Prevention of Drug Abuse Through School Connectedness in Hong Kong

By Chen Sijia (Phyllis)

Table of Content

1.    Introduction

2.    Background

3.    Drug Education in Schools

4.    School Connectedness 

5.    Conclusion

6.     References

7.    About the Author

1. Introduction

Promotion of mental health and well-being is one of the targets ofGoal 3 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, under which there is a specific aim of strengthening prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol (United Nations, 2016). Substance abuse harms the development of individuals, families, and communities (Salam et al., 2016). In Hong Kong, it is estimated that more than four billion Hong Kong dollars were spent on combatting drug related issues in 1998 (Security Bureau, 2008). The problem is severe as there is an increase in the number of young drug abusers and a drop in the mean age of drug abusers (Security Bureau, 2009). Adolescents with poor social relationships and school engagement are likely to be at a greater risk for subsequent drug use (Bond et al., 2007). One way to prevent drug abuse is by enhancing school connectedness in secondary schools. 

This entry first gives an overview of the current drug situation among teenagers in Hong Kong, including the types of drugs they take, the locality of drug abuse, the reasons for drug abuse, and physical, mental and social impacts. This section is followed by theintroduction of current drug education and its potential limitations in secondary schools. As a way to solve the problem, the concept of ‘School Connectedness’ is introduced and analysed as a possible strategy for the prevention of drug abuse. 

2.    Background

According to the Hong Kong Security Bureau (2016), heroin, methamphetamine (commonly known as “Ice”), ketamine, triazolam, midazolam, zopiclone, cocaine, cannabis, cough medicine, MDMA, nimetazepam, etc. are abused in Hong Kong. Among all, heroin is the most popular one, but psychotropic substances including ketamine, ecstasy, ice, cannabis, and cocaine are commonly used by young abusers. Apart from purchasing them from drug dealers in person or from friends peers, youth can purchase drugsfrom a secure, online network, known as Darknet, which only requires a specific software and configurations to help dealers buy and sell drugs anonymously. 

Over half of abusers only take drugs at home or at friends’ homes (Security Bureau, 2016), which makes the hidden drug abuse problem more severe. As for public areas, the popular places for drug taking include recreation areas, parks, public toilets, disco/karaoke clubs, hotels, and bars. For young abusers, school (including school hostels) and electronic game centres are also common places for using drugs. 

The reasons behind drug abuse can be analysed from four perspectives: individual, family, school, and community. From the individual perspective, over half of reported young abusers claim peerinfluence. Curiosity, relief of negative emotions, seeking euphoria, sensory satisfaction, and avoiding discomfort are other common reasons among young people (Security Bureau, 2009). These reasons are closely related to psychological factors, such as lack of psychological competencies and coping skills, low sense of self-achievement, and non-engagement. In schools, poor academic achievement, low learning motivation, bad relationships with teachers, and lack of school connectedness may be predictors for risky behaviours including drug abuse (Security Bureau, 2009). In terms of family, absence of parents, poor relationships with close family members, and lack of supervision from adults may contribute to teenagers’ drug taking behaviour. From the societal viewpoint, the increase in the number of young abusers can be the result of the combination of many factors such as easier access to drugs, a growing wealth gap, and others. 

Drug abuse can do harm to one’s physical and mental health, social life, and overall performance and well-being. Physically, psychiatric substances may damage organs in a human body and cause changes in brain function, which may raise the chance of developing depression, hallucinations, attention deficit, and even long-term mental illness (Security Bureau, 2009). In addition, most psychotropic substances are potentially addictive. Young abusers may develop physical and psychological dependence, which may further cause adverse effects socially and economically. 

3.    Drug Education in Schools

Over half of the young abusers are under 15 years old and as such represent the age of people attending secondary school (Security Bureau, 2016). Therefore, schools should play an important role in preventing youth from drug abuse. As youth drug abuse has attracted more and more attention, efforts have been made to improve drug education in schools by incorporating more anti-drug elements in thecurriculumand extra-curricular activities. The learning elements include teaching students about the harm of drug use, training in skills to say no to peerspressuring them to try drugs,and instilling positive values and attitudes to face challenges of daily life. Education talks and programmes are also delivered in schools by NGOs.  

