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While dropouts struggle both in and out of the system, some organisations, like Unusual Academy, seek to help them. Founded in 1996, the organisation has worked with youths to help them find their direction in life. Social workers provide services from life skills training activities to stamina training workshops that are tailored to individual young people’s specific needs. The latter includes hiking, camping, rock climbing and night walks. Through volunteer service, pre-vocational training and interest classes, the training helps school dropouts to discover their interests and prepare them to go back to school or enter the workplace.

Unusual Academy's 20th Anniversary Booklet
Unusual Academy’s 20th Anniversary Booklet

Christine Cheung Yeuk-Yip, who has worked as an outreach social worker since 1996, is the principal of Unusual Academy. Cheung is critical of society’s negative view of school dropouts. She says they are seen as lazy, bad, aimless, lacking in confidence and having poor relationships with people.

However, Cheung thinks this is unfair. “[Society] only sees the presenting problems of the dropouts, but neglects their underlying needs,” she says. She explains there are different factors that cause young people to drop out, including their peers, school, family, and personal circumstances. Most dropouts find no attachment to their school, family or peer groups, adds Cheung. “What we are doing is to fulfill their underlying needs and teach them a proper way to express themselves.”

Cheung recounts the struggles that she and her colleagues face in trying to help enroll students back into schools and ask employers to give these young people a chance. “There are very few chances; we hope society can give more opportunities to these teenagers.”

According to Steven Ho Lap-him, 33, a social worker at Unusual Academy, it is “the system that beats down students”. Under Hong Kong’s education system, academic achievement is the only measure of a student’s achievement and worth. He says society needs a system that accepts different people are suited to different pursuits. However, Ho sees a far bigger problem beyond the education system.

“It is not [just] the problem of the system itself, but of how people execute and perceive this system,” Ho says. The problem is that Hong Kong people have very traditional mindsets and believe formal education is the best path for every child.

“[Dropping out of school] could be a transfer station for [young people] to explore different options in their lives. I believe people will have this mindset one day,” says Ho.

Edited by: Lynette Zhang