Following the shocking revelation a few days ago that 99.98 percent of Hong Kong Chinese preferred to marry Westerners, we now learn that no fewer than two out of three schoolchildren are depressed because of exam pressure.
As well as lies, damned lies and statistics, there are also statistics as summarized by the Standard. The ‘two thirds’ is actually 57.3 percent – closer to half (out of a sample of 1,260 6 to 16-year-olds). Further down the article, the percentage is whittled down to 22 and ultimately it transpires that 3.5 percent are seriously at risk of depression, leaving us with a textbook example of a non-story. (Then again, ‘97.5 percent of HK schoolkids not depressed’ is a story.)
One statistic I would like to have is the percentage of school-age children who have been badgered by do-gooders conducting research for busybody non-government organizations freaking out about some threat or other to the well-being of Hong Kong’s youth. Studies show that, as well as suffering dire mental health due to exam stress, hefty percentages of the Big Lychee’s kids are stricken by gambling, smoking, drinking, hanging around Internet cafes with bad elements, compensated dating, computer games and Facebook, with a smaller proportion of nostalgic traditionalists who are still being turned into crazed drug fiends by good old-fashioned violent comic books.
Kids are obviously hardened to church and other groups coming around and surveying them for vices, morals, psychoses and other potential opportunities to panic. The children, welcoming a few minutes’ break from their books, regale the inquisitive social workers with lurid tales of substance abuse and rampant sexual promiscuity, and everyone is happy – not least newspapers in search of horrifying stories.
The reality, readily observable on the street before and after school every day, is that most kids are pretty normal and apparently happy in spite of everything. This is just as well, because the next time-wasting idiocy adults have decided to hurl at the poor mites is on the way: national education.
Our pro-democracy politicians have spent the last three weeks dredging up, elaborating and bleating themselves senseless about supposed high crimes and misdemeanours committed by almost every member of the new administration. They are exhausted, and so we can be sure that when a genuine scandal surfaces, they will be too distracted to do anything about it.
This scandal is a double-edged one, however. It concerns The China Model, the communist propaganda textbook that, Reuters-subscribing news media around the world are reporting, Hong Kong will use to warp and twist its innocent children’s minds. The book states that the American political system is a screwed-up mess, and so obviously isn’t completely inaccurate rubbish. But of course it lauds the one-party dictatorship as a blessing, reportedly using phraseology intended to make young readers’ hearts swell with pride. Since most kids know BS when they see it, and since their parents study their textbooks just as hard as they do, the content will backfire. There is, we are told, no acknowledgement that the system has delivered tainted milk, high-speed rail crashes, Bo Xilai, corruption, nepotism and injustice along with its policymaking decisiveness and economic growth. The book undermines its own message.
So the scandal is not the silly text, which is intended to ‘balance all the negative stories’ and probably also to appease officials here and to the north. The problem is in the funding of it. For some five years now, the Education Bureau has been giving the United Front-linked National Education Services Centre and associates HK$12-13 million a year to produce this stuff. Needless to say, there doesn’t seem to have been a tender. The NESC and related National Education Centre are endorsed by the usual leading pro-Beijing political and labour figures.
Compared with the fortune Hong Kong squanders on textbooks, the money is a drop in the bucket. But you do have to wonder what they were doing with it. Not stashing it in their pockets, obviously; but renting spacious offices from old friends perhaps, or conducting lengthy study tours of provinces with famous cuisines?
The United Front embraces a sprawling parallel civil society. In education, you get groups like the zippy-sounding ‘Love Our Country and Contribute to Hong Kong’ Civic Education Association and the Association of Hong Kong Flag-guards (which teaches kids to salute – hey, at least it’s not the Scientologists). Perhaps this is where our money is trickling down to.
There is a precedent for the Education Bureau to embarrass Hong Kong. A few years back, someone had the bright idea to use the Society of Truth and Light, which sees gays as sinful and in need of curing, to train teachers in human rights and, as you would expect, nondiscrimination.
So, total damage done: HK$13 million a year of our tax money down the drain; the Big Lychee made to look stupid in the international press (plus whatever people must be thinking on the Mainland); the integrity of the ‘China Model’ and one-party rule left in even greater tatters than before in most Hongkongers’ minds. On balance, it probably all evens out.