of youth suicide since 2015 in Hong Kong.
From the reports and statistics described above, it seems that the changes I observed in recent years are only the ‘symptoms’ of other potentially deeper personal or social problems. Educationists should pay attention to identify the roots. One of the starting points, as mentioned by other experts, is probably a fundamental reform of the education system in Hong Kong.