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  1. 1. Trial Scheme on School Drug Testing: the Sociological Perspectives EPA5075 Philosophical and Sociological Perspectives in Education Wong Hang Chi 09451331 December 28, 2009 1 Introduction There has been much concern about the situation of drug abuse in secondary schools. This December, the Narcotics Division of the Security Bureau and the Education Bureau launched the Trial Scheme on School Drug Testing in Tai Po District. Some people believed that the Scheme was an effective way to promote the public awareness of juvenile drug abuse, while others considered it a waste of manpower and resources. The aim of this paper is to discuss this controversial issue from the sociolog- ical perspectives. The three main theories in sociology, namely the structural- functional, social-conflict and symbolic-interaction approaches, will be used in the analysis. The first two are macro-level theories, concerning the holistic pic- ture of the society. In contrast, the last one is a micro-level theory, which focuses on the interaction between the individuals in a particular context. 1
  2. 2. 2 The Structural-Functional Approach The structural-functionalist is concerned about the structure and the function of the different organizations in the society (Macionis, 2007). In the drug abuse issue, the social structures that are of interest are the educational system and the Narcotics Division. 2.1 Social Structures and Social Functions It would be crucial to have a brief understanding of such social structures of Hong Kong. The educational system and the Narcotics Division are considered independent organizations in the society. They ought to be interrelated in some way, so as to keep the society operating smoothly. It was suggested by Emile Durkheim that the social function of the educa- tional system was to fit an individual into the society through the teaching and equipping of the social norms and cultures to the student (Ravikumar, 2001). Drug abuse induced tension to the educational system because it would hin- der such function by harming the student in consideration either physically or mentally. This would eventually create undesirable effects on the society due to the abundance of the drug abusers needed to be taken care of and the lack of manpower to handle such situation. In this context, the social function of the Narcotics Division was to spread the anti-drug messages, so as to reduce the harm of the drug to the society. To perform such function, the Narcotics Division launched the Trail Scheme on School Drug Testing in Tai Po District this December. The standard form of Consent to Participation was issued to the secondary schools in the district. The student could join the Scheme by signing the form. Each time, some 20 students who took part in the Scheme would be chosen, at random, by the School Drug Testing (SDT) team and their urine samples would be tested for the presence of five different drugs. If the result was positive, the urine specimen would be 2
  3. 3. examined by another brand of tester. The student being tested would be sent to the counselor for further consultation if the result was found to be positive again. The school principal and the parent / guardian would be notified. The specimen would also be sent to the Government laboratory for yet a further confirmatory test. The student being tested will neither be charged or expelled from school however the results were. 2.2 Manifest Functions Regarding the social functions of the Trail Scheme on School Drug Testing, one would differentiate between the manifest functions and the latent function. According to the official documents provided by the Narcotics Division (2009), the manifest functions of the trail Scheme was twofold. First, for the students who did not take drugs, the Scheme would help them to keep staying away from drugs. Since the drug test would be conducted in regular basis, the students would constantly be reminded that they should not take drugs or otherwise they could be caught. Second, the Scheme would motivate the drug abusers to seek help, so that they could quit the addiction more easily. If the student was discovered to have been taken drugs, supported programs for both experimental abusers and addicted ones would be provided. 2.3 Latent Functions The latent functions is, of course, less obvious. On November 16, the Chief Executive sent letters to the parents and the students in the secondary schools, saying that the Trail Scheme on School Drug Testing was going to be imple- mented in the Tai Po District in December. It could be observed that such act was an alert to the public. In my opinion, whether the Scheme would be effective was not the main concern of the Government. The latent functions of the Scheme was in fact to convey the message that the Government was not neglecting the situation of juvenile drug abuse and to reveal to the citizens that 3