However, it has been found that the delivery of suchpreventativeprogrammes in schoolsis inadequate(Lam et al., 2011). First, there is a problem of limited resources and support to deliver drug education or handle specific drug cases in many schools. Second, many teachers do not have sufficient knowledge and skills to teach about drug issues. Third, the distinctive postmodern culture that encourages risky behaviours including drug abuse can be easily spread on campusbut hard to detect by teachers (Laidler, 2005). These factors lead to ineffectiveness of drug education. 

4.    School Connectedness

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009), school connectedness refers to students’ sense of belonging to school, the belief held by students that they are cared for as individuals by teachers, peers, and school staffs, as well as their feeling of enjoyment and active engagement in school. With school connectedness, students are more likely to have better academic performance and less engagement in risky behaviours (Resnick et al., 1997). School connectedness therefore can be seen as an important protective factor that helps promote a healthy culture on campus and increase emotional well-being of students. There are several practical strategies that can be applied to increase school connectedness. 

To create a safe learning environment, many schools apply a zero-tolerance policy which normally requires expulsion when an infraction happens for the first time. However, it is reported that with harsh discipline policies, students feel less safe at school (McNeely, Nonnemaker, and Blum, 2002). That does not mean that schools should not make any disciplinary regulations. In contrast, schools should pay more attention to student’s core developmental needs and incorporate those needs into policies to maximize school connectedness. According to Eccles, Midgefield, and Wigfield (1993), adolescents at the age of attending secondary school have an increasing need for autonomy and want to demonstrate their competences. At the same time, they need not only receive care and support from adults and peers, but also developmentally appropriate supervision. When making disciplinary policies, schools need to take these developmental needs into account and support students not only in relation to their academic achievements.

Teachers play an important role in positively connecting students to schools (Vidourek, 2009). However, big class sizes in some schools make it difficult for teachers to provide individualized assistance and show warmth and sympathy to each and every student. Instead, teachers only focus on quantitative standards such as students’ homework and test scores, thus lowering students’ school connectedness. Therefore, teachers should change their attitudes and make use of some strategies to increase school connectedness of students. Similar to school policy making, teachers need to consider students’ developmental needs when setting classroom rules. For example, teachers can involve students in the process of low-level decision-making and the planning of classroom-based curricula to provide more opportunities for autonomy (Blum, McNeely, and Rinehart, 2002). Teachers can also provide more chances for students to share responsibilities in the classroom by giving appropriate leadership positions to students so that they can see themselves as part of a collectivity. 

Apart from that, it is important for teachers to help build a sense of community in the classroom. It is useful to involve some icebreaking activities at the beginning of semester to help students get to know their classmates. During school year, teachers can promote cooperation among students by grouping students with diverse backgrounds and abilities to work on projects or conduct discussions together so that students could learn from each other and at the same time gain a deeper understanding of their classmates. Projects or discussions can be related to drug-related issues which will help students actively engage in drug education (Vidourek, 2009). It has been shown that such cooperative learning reduces substance use and other risky behaviours and increases student connectedness to peers and schools (Blum, McNeely & Rinehart, 2002; Johnson, 1974). 

There are other specific ways for teachers to build positive relationships with each and every student. As recommended by Blum, McNeely, and Rinehart (2002), teachers could make a simple change in language by addressing the class using ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘our’, instead of first or second person (I or you) to break down barriers and to strengthen the connectedness. It is also necessary for teachers to know their students by name and to praise their strengths. Applying these strategies in classroom management meets the needs of students’ psychological development and helps increase their school connectedness. 

Over half of secondary school students complain that school is boring (Whitlock, 2006). Interactive learning strategies become important to keep students engaged and make them feel connected. To make the classroom an interesting place to learn, teachers need to communicate clearly with students about their learning goals in every lessonand make lessons relevant to students’ lives and the real world (CDC, 2009). Using student-centred pedagogies and allowing personalisation of lessons can also help create a positive learning environment (CDC, 2009). When students find learning interesting and have intrinsic motivation to study they naturally become more engaged and connected to school.

