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Volume 11, Article ID 289589, 13 pages
Research Article

Development of a New Curriculum in a Positive Youth Development Program: The Project P.A.T.H.S. in Hong Kong

1Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
2Public Policy Research Institute, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
3Kiang Wu Nursing College of Macau, Macau
4Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Kentucky, College of Medicine, Lexington, KY, USA
5Department of Education Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
6Division of Learning, Development and Diversity, Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Received 3 October 2010; Revised 9 February 2011; Accepted 16 August 2011

Academic Editor: Joav Merrick

Copyright © 2011 Daniel T. L. Shek et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The design of a new curriculum in a positive youth development program (Project P.A.T.H.S.) in Hong Kong is outlined. The Tier 1 Program of the original phase of the Project P.A.T.H.S. is a universal positive youth development program for students in Secondary 1 to Secondary 3 with the curricula developed by a research team comprising scholars in different disciplines (e.g., social work, psychology, and education). The 120 teaching units are designed with reference to 15 positive youth development constructs identified in the successful positive youth development programs. In the extension phase of the project, a new curriculum with 60 teaching units is developed in accordance with these 15 constructs with specific reference to five major adolescent developmental issues. These issues include substance abuse, sexuality issue, Internet addiction, bullying, and money and success issues. The principles underlying the program development and implementation strategies are outlined.


There are many researchers arguing that the cultivation of developmental assets in adolescents is helpful to the holistic growth of adolescents [1, 2]. For example, Guerra and Williams [3] described a multiyear project in which an integrated health promotion and prevention program was developed, implemented, and evaluated. In the project, five core competencies for healthy youth development were emphasized, which included positive identity (positive self-concept, hopefulness, and future goals), personal agency (self-efficacy, effective coping, locus of control, and attribution style), self-regulation (affective, behavioral and cognitive self-regulation and impulse control), social relationship skills (social problem-solving skills, empathy, conflict resolution, and capacity for intimacy), and prosocial system of beliefs (attitudes, norms, values, and moral engagement).

In regard of this, it is pertinent to ask, “do adolescents in Hong Kong possess adequate competencies and develop healthily and holistically?” Existing research findings showed that adolescents in Hong Kong faced high levels of stress in different psychosocial domains [4]. One of the reasons may be due to the strong emphasis on academic excellence in the Chinese culture, and thus the importance of holistic adolescent development is rather neglected by Chinese parents [5]. Obviously, school is another crucial breeding ground, but how to promote holistic development of Chinese adolescents and help them cope with life stresses are important issues to be considered.

To promote holistic development among adolescents in Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust has launched a 4-year project entitled “P.A.T.H.S. to Adulthood: A Jockey Club Youth Enhancement Scheme” for junior secondary school students since 2005/2006 school year, in collaboration with the Research Team, Social Welfare Department and Education Bureau (former Education and Manpower Bureau), with an earmarked grant of HK$400 million. Since its inception in the 2005/2006 school year, more than 280 secondary schools have joined this project with a total of 212,600 students benefited from it. In view of the support and recognition from different sectors and the proven effectiveness of the Project P.A.T.H.S. by different modes of evaluation, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust decided to fund the project for another three years starting from 2009/2010 school year. This enables the participating schools to consolidate the implementation experiences. It is also hoped that the participating schools can integrate the program into their formal curriculum for junior secondary levels, hence facilitating the holistic development of young people [6, 7].


The design of the Project P.A.T.H.S. has anchored around 15 positive youth development constructs, namely, bonding, resilience, cognitive competence, emotional competence, social competence, behavioral competence, moral competence, self-determination, self-efficacy, beliefs in the future, clear and positive identity, spirituality, prosocial norms, prosocial involvement and recognition for positive behavior. These 15 constructs were identified from 25 successful positive youth development programs by Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, and Hawkins in their review of 77 programs on positive youth development in North America [8].

There are two tiers of programs (Tier 1 and Tier 2 Programs) in this project. The Tier 1 Program is a universal positive youth development program in which students in Secondary 1 to 3 take part. Because research findings suggest that roughly one-fifth of adolescents would need more help, the Tier 2 Program will be provided for at least one-fifth of the students who display greater psychosocial needs at each grade. The programs in both tiers can be implemented inside and outside classroom and can also be used in the counselling and guidance contexts of schools.