  4. 4. some policies to overcome the difficulties was being established. 2.4 Social Dysfunctions The Scheme, unfortunately, had some drawbacks. For instance, one of such social dysfunctions of the Scheme was that it increased the tension in the public, especially for the students in Tai Po District. The most worrying factor was that such drug test was still not proven to be effective. A similar scheme had been conducted in the United State some years ago. Nonetheless, some research revealed that the deterring effect was not quite significant (Goldberg, 2007). Another dysfunction was the labeling effect that was created. The Narcotics Division claimed that the labeling effect would be eliminated if all of the sec- ondary students in the Tai Po District would joined the Scheme. However, there was some 39% of the students refused to sign the standard form of Consent to Participation, which was far from the expectation of the Narcotics Division. 3 The Social-Conflict Approach Although social-conflict theory is also macro-level oriented, its viewpoint about the society is very different from the structural-functional perspective. While the structural-functionalist considers the society a relatively stable system, the social-conflict theory concentrates on the social change, the social stratification and the conflict between different groups in the society (Macionis, 2007). 3.1 Social Change and Social Stratification There had been a drastic social change in Hong Kong during the past few decades, resulting in a shift in the role of the educational system. In the past, education was reserved for the people who have a high social economical status. Poor people had to work at a very young age because they could not afford the expensive schooling. The education system served as an agent to transmit the 4
  5. 5. culture of the adult generation to the youngsters. During the 1970s, however, the middle-class gained power due to the improving economy. The policy was changed, so that all the youngsters had a chance to be educated. The poor students were forced to study in schools as a result. Social stratification was built up between the teacher, being in the middle- class (or above), and the students who had a lower social economical status. It was because the latter, lacking resources and supports, were inferior in the examination system. Schooling then became a mechanism to produce the so called “examination machines”. The teacher must help students to pass the examination and to obtain the valuable certificate. It was suggested that, rather than psychological reasons, such social stratification was the main cause of the disciplinary problems in schools ( , 1987). Drug abuse, in particular, could be regarded as a byproduct of the disci- plinary problems, the causality of which was less direct, though. To a certain extent, drug abuse was a form of challenge to the educational system. Since most of the students knew that they were not able to gain satisfaction in the examination policy, they tended to get drown in some sort of enjoyment. The fantasy of drug abuse could be attractive to these students. The situation was somehow similar to the work composed by the famous Chinese poet Li Bai, who was rather alcoholic, instead. Just as Li believed that drinking was an effective way to forget the grief of his life , some secondary students regarded drug abuse as a relief from their disappointment in the examination system. 3.2 Social Inequality Returning to the drug abuse issue, one would note there had been social inequal- ity between the Narcotics Division, that was legitimized to be an authority, and the students in the Tai Po District, since the establishment of the new Trail Scheme. Though the students may refuse to sign the standard form of Consent 5
  6. 6. to Participation, the Government had not provide the students with enough time and opportunity to abolish the new Scheme before it was implemented. The Scheme was so quickly launched in merely few months that there was little intervention in the public. Relatively speaking, the schools and the students were more passive in such context. The aim of the Narcotics Division was obviously to terminate juvenile drug abuse at any costs, or at least, to improve the situation. To some extent, one could observed that the Government imposed its authority upon the schools in Tai Po District. For the drug abusers, the Scheme somehow threatened their interest. They knew that even though the testing process was claimed to be strictly confidential, they had to go through all those tedious counseling and investigating procedures. Some sort of embarrassment could occur as the other students may be curious about the test results. They may produce fake urine sample to pretend that did not take drugs. Such cases indeed happened in the Unite State and there was no point in believing that Hong Kong students would not follow. They could, certainly, deny the signing of the standard form of Consent to Participation. Yet, they had to bear the risk that others may be more suspicious of their refusal. For those who did not take drugs, on the other hand, the Scheme exert some pressure on them. Emphasis ought to be put on the so called “due process” (Strike, 2004). Owing to the policy that the selection of the students to be tested was arbitrary, there was, of course, a chance of choosing the innocent students. They were somehow “punished” by a troublesome urine test, paralleled with the true drug abusers. As a result, the Scheme added some kind of unfairness to them. They also could refuse to sign the standard form of Consent at the very beginning. However, it was unwise of them not doing so since they had not taken any drug at all. In any case, the Scheme would put the students concerned into a more inferior position. 6
