How to Disseminate Consumer Knowledge at School

Adapted from an address by Mr. Anwar Fazal, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, International Organization of Consumers Unions, at the Consumer Education Seminar organised by the Hong Kong Consumer Council on 26 November 1977 at the City Hall, Hong Kong.

Some years ago, an angry young man a few years out of a New York high school wrote a letter to his former principal. In this letter, he said,

“I want to know why you and your teacher did not tell and teach about life and the hard, critically practical world…


I am a husband and a father working blindly to grow from a high school intellectual to a respectable self-supporting voting citizen of the community. In this transition I am beginning to get an upper hand on the lower rung of the leader of life for which education never prepared me a whit.

I wish I had been taught more about family relations, child care, getting along with people, interpreting the news, paying off a small mortgage, household mechanics, politics, local government, the chemistry of food, carpentry, how to figure interest when borrowing money and paying it back in small installments, how to enjoy opera over the radio, how to detect shoddy goods, how to distinguish a political demagogue from a statesman, how to grow a garden, how to paint a house, how to get a job, how to be thrifty, how to resist high-pressure salesmanship, how to buy economically and intelligently, and the danger of installment buying.”

The above letter could have been written by young men and women of Hong Kong or for that matter in most other places in the world.  We are all consumers.  Our function as consumers is a vital continuing process in our daily lives and yet our preparation for this vital role can only be described as dismal and shocking.

It is fact also that our young people are far too often not given instructions or strategies in real life problems and very often do not know even what to ask:

  • They learn about basic foods; when they leave they are ignorant about monosodium glutamate or Red Dye No. 2 and the many additives, colouring, and junk foods foisted on the market.
  • They study mathematics, when they leave they rarely know what is the real cost of hire purchase as so often happens the true rate of interest is hidden.
  • They study literature and language when they leave they are still hopelessly ill-equipped to interpret advertisements and resist high pressure sales techniques.

Increasingly young people all over the world are now becoming aware of the implications of their vital functions as consumers - they are confronted in the market-place by poor public services, consumer rip-offs, shoddy goods, hazardous products, misleading advertisements and so on. Yet they are ill prepared to deal with these issues.  They get a fair grounding in the 3 “Rs” – “Reading”, “Riting” and “Rithmetic”- but there is a fourth “R” that is vital to their daily lives.  This fourth “R” could stand for “Real Life” and “Responsibility”:

·         Real Life – meaning the realities of day-to-day living in a complex and often bewildering world.

·         Responsibility – meaning carrying about the affairs of the community and doing something about it; to become effective citizens, not just “aroused” citizens (i.e. those who just complain) but “skilled” citizens who go for constructive action to remedy the problem.

In teaching consumer education in school five factors must be recognised:

·         We are dealing with real life situations

·         We are dealing with a critical group of skills and concepts which are often quite complex

·         Young people in schools have a remarkable amount of energy and imagination and they are flexible, concerned and full of hope and expectations

·         Schools are busy and crowded places and you have to find a time and a place for consumer educations

·         There is great pressure on the young to prepare and pass examinations.

These situations are faced by consumer educators in many countries and we have therefore an         

Opportunity to share experiences, 26adapt and build on the skills and resource materials developed particularly in the last decade.  I would like to share with you very briefly some of these skills and resources that I think are worthy of your consideration:


·         First of all there must be commitment.  You are all consumers, consumerism is a vital part of our daily lives and of our economy.  You must feel that it is a discipline that is critical to all of us.  It is your pocket that is going to be hurt.  It is a matter of life and death and a matter for social justice.  If you do not feel this way, I am indeed sorry for you personally, as a professional educator and as a citizen.

·         Secondly, there must be motivation. You must be able, in the same spirit, to motivate your students and get them to feel the necessity and relevance of consumer education to their lives and to the lives of their families.

·         Thirdly, you must ensure that the content of your consumer education has direct relevance to their daily lives and to the economic and social context of Hong Kong.

·         Fourthly, you will have to be engaged in innovation. You have to build from your experience, your skills in other fields and create appropriate content and methodology. You need textbooks, worksheets, flip charts, film strips and a whole range of audio-visual material, which you can help to develop.

·         Fifthly, consumer education must be taught through demonstration utilising projects in case studies and all the skills involved in using the methods of teaching by discovery, of learning by doing. As you know learning can be fun and consumer education affords a tremendous potential for utilising such techniques (my favourite example of this is get a class to take off their shoes and place them on a table for a lesson on wise buying using their shoes as a case study).

·         Sixthly, consumer education must be outreaching. It must not be confined to a classroom. It must be taken out to the whole school environment through activities like a consumer notice board, a consumer corner, exhibits on consumer matters during school open days, consumer topics for school debates and the school canteens can be critically evaluated. You can form consumer clubs like you have a geographical society and a maths society. These extra mural activities can provide some of the most interesting and creative consumer non-formal education. Perhaps the consumer council and the education department can co-sponsor inter school debates, poster competitions and an annual consumer projects display.

Unfortunately an occasion like this does not permit the detailed discussion of many of the points that I have raised but I know that the kind of commitment that the Government of Hong Kong is demonstrating through the Education Department and the Consumer Council there will be many further opportunities for you to pursue these issues.

I have seen some of the work that has been done by the Consumer Council and the Education Department and I wish, on behalf of the International Organization of Consumers Unions, to say we are most impressed with what is being done here.  You have a 26dynamic Consumer Council that has made remarkable progress in such a brief period.  Their work in dealing with such consumer complaints through advice centres, the first of their kind in Asia, their role in developing new consumer protection legislation, the quality of their consumer information programmes through their magazine “Choice”, their rapid success in the field of consumer testing all testify that Hong Kong is moving rapidly towards developing a first rate consumer organisation doing first rate work.

I am confident that this same quality will be reflected in their task in developing consumer education and you as professional educators will play the most important role in this venture.

I wish the Consumer Council, the Education Department and most of all, you the teachers, every success in providing the young people of Hong Kong a fair deal, and value for money, in the market place.

Thank you.

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