1st April 2017 marks the two-year anniversary and the renewal of my appointment as Chairman of the Commission on Youth (“CoY“). I would like to take this occasion to review my past term’s work, and outline my priorities for the next term.

Observations from Youth and Public Engagements

During my term, I met with young people and stakeholders in youth development at 460 occasions to have a better understanding of their situations, thoughts and needs. I also placed much emphasis on engaging and soliciting views from the public through social media. Three observations can be made from these exchanges.

First, Hong Kong’s youth face many challenges in their transition to adulthood – striving to excel in school, find a good job, attain financial independence and, for many, buy a property; maintain a global outlook and competitiveness in this age of interconnectivity and ever-evolving technology; cope with the stresses that modern life brings to one’s physical and mental wellbeing; establish healthy and loving relationships within one’s family and community, so on and so forth.

Second, existing youth-related measures tend to mostly benefit at-risk youth and the elites. One of my priorities have been to reach out to young people who are neither at risk nor at the top – what I call the “middle 80%”. Successful youth development work should take into account the plurality of young people and support each and everyone of them in fully realising their potential. Such is the vision of the CoY – to foster a culture of multi-faceted excellence.

Third, many young people have expressed an interest in political and social issues and they would like to have greater influence on policymaking. They should be given more opportunities to voice their opinions and their views should be properly recognised. They should especially have a say in the future direction of youth development work.

Review of Hong Kong’s Youth Development Work

Through the efforts of the Hong Kong SAR Government (“HKSARG”) acting together with stakeholders in other sectors, we have witnessed a rise in the quantity and quality of youth-related measures (which is not the same as a youth policy, and I will turn to this below). The Youth Development Work of the Current-term Government 2012-2017: Review and Outlook, a booklet recently released by the Home Affairs Bureau (“HAB”), summarises existing measures to promote multi-faceted development, global perspectives, volunteerism, youth engagement and community participation. The booklet did not include initiatives at a community level, many of which I have observed to be innovative and impactful. In reviewing youth-related measures (whether government-led or not), I have been mindful to identify best practices and encourage more cross-sectoral exchanges so that, together, we can scale measures that truly benefit our youth.

While reviewing individual measures is important, what we often forget is that these measures affect a young person’s growth and development in a way such that they cannot be viewed in isolation. A young person who does not have sufficient guidance on life planning may find himself in a job that does not suit him and feel trapped or financially vulnerable; or a teenager who has experienced cyberbullying might express his frustration in ways that harm himself or the society.

Hong Kong has many youth-related measures, but they are often the efforts of bureaux and non-governmental actors working in silos.

What Hong Kong lacks is a youth policy to facilitate coordination between stakeholders and lay down a central guiding principle for youth development in the long term.

Hong Kong Needs a Youth Policy

I dedicated much of my time last year to reviewing Hong Kong’s historical development of a youth policy and overseas experience. The 1980s saw an attempt to introduce a youth policy to consolidate existing efforts in youth development, but it did not come to fruition. Back then, a Central Committee on Youth (“CCY”) was set up to research and consult the public on the need for a youth policy. Based on its findings and public opinion, the CCY recommended the colonial government to formulate a youth policy and establish a commission on youth for the task. The CCY’s recommendation for a youth policy was rejected, though its recommendation for a commission on youth was accepted, hence the CoY today.

A youth policy is not a novel idea; many countries have one. Independent think tank Youth Policy Labs’ survey in 2014 found that 62 per cent of nations worldwide have a national youth policy. Examples include the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, certain states in Canada like Québec, and our neighbour Macao SAR of China. These examples all demonstrate that a youth policy is not merely a laundry list of youth-related measures; it is a high-level document that outlines a city’s vision for its young people and the government’s long-term investment priorities for achieving that vision.

While a youth policy fosters strategic direction for youth development work across the board and ensures that youth-related measures are consistent, it is not a silver bullet that will help our young people overcome all of their challenges in life. As a set of guidelines for long-term action, the effects of a youth policy may not be visible until many years later, and its impact on individual lives may not be apparent. This may be why our society has not, until recently, started to discuss whether Hong Kong needs a youth policy.

I am glad to see that after a year of public education and engagement (mostly through the website: http://youthpolicy.hk and Facebook: @hello.mingwailau.hk), many members of the public have expressed a wish to see a more comprehensive set of youth policy in Hong Kong. Young people want to see more commitment on the part of the HKSARG to youth development. HKSARG officials and other stakeholders indicated that they would benefit from a central vision to underpin their actions.

Recent Developments

2016-2017 has been an exciting time for Hong Kong’s youth development.

In the Policy Address 2017, the CoY was invited to put forward proposals on the future direction of a youth development policy and strengthen coordination with various government departments in youth development.

In her manifesto for the Chief Election election, Ms. Carrie Lam asked the CoY to promptly complete the first draft of a youth policy, as the basis for establishing a Youth Development Commission (“YDC”).