  7. 7. 4 The Symbolic-Interaction Approach Unlike the two theories in the previous sections, the symbolic-interaction ap- proach is micro-level oriented. In other words, it concentrates more on the interaction between individuals in a specific setting. For the drug abuse issue, one would be concerned about the way in which the Narcotics Division explained the Scheme to the public, the communications between different stakeholders and the policies to protect the self-concept of the students, especially the drug abusers in the secondary schools. As mentioned earlier in the previous section, the social stratification in sec- ondary schools was intensified by the educational reform since the 1970s. The students having a low social economical status would join together to resist their common “foe”, the teacher, who was often in the middle-class ( , 1987). Peer group started to became an influential socializing agent. It gave the students an opportunity to discuss the topics that were forbidden by adults, such as drugs (Macionis, 2007). Students would be more easily tempted to take drugs if their friends were drug abusers or even members from the triad society. Even if the students did not like to take drugs originally, some of them may conform to doing so in order to fit in with their peer group. The social inter- action among the peer group thus aggravated the spread of drug abuse in the secondary schools. If the society is viewed as the combination of the social interaction between groups, the only reality that exists is that could be experienced by people. The process in which social interaction construct the reality of people is called the social construction of reality (Macionis, 2007). Human being respond to the others by interpreting their subjective sensing of the environment. Such interpretation of the sensing is called perception. When two parties interact, one would show some specific behavior so as to give the other one certain desirable perception, and vice versa. In the drug abuse issue, what the Government should propose was a pos- 7
  8. 8. itive image of the new Trail Scheme, be it effective or not. The Scheme was described as a plan obtained after thorough considerations but was not an ar- bitrary decision. In October, representatives from the Narcotics Division, Edu- cation Bureau, the Social Welfare Department, the Department of Health and a Counseling Center for Psychotropic Substance Abusers (CCPSA) explained the details of the Scheme to teachers and school social workers at a secondary school in Tai Po. Ms. Sally Wong, Commissioner for Narcotics, emphasized that many consul- tation and sharing sessions were conducted to smoothen the interaction between the stakeholders involved in the Scheme. Likewise, Under Secretary for Educa- tion, Mr. Kenneth Chen, also supported the new Scheme by saying that it could help to establish a culture of drug-free campus so the that students could enjoy a healthier environment (HKSAR Government Press Releases, 2009a). The aim of the speeches conducted by the Government representatives was in fact a so- cial construction of the reality about the new Scheme. Clearly, they attempted to convince the teacher and the social worker of the advantages of the Scheme. Furthermore, the Narcotics Division used the mass media as a tool to explain the new Trail Scheme to the public. The mass media had been a prominent so- cializing agent in the modern society (Macionis, 2007). Most people in Hong Kong possess a television set. Advertisements about the anti-drug messages were shown on the television and were broadcast by the radio from time to time. Information about the new Trail Scheme could also be retrieved through the Internet, without any difficulty. As a companion to the Scheme, a television drama series about drug abuse, “The Beauty of the Game,” ( ) was shown in the TVB Jade during 21:30–22:30 at night, when a lot of people were watching. The fictional story described the situation of drug abuse among the artists and celebrities in Hong Kong. Drug abusers were given a poor perception in the program. Towards the end of each episode, there would be a brief descrip- tion about the harm of taking drugs. In my view, the program was presented in 8