Apart from increasing school connectedness, drug education in schools can be improved by positive cooperation between the government and schools. More resources and support should be provided by the Narcotics Division for schools in need. Schools also need to positively seek support and cooperate with NGOs to improve their anti-drug programmes and to increase the ability to handle unfortunate drug cases among students. Social workers in NGOs can visit schools on a regular basis to build a strong connection to ensure efficiency and quality of drug education in schools. In addition, more anti-drug knowledge and skills should be included in teacher training programmes or professional development workshops to guarantee the quality of drug education delivery. Teachers can include the anti-drug elements in their daily teaching. 

5.     Conclusion 

Prevention of drug use is one important path to achieve sustainable development. Youth drug problem has always been an issue in Hong Kong and, as the number of young abusers is increasing while the age of first-time-abusers is dropping, drug education has to be improved. This entry gave an overview of the current situation of drug abuse in Hong Kong and then provided background information on drug education and ways to improve it. The concept of school connectednesswas introduced as a strategy to promote a healthy culture and to reduce risky behaviours of students in secondary schools. The entry can raise students’ awareness of drug abuse and provide teachers with insight on how to include prevention of drug abuse in their daily teaching and school activities. The public can also make use of the entry as an effective input for drug prevention.

6.    References

Bond, L., Butler, H., Thomas, L., Carlin, J., Glover, S., Bowes, G., & Patton, G. (2007). Social and School Connectedness in Early Secondary School as Predictors of Late Teenage Substance Use, Mental Health, and Academic Outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health40(4), 357-e9.

Blum, R. W., McNeely, C. A., & Rinehart, P, M. (2002). The Untapped Power of Schools to Improve the Health of Teens.Minneapolis, MN: Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Eccles, J. S., Midgefield, C., & Wigfield, A. (1993). Development during Adolescence: The Impact of Stage-environment Fit on Young Adolescents’ Experiences in Schools and in Families. Am Psychol,48, 90-101.

Johnson, D. W. (1974). A Theory of Social Effectiveness. In M. Wong (Ed.), Why Drugs? The Psychology of Drug Abuse.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Extension Division.

Laidler, K. A. J. (2005). The Rise of Club Drugs in a Heroin Society: The Case of Hong Kong. Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 1257–1579. 

Lam, C. M., Lau, P. S., Law, B. M., & Poon, Y. H. (2011). Using Positive Youth Development Constructs to Design a Drug Education Curriculum for Junior Secondary Students in Hong Kong. The Scientific World Journal11, 2339-2347 

McNeely, C.A., Nonnemaker, J.M, & Blum, R.W. (2002). Promoting School Connectedness: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Journal of School Health72(4), 138-146. 

Resnick, M., Bearman, P, Blum R., Bauman K., Harris K., Jones, J, et al.(1997). Protecting Adolescents from Harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA, 278(10), 823-832.  

Salam, R. A., Hooda, M., Das, J. K., Arshad, A., Lassi, Z. S., Middleton, P., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2016). Interventions to Improve Adolescent Nutrition: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescent Health59(4), S29-S39.

Security Bureau (2008). Report of the Task Force on Youth Drug Abuse.Retrieved from http://www.nd.gov.hk/en/report_youth_drug_abuse.html

Security Bureau (2009). Report on the Youth Drug Abuse in Hong Kong. Retrieved from http://www.nd.gov.hk/en/report/pdf/yda/full_report.pdf

Security Bureau. (2016). Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics: Drug Abuse Situation in Hong Kong in 2015.Retrieved from http://www.statistics.gov.hk

United Nations. (2016).Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

Vidourek, R. A. (2009). Elementary & Middle School Teachers' Use and Perceptions of School Connectedness Strategies. Cincinnati, OH:University of Cincinnati.

Whitlock, J. L. (2006). Youth Perceptions of Life at School: Contextual Correlates of School Connectedness in Adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 10, 13 - 29.

About the Author

Chen Sijia (Phyllis)

MEd, The University of Hong Kong

Email: sjchen@connect.hku.hk