For the Tier 1 Program, a 20-hour curriculum, in both Chinese and English versions, is designed for each grade of the junior secondary school, with 10 hours for core units and another 10 hours for elective units. There are 40 units per grade (each lasts for 30 minutes) and the units were constructed with reference to the aforementioned positive youth development constructs. The design of the Tier 1 Program and distribution of units across the 15 positive youth development constructs can be seen in Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4. While the core theme of the Tier 1 Program is promoting positive youth development, relevant adolescent developmental concerns (e.g., substance abuse, sexuality issue, financial management, sense of responsibility, and meaning of life) and adolescent developmental strengths (e.g., concern for society and proficiency in information technology) are incorporated in the program. Based on the literature review, the following principles are maintained in the process of designing the Tier 1 Program [9]. (i)Principle 1: The program is a comprehensive universal program that utilizes a wide range of positive youth development constructs that have been identified in the effective programs.(ii)Principle 2: Relevant theoretical models and research findings in both Western and Chinese contexts are used to guide the development of the program.(iii)Principle 3: Holistic adolescent development in different domains (physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains) is focused upon.(iv)Principle 4: Both adolescent developmental assets and developmental problems (e.g., drug, sex, delinquent, violence, lifestyle, money spending, and mental health issues) are considered in the process.(v)Principle 5: The program content is developmentally appropriate.(vi)Principle 6: Relevant cultural elements are included in the program.(vii)Principle 7: Multiyear intervention programs rather than one-shot programs are designed.(viii)Principle 8: Proper and adequate training is planned for the teachers and social workers who implement the programs.(ix)Principle 9: Relevant teaching strategies and methods (e.g., using peers to demonstrate skills and change norms) are used to maximize the learning effects.(x)Principle 10: Active participation and involvement of the students are emphasized.(xi)Principle 11: Besides classroom activities, programs outside the classroom are developed.(xii)Principle 12: Generalization of the competence developed to the real-life world is emphasized.(xiii)Principle 13: Students are involved in the design of the program activities.(xiv)Principle 14: Relevant issues (e.g., gender differences, school differences, and cultural differences) are considered in the program design.(xv)Principle 15: Besides changing the students, attempts to change the families (e.g., encouraging parental involvement) and schools (e.g., school improvement and reorganization initiatives) are included.(xvi)Principle 16: Ongoing evaluation at all stages is carried out [6].

Table 1: Distribution of teaching units across Secondary 1 to Secondary 3 (S1–S3) curricula with reference to the 15 positive youth development constructs.
Table 2: Teaching units in relation to the 15 positive youth development constructs in the Secondary 1 curriculum.
Table 3: Teaching units in relation to the 15 positive youth development constructs in the Secondary 2 curriculum.
Table 4: Teaching units in relation to the 15 positive youth development constructs in the Secondary 3 curriculum.


In addition to the 15 positive youth development constructs, Ma [10] also proposed a set of primary moral or positive characters that we need to help adolescents to develop. These moral or positive characters are (1) humanity, (2) intelligence, (3) courage, (4) conscience, (5) autonomy, (6) respect, (7) responsibility, (8) naturalness, (9) loyalty, and (10) humility. According to Lickona [11], respect and responsibility are two major characters that schools should help adolescents to develop. These two characters are also our emphasis along with the 15 positive youth development constructs in the design of the Project P.A.T.H.S. Tier 1 Program for junior secondary school students in Hong Kong.

Respect “takes three major forms: respect of oneself, respect for other people, and respect for all forms of life and the environment that sustains them” [11, page 43]. Similarly, Maslow [12] regarded esteem needs as one of the major basic needs in his hierarchy of needs. Respect of oneself or self-respect refers to one’s disposition to cherish one’s worth and one’s confidence in facing challenges. Respecting oneself also means that one should be true and honest to oneself. Self-respect is certainly one of the most important character traits that we need to help our younger generation to develop for their positive growth.

Respect for other people would mean to be polite, tolerant, graceful, dignified, sincere, honest, fair, humble, and caring of others’ feelings. The golden rule of respecting oneself and for other people is from the Bible: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” One way to respect other people is to respect discipline and group rules. Rules and regulations in classroom and at home should be set as clearly as possible. They should also be concrete and easy to implement. As Durkheim [13] pointed out, discipline and group affiliation are two important elements of morality. Adolescents must learn to discipline themselves and to respect for and comply with group rules. It is closely related to the development of a clear and positive identity and cultivation of prosocial norms, which are the positive youth development constructs. The development of a clear group identity and the respect of the social rules and regulations within the group are essential for building a positive relation between an individual and a group (e.g., the class or school house one belongs to).

At primary school level, the emphasis is on discipline by authority (e.g., parents and teachers). However, the emphasis at secondary school level is more on self-discipline: an autonomous, independent and free man deciding to comply with group rules and regulations. Self-discipline and autonomy are also relevant to a positive youth development construct, that is, cultivation of self-determination. Bull [14] argued that personal autonomy “alone is wholly adequate in a democratic and increasingly permissive society. It follows that autonomy must be the true goal of moral education” (page 121). Durkheim [13] also argued that autonomy is one of the essential elements of morality. According to Bull [14], there are three enemies of personal autonomy. These included: (1) authoritarianism—in the teaching of young children, the authority of parents and teachers is not allowed to be challenged by the children; (2) physical discipline: the misbehaviors of the children are sometimes being suppressed by physical punishment; (3) indoctrination: obedience to authority and compliance to rules and regulations is also repeatedly reinforced and taught. In other words, these three enemies should be eliminated or conquered if the personal autonomy is to be pursued. In addition, adolescents should be taught to be critical of the possible defects of the existing moral system in our society and should be able to challenge the status quo rationally, logically, and independently [15]. Critical thinking is closely related to another positive youth development construct, that is, promotion of cognitive competence.