  9. 9. this manner because the Government aimed to shape the reality of drug abuse perceived by the audience. Besides being a form of entertainment, the program also served to spread the anti-drug message, and to enhance the acceptance of the new Scheme indirectly. Moreover, the Chief Executive, as mentioned earlier, sent a letter to all the secondary students and their parents in November. In the letter, Mr. Donald Tsang not only explained the new Trail Scheme but also sincerely encouraged the students not to take drugs (HKSAR Government Press Releases, 2009b). The letter could give the parents and the students a perception that the Chief Executive indeed cared for them personally rather than remotely. An important issue that the Government must be aware of was to protect the self-concept and self-esteem of the students. By self-concept we mean the overall impression an individual think of oneself. It is a subjective statement. Similarly, self-esteem is the value an individual gives to oneself. It was well known that self-esteem of the student could have significant effect on learning (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Since the Scheme was only applied to Tai Po District, people in the other areas may have the perception that the situation of juvenile drug abuse in the District was the most serious in Hong Kong. The self-esteem of the students in Tai Po may be worsen by such discrimination. Official documents provided by the Narcotics Division (2009) explained that this was, in fact, not necessarily the case. They said that Tai Po was chosen in order to fulfill such will of the principals of the secondary schools. To some people, however, the reason given was not convincing enough. Hence, one could see that the social construction of the reality may not be always successful. People sometimes may not think in the way imposed by the Government. Keeping the data collected confidential was another policy aimed to protect the self-concept of the students. To a certain extent, the term “confidential” here was rather vague. What about the notification to the principals of the school and the parents about the test result? How to ensure that they would 9
  10. 10. tell no one about the case? Somehow, the information did “leak out.” One might think that not informing the principals and the parents could be a plau- sible solution. But if they were not notified, then what was the purpose of the Scheme? Unfortunately, the Narcotics Division provided no adequate explana- tions to such concerns. True, while protecting the self-concept of the students, the Scheme was giving, as a side effect, some perception of mystery (and even self-contradiction) to the public. Again, this was a partial failure of the social construction of the reality in the new Scheme. 5 Conclusion I must say that the intention of Trial Scheme on School Drug Testing in Tai Po District was good, but the pace of the Government was too fast. Neither had the Government learned the lesson of the United State, nor had they researched thorough enough in the efficiency of the Scheme. In the symbolic-interaction perspective, the Government was fairly successful in constructing the reality of the new Trail Scheme though social interaction, a few flaws existed, though. However, the main drawback of its micro-level orientation was that it failed to treat the society as a holistic entity. Somehow, the true colors of the Scheme could not be objectively and clearly observed. The two macro-level theories, on the other hand, revealed some disadvan- tages of the new Scheme. For the structural-functional approach, the social functions of the Scheme seemed to be overwhelmed by its dysfunctions. In viewpoint of the social-conflict theory, the new Scheme would worsen the so- cial inequality between the students and the Narcotics Division, which was the legitimized authority. If the Scheme was not effective enough in creating the deterring effect, its weaknesses could not be compensated. Anyhow, the Scheme had been already launched and could not be halted so easily by the public. The Government still need to fine tune the Scheme 10
  11. 11. according to the response of the relevant stakeholders continuously. Hopefully, the new Trail Scheme will very soon be successful in creating a culture of the drug-free campus. References [1] Eggen, P. D. & Kauchak, D. P. (2010). Educational Psychology : Win- dows on Classroom (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ : Pearson, Merrill. [2] Goldberg, Linn . . . [et al.] (2007). Outcomes of a Prospective Trial of Student-Athlete Drug Testing : The Student Athlete Testing Using Ran- dom Notification (SATURN) Study. Journal of Adolescent Health 41, 421–429. [3] Macionis, John J. (2007). Society : the basics (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Pearson Education. [4] Ravikumar, S.K. (2001). Educational sociology. Jaipur, India : Mangal Deep publications. [5] Strike, Kenneth A. (2004). The ethics of teaching (4th ed.). New York : Teachers College Press. [6] (1987) [7] HKSAR Government Press Releases. (2009a). Details of Trial Scheme on School Drug Testing in Tai Po District announced. Retrieved from http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200910/19/P200910190178.htm [8] HKSAR Government Press Releases. (2009b). CE’s letters to students and parents on Trial Scheme on School Drug Testing in Tai Po District. Retrieved from http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/200911/16/P200911160109.htm 11
  12. 12. [9] Narcotics Division. (2009). Trial Scheme on School Drug Testing in Tai Po District (2009/10). Retrieved from http://www.nd.gov.hk/en/school drug test tp.htm 12