Leong Sin Man: Young people are “flowers in a greenhouse”

Thursday, July 22, 2010
Issue 1069, Page 2 & 3
Word count: 1396
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The booming gaming industry in Macau does provide local people, especially the young ones, with more job opportunities, but on the other hand a society that is full of seemingly “easy-to-get” opportunities may hinder people’s motivation to keep upgrading their skills and stay competitive.

People say youth are the pillar of society, and therefore it is important for them to grow within a healthy social environment and go to schools where critical and independent thinking and positive moral values can be learnt.

Speaking to the Macau Daily Times, Leong Sin Man, director of the General Office of the Macau New Chinese Youth Association and member of the Government’s Youth Affairs Committee, highlighted the insufficiency and lack of vision in the youth affairs policies.

She also said that it is hard to describe the young people in Macau, since they don’t have any special characteristics that stand out, something that is unusual when compared with other places in the world.

Competitiveness among Macau’s youth is another concern of Leong. She explains the underlying causes and suggests what they can do in the hope of turning things around.

Reporter: What is lacking in the youth affairs policies rolled out by the Government?

Leong Sin Man: Every year the Policy Address does mention about youth policies, but the problem is they are usually just a framework and very general, and there aren’t enough efforts to implement the plans. The Government only released a framework document for the whole person development strategies of the youths in 2007, and supplementary blueprints were only drawn up gradually afterwards for various development areas to introduce the work and proposals. You can see that the Government has started the work quite late and the progress is also moving in an unsatisfactory pace. From 2007 to now, only two blueprints were released and so it will still take a long time to do consultations and reach a consensus in society before the other 13 blueprints can come out.

Of course we can’t expect very detailed planning in the Policy Address, but overall speaking the Government hasn’t done enough.

Before the strategies were rolled out, Macau didn’t have any short-, mid- or long-term policies for young people. Some plans might have already been proposed, but they were so general that it was hard to find out where to start the work practically.

In addition, youth policies actually involve a lot of different areas and one of them must be about education. It is very important for youth and education policies to complement each other. While there is still room to improve Macau’s education system, naturally our youth policies will have deficiencies.

R: What suggestions would your association give to the Government?

Ms Leong: In last year’s Policy Address the Government emphasised a lot on broadening the space for youth participation in society. I believe the Government is keen to cultivate a horizon and critical thinking among our youth so that they will be more concerned about current affairs and their society. The Education and Youth Affairs Bureau has been doing this kind of work such as seminars or current affairs workshops in collaboration with youth associations, but I hope they can be more initiatives in the future. If the Government is really eager to listen more to young people, officials have to go inside the communities more often. For example when the Hong Kong Government was promoting the political reform proposal, officials were willing to go to schools and listen to students’ opinions and thoughts.

In addition, many governments in the world have put themselves online, which makes use of the Internet and also is an approach that young people are willing to accept. We have to go inside the young people’s circle and can’t just stick to conventional consultation sessions or just stay passive in collecting opinions.

R: What kind of problems are local youths facing at present?

Ms Leong: It’s interesting that young people in different cities and places usually have their own characteristics, but in Macau it’s hard to name what kind of characteristics our youths share. I would say the main problem is that they don’t know themselves and what’s happening around them in society, very well. And thus they aren’t very aware of what their future developments, goals or career planning are.

Many people say our young people nowadays are being treated like the flowers in a greenhouse. The entire society is over-protecting them and so it’s hard for them to be aware of the importance of staying competitive. Globalisation has brought more and more competition to the world and Macau is no longer immune to the influences.

It seems to me that local youths don’t have a high level of self-motivation and put high demands on themselves.

In addition, it is known that Macau’s economic structure is too narrow. Some young people may have lofty goals for the careers but after finishing their studies, they may not be able to find a job that is related to their academic background in Macau, which is frustrating to them.

R: Why is it that local youths don’t appear with apparent characteristics?

Ms Leong: Not long ago many people were talking about the characteristics of the post-80’s generation in Hong Kong or the post-90’s generation in mainland China. When you have to find out the characteristics of a group it must have already shown some of its special features or traits. But it’s difficult to discover this kind of features or traits among the young people in Macau.

We cannot think of a word to describe them, because they don’t even understand themselves good enough, just like what I’ve mentioned right before.

R: In what ways are Macau’s youths more superior when compared to those in other neighbouring regions?

Ms Leong: Compared to those in Hong Kong for example, I think Macau’s young people tend to be quieter and calm because society here emphasizes harmony and tolerance. Their approaches to express opinions and voice concerns are mostly moderate, what people usually call “well-behaved”.

But at the same time it also means our young people are passive. The social environment doesn’t give them a strong intention to upgrade themselves continuously. Here in Macau people don’t need to compete a lot in order to get what they want. For example, Macau doesn’t have unified examinations [similar to The Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination] that Form 6 students have to take in order to get into a university, so that it seems they are full of opportunities in Macau. If you can’t get into one university you can still try another one or even go to work in casinos or find a job. They don’t need to think about how to compete for a job and there is no incentive for them wishing to learn more.

R: Is the wrong perception of Macau having opportunities all over the place a result of the booming gaming industry?

Ms Leong: I believe the gaming industry did play a role. It is the ‘dragon head’ industry in Macau and many other industries have developed thanks to it, but what I’m talking about is not only job opportunities. From primary schools to universities, the education system is so diversified that people have many options to choose from and their future will not be determined by one exam.

R: In what aspects do the young people in Macau need to improve?

Ms Leong: Their capabilities in critical thinking, language, interpersonal relationships and organisation and planning that cannot be cultivated at schools are relatively weak.

R: What do you suggest the young people can do in a bid to turn things around?

Ms Leong: First of all they must acknowledge the problem. More work needs to be done so that they can understand that it’s no longer easy to survive in society without being competitive. We also need to encourage young people to participate more in social or extracurricular activities in order to build up their skills.

R: Should the education system shoulder part of the responsibility?

Ms Leong: The education system is unable to foster independent thinking among the youths. Many opinions in society hope that the subject of general education can be introduced to local schools in order to stimulate more thinking on things that are happening around them. Enhancing one’s thinking capability is a key to his integrated competitiveness.

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