School dropout. Not anymore.

The idea that students leave university with ease to go work in casinos makes less and less sense. They do finish their degrees, but the quality of what they learn is doubtful, experts say.

MB April 2020 Special Report | Youngsters living on a keyboard

“When human resources are desperately needed, the education level required to deal is lowered to attract those youngsters who have not even finished their middle school. During peak times, it is common for students to abandon their study programmes and go deal cards instead, part-time or full-time. This has become a serious social problem that receives little media attention”, wrote the authors of Living with Casinos: the experience of young dealers in Macau (2013). 

The conclusions of the investigation carried out by Wei Shi and Shih-Diing Liu reinforce a certain stereotype that exists in local society: due to the lack of manpower, companies are not very demanding when they need to hire, often opting for unskilled workers. In other words, a part of the local youth does not feel the need to continue their studies, causing an increase in early school dropouts.

In another research, which addresses the educational issue in Macau (Managing Social Change and Social Policy in Greater China), the authors argue that “the rapid expansion of the gambling industry has drawn many young people into this relatively high-paid profession. But some academics fear that although the young people don’t suffer from economic poverty, they do suffer from ‘cultural poverty’ (i.e. lack of educational qualifications and social exposure).”

Keith Morrison, however, points out that from 2013/14 to 2017/18 the percentage of university enrolment from schools rose from 90.2 percent to 92.9 percent. “For many students, dropout is not a temptation at all”, he says to Macau Business.

Professor Morrison concedes that what is “difficult to ascertain is the university dropout rate”, because – he explains – “data are not in the public domain; what private data exist show a great variance according to institution, programme, and year group, and we are only talking about a small segment of the population of young people.”

“When the casino expansion took off, yes, many school leavers and some high education students left for casino jobs, but, over the years, this diminished as the attraction soon wore off, the age for such work eligibility rose, some went back to higher education, and the trend is seeing an increasingly higher numbers of students applying for, and staying at, university; maybe this is because it’s better than ‘working’ and, anyway, in the job market, a degree is a first filter”, emphasises the Vice-Rector of University of Saint Joseph.

The facts seem to support our interviewee.

In the first years after the liberalization of gambling, the phenomenon was quite evident, in such a way that the then Chief Executive announced that the minimum age to work in this industry would go from 18 to 21 years. Several opinion polls published at the time showed how many young people were in a hurry to try the dealer profession and improve their social status.

But the trend turned out to be a cyclical fashion.

As the years went by, these same young people were realizing that “they could not handle the massive pressure and irregular life of working as dealers”, say Wei Shi and Shih-Diing Liu. “Many young dealers went from one casino to another, as if they had already become used to not being loyal to an employer or had never desired a stable job.”

Nowadays, and according to Professor Morrison, “The problem is not that there are dropout, but that students do the bare minimum to get by: it is widely known that in Macau’s higher education institutions, stereotyping for clarity’s sake, whilst some Macau students work hard, many don’t work as hard as non-Macau students.”

Keith Morrison touches a sore point: “In some higher education institutions in Macau there are two communities: the local do-as-little-as-necessary students, and the non-local-work-hard students; it’s deeply rooted in the local culture.”

And, our interviewee adds, some higher education teachers collude in this – give the students games and low-level work, pass them, and let everyone have an easy life. The problem starts in school, where many students graduate without learning much, maybe because of the low standards or because school teachers, too, collude in this.”

Keith Morrison touches a sore point: “In some higher education institutions in Macau there are two communities: the local do-as-little-as-necessary students, and the non-local-work-hard students; it’s deeply rooted in the local culture” – Keith Morrison


Last year the Against Child Abuse (Macau) Association revealed the findings of a survey made on 124 local students, aged between 9 and 12.

It was learned that more than 40 percent of the respondents feel a lot of “stress” because they have to take tests frequently. In addition, more than 40 percent of the primary school students interviewed considered that the volume of homework is high, which constitutes a stress factor for 30 percent of the respondents.

Quoted by Radio Macau’s Chinese channel, Wanda Vong, director of the Association, said that schools should review the frequency in which they hand out tests, and should start evaluating students in a more diverse way. Furthermore, he advocated the creation of a mechanism that regularly reviews the state of anxiety of students.