Respect for other people also includes an affective concern for others’ welfare and rights. People are willing to help others not because of social exchange and reciprocity but because of a personal willingness or obligation and a deep respect for life. For example, they would rescue a stranger even by breaking the law because they care for others’ life more than many other things. The care for people in one’s country and the love of one’s country, including its history, culture, tradition, and values, are an important basis of national identity. The development of national identity and the respect for the social and political institutions are critical elements in cultivating adolescents’ social competence, which is the major focus of positive youth development.

Respect for all forms of life includes respect for animal rights and the rights of all living things. This kind of universal respect is a feature of the highest level of social and moral development. It also includes a respect and love of the nature and hence the individual will try his/her best to protect the nature, as highlighted in the promotion of spirituality in positive youth development. In sum, there is a close linkage between the positive youth development constructs mentioned above and respect for oneself (clear and positive identity, emotional competence, resilience, and self-efficacy), respect for others (bonding, social competence, behavioral competence, moral competence, cognitive competence, self-determination, prosocial norms, and prosocial involvement) and respect for all forms of life and the environment (spirituality).

As for responsibility, the value of responsibility is derived from the value of respect [11]. The value of responsibility is elaborated from four different perspectives. The first perspective is personal responsibility. One’s obligation and responsibility is based on one’s self-chosen ethical principles such as principles of universal justice and universal love [16]. The principles of universal justice consist of three components: (1) principle of respect for personality: persons are regarded as ends but not means; they are of unconditional values. (2) principle of individual justice: this principle defines individual justice as “the right of every situation, not just those codified into law” [17, page 210]; (3) universalistic principle of role-taking: this principle guides an actor in a dilemma situation to act and play a role in a way that any rational individual in a similar situation should do. It is argued that decisions governed by this principle are universalistic and reversible. The Principle of Universal Love refers to one’s universal altruism toward all people disregarding the social, educational, and personal background of the recipients [16]. In addition, personal responsibility also refers to one’s reliability and trustworthiness.

The second perspective is responsibility for primary group. The norms of filial piety, parenthood, sibling love, and spouse relationship prescribe people to be responsible and accountable for the welfare and protection of their parents, children, siblings, and spouse. In other words, one should be responsible for the welfare of one’s primary group (e.g., one’s family) and should also respect the rights of each group member. The understanding of and respect for their parents’ expectations and the motivation to fulfill these expectations are a challenging task for adolescents. How to balance one’s autonomous choice and one’s parents’ expected choice is a dilemma that we need to discuss with the adolescents.

The third perspective is social and civil responsibility. It is argued that as a citizen, one has “the obligation to perform certain duties, including the responsibility to obey the law, to pay one’s taxes, to respect the rights of other people, to fight for one’s country and generally to fulfill one’s social obligations” [18, page 2]. The law-abiding orientation and the patriotic character are important attributes that the adolescents should develop.

The final perspective is global responsibility. As a world citizen one has responsibility to take care of the welfare of the people in his/her own country and also people in other countries. For example, one has the responsibility to observe not only the law in one’s own country but also the international law. One should also respect the rights and traditional values of people in other cultures. In general, one should defend the universal justice for all people in the world. According to Cogan [18], there are five attributes of citizenship. We will try to apply these five attributes in the elaboration of world citizenship here. (1) A sense of identity: adolescents should be taught not just the concept of national identity and national patriotism but also the concept of multinational identity and world citizenship. Not only do they belong to their own country but also they belong to this world. They should show care and empathy to those disadvantaged people in the less developed places and thus should try to help them as far as possible. (2) Rights and entitlements: people in the world should have the essential basic rights such as right to life, right to seek happiness, right to freedom of speech, right to properties. (3) Responsibilities, obligations, and duties: as a responsible world citizen, one should have the obligations to obey the international law and to respect the rights, traditions, customs of other people in the world. (4) Active in public and international affairs: a good world citizen participates actively in public and international affairs and shows concern and care for the welfare of the people in the world. (5) Acceptance of basic societal values: there are some essential and fairly universal societal values that everyone should accept, for example, “trust, cooperation, respect for human rights, non-violence and so on” [18, page 5]. The development of world citizenship is the major goal of our whole-person education.