Now is therefore the time for our society to think and talk about Hong Kong’s youth policy. In the coming 9-12 months, the CoY will conduct extensive public consultations on this.

Chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration and comprising youth members, the YDC would steer relevant policy bureaux and departments to take forward youth development initiatives. The CoY would be incorporated into the YDC.

In the coming year, the CoY will form a dedicated focus group to coordinate a series of discussions with young people, youth groups, youth ambassadors, teachers, school principals, parents, employers, social workers, NGOs, and representatives from other groups and sectors. Apart from engaging the public on Hong Kong’s youth policy, the CoY will solicit views on individual youth-related measures.

Youth-related Measures

I welcome suggestions on existing measures as well as new ones to be introduced. Below are my proposals relating to education, jobs, civic participation, and health and wellbeing, which were more fully explained in my note to all Chief Executive candidates.

  • Our education system should create enough opportunities for students to explore different subjects and interests starting from an early age, and have flexible pathways for them to develop their strengths according to their passions. It should hone skills that are essential in modern society, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration skills, and cultivate digital fluency and a global outlook. With a view to attaining these objectives, there needs to be a complete review of Hong Kong’s education system, from its syllabus and curriculum to assessment methods, led by experts. We also need to objectively assess our career and life planning education and vocational training to ensure that resources spent in these areas are fully utilised.
  • To improve job prospects and upward mobility, Hong Kong needs to have a broader, more diversified economic base such that young people can enjoy an abundance of quality job opportunities. To enhance young people’s job-readiness, particularly from an employer’s perspective, the HKSARG should create more communication channels between employers and tertiary institutions, and encourage employers to let students gain work experience in their school years through internship programmes. Young people seeking careers in the fields of innovation and technology (I.T.), arts and culture, sports and entrepreneurship need extra support, from infrastructure to funding to capacity- and network-building.
  • To enhance youth civic participation, the Chief Executive should lead HKSARG officials in being more proactive and initiating exchanges with youth (formal and informal; in person and on social media), and actively listen to and acknowledge their views. Encouraging volunteerism is another way to instill citizenship values. These opportunities should be readily available to young people from all backgrounds.
  • In the area of health and wellbeing, we should consider following overseas practice and include resilience as one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s youth policy. We should instill in our young the “mental toughness” to deal with challenges and setbacks in life, and our youth policy should lay down a strategic framework as to how this can be done in all contexts – at home, in school, and in the community.

Ms. Carrie Lam addressed each of the above areas in her manifesto and I was particularly glad to see the following proposals.

Education

  • Increase the HKSARG’s recurrent expenditure on education by HK$5 billion a year;
  • Engage stakeholders through an annual Chief Executive Summit on Quality Education;
  • Commission experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the education system, from its philosophy to individual measures;
  • Encourage teachers to acquire specialised skills in teaching Chinese as a second language and students with special education needs (“SEN”);
  • Promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (“STEM”) education;
  • Introduce coding into school curricula; and
  • Explore the feasibility of flexible repayment arrangements for newly graduated students of tertiary institutions.

Work

  • Attract leading I.T. companies to set up in Hong Kong and provide training to local startups;
  • Create a more favourable environment for young people to develop their talents in creative industries such as performing arts, computer design, comics and animation and film-making, and consider the feasibility of building more performance venues;
  • Promote physical education in schools; invite the Hong Kong Sports Institute to study the strategy for enhancing the training of elite athletes; provide extra resources for training local athletes and to support retired athletes; and
  • Encourage industrial building owners to rent out parts of their buildings as co-working space at concessionary rental.

Civic participation

  • Establish a YDC that comprises at least a certain proportion of young members and members from tertiary institutions;
  • Recruit 20-30 young people into the revamped Central Policy Unit to conduct policy and project research;
  • Appoint a certain proportion of young members into statutory bodies and advisory committees; and
  • Introduce a self-recommendation mechanism for select consultation committees so young people can have more opportunities to participate in public policy discussions.

Health and wellbeing

  • Care for the physical, mental and spiritual needs of students through school-based Life Education and cooperation with families, with a view to strengthening the resilience and enhancing the emotional wellbeing of students.

The Way Forward

The CoY’s dedicated focus group is expected to report its findings to the CoY by early 2018 for further deliberation, after which the CoY will submit final recommendations to the HKSARG regarding Hong Kong’s youth policy. Any comments on Hong Kong’s youth policy (whether as to its vision, strategy or approach), and any suggestions on ways to strengthen coordination among government departments and stakeholders in youth development, are welcome.

I look forward to carrying out the CoY’s mandate of formulating a youth policy, as the basis for establishing a Youth Development Commission. This is a milestone in Hong Kong’s youth development.

Both myself and the CoY will be in consultation with young people, government officials, stakeholders, and members of the public, with a view to crafting a youth policy that is most suited to our youth’s needs and Hong Kong’s economic and social circumstances. Together, we will shape the future direction of Hong Kong’s youth development and build a next generation that can realise their full potential to create fulfilling lives for themselves.

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