Theoretically, there is an intimate relationship between the positive youth development constructs mentioned above and personal responsibility (clear and positive identity, behavioral competence, cognitive competence, self-determination, resilience, self-efficacy, and beliefs in the future), responsibility for the primary group (bonding and social competence), civic and social responsibility (moral competence, prosocial norms, and prosocial involvement), and global responsibility (spirituality). All in all, respect and responsibility are important positive characters in adolescent development, and hence both are emphasized and integrated with the 15 positive youth development constructs when designing the Tier 1 Program.


Adopting the principle of triangulation, different evaluation strategies, including objective outcome evaluation, subjective outcome evaluation, process evaluation, qualitative evaluation, and evaluation based on personal construct psychology have been carried out to examine the effectiveness of the Tier 1 Program of the Project P.A.T.H.S. [1921]. Generally speaking, triangulated evaluation findings show that different stakeholders (students, teachers, and social workers) hold positive views toward the program and regard the program as beneficial to the development of participants. In view of the overwhelming success of the project, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust earmarked an additional HK$350 million to provide the project for another cycle. Besides implementing the project for an additional three years, efforts have been spent to revamp the existing Tier 1 Program and develop new teaching units related to the developmental issues in adolescents in Hong Kong [22]. These include adolescent substance abuse, adolescent sexuality issues (such as early sexual intimacy), Internet addiction, bullying, and money and success issues. Sixty new units, in both Chinese and English versions, are added to the existing curriculum of the Tier 1 Program. There are 20 teaching units for each grade and each unit lasts for 30 minutes. The distribution of units among different domains can be seen in Table 5. The inclusion of these new units does not mean that the original program is defective. It expands the options for program implementers so that they can choose the most appropriate teaching units based on an assessment of the needs of the students. As an illustration, the new units developed for the Secondary 1 curriculum can be seen in Table 6.

Table 5: Distribution of 60 new teaching units across Secondary 1 to Secondary 3 curricula with reference to five adolescent developmental issues.
Table 6: New units developed for the Secondary 1 curriculum.

There are three justifications for including adolescent substance abuse, sexuality issues, Internet addiction, bullying, and money and success issues as the “developmental issues” in the new teaching units. First, there is evidence showing that these problems (such as adolescent substance abuse) are intensifying in recent years, thus demanding our response (i.e., problem-driven initiative). Second, the new units are developed in response to the requests from many colleagues in the field that there is a need to help adolescents in these areas (i.e., user-driven initiative). Finally, this approach is not entirely new because teaching units were developed with respect to various adolescent developmental issues in the original curriculum of the Tier 1 Program of the project. Most importantly, the underlying rationale of designing these teaching units is definitely not a knee-jerk response to adolescent developmental problems, but to enhance their psychosocial strengths as a means to mitigate their engagement in problem behavior [23]. Table 7 summarizes the nature of the 60 additional units, correct conceptions, misconceptions, and principles adopted in using these units. As far as objectives of the new units are concerned, they attempt to promote psychosocial competencies (which might eventually lead to reduction of adolescent developmental problems) and it does not aim at direct reduction of adolescent developmental problems. Concerning curriculum content, the newly developed units do not constitute a psychoeducational program; they include activities and materials leading to enhanced psychosocial competencies. Adolescent developmental issues are used as an illustration of and entry point (i.e., a means) for enhancement of psychosocial competencies in the design of the program. On the contrary, adolescent developmental issues are not the primary focus of the units and they are not problems to be solved (i.e., an end). Essentially, the learning objectives of the units are related to positive youth development.

Table 7: Correct conceptions, misconceptions and principles adopted in the implementation process of 60 new teaching units.

It is our belief that deficit in one psychosocial competence may be related to many adolescent developmental problems. Hence, the focus of the curriculum is put on promoting psychosocial competence instead of “value clarification,” “pure dissemination of knowledge,” or “solely information transmission.” Furthermore, the new curriculum is not primarily a moral education program although the students are encouraged to reflect on their values, for example, respect and responsibility, in the learning process. As a result, the primary outcome of the 60 new units is promotion of psychosocial competencies but not reduction of adolescent developmental problems. Practically speaking, the relationship between the old and new units works on a replacement basis. That is, program implementers can simply replace an old teaching unit by a new teaching unit which has the same or similar teaching objectives. Based on the experience in the first 16 months of the extension phase (September 2010 to December 2011), it appears that this replacement strategy works well. The replacement strategy will further be strengthened in the curriculum development process.

In conclusion, in addition to the 120 teaching units designed with reference to 15 positive youth development constructs in the existing Tier 1 Program of the Project P.A.T.H.S., a new curriculum with 60 teaching units is developed in the extension phase of the project. The new curriculum is developed in response to five uprising adolescent developmental needs in Hong Kong, while maintaining the ultimate goal of this positive youth program in strengthening adolescents’ psychosocial competencies and facilitating their holistic development.


The preparation for this paper and the Project P.A.T.H.S. were financially supported by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.


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