Scholastic attainment and employment of drug users in Singapore

Sections

ABSTRACT
Introduction
Method
Findings
Conclusions and discussion

Details

Author: T.-H. ONG
Pages: 81 to 87
Creation Date: 1987/01/01

Scholastic attainment and employment of drug users in Singapore

T.-H. ONG Lecturer, Department of Social Work, National University of Singapore, Singapore

ABSTRACT

A study of the educational and employment aspects of drug use, which was carried out in 1980 in Singapore, included 100 drug users randomly selected from those who had been, because of drug addiction, registered for treatment and rehabilitation by some major voluntary organizations dealing with drug abuse problems, and 100 non-users individually matched for sex, approximate age, ethnic group, education and neighbourhood. The respondents were interviewed on the basis of a questionnaire designed to collect data for this study. Data on 11 items of the questionnaire were available in official records which were used to check the truthfulness of the responses of the drug users. The agreement between the two sources of data ranged from 83 to 100 per cent.

The drug users were found to have significantly lower levels of educational attainment and poorer scholastic results than the non-users. Similarly, significantly more drug users than non-users had a lower career status, higher instability in employment and greater job dissatisfaction. The author suggests that educational and vocational guidance, counselling service, welfare schemes and in-service training should cater to this group of people.

Introduction

Some studies and research show conflicting results in the scholastic performance of drug users. No significant differences were found in college grade-point averages [ 1] , [ 2] or academic success [ 3] . In contrast, some other studies showed that drug users had lower grade-point averages [ 4] , [ 5] or poorer scholastic results [ 6] - [ 8] than non-users; this was borne out by two studies in which the drug users concerned had more scholastic aptitude [ 9] , [ 10] . Most studies on this subject have been carried out in developed countries. A more recent study in a developing country reported that the greater the number of drugs a person had ever used, the greater would be the chance of his or her failure in school studies [ 11] .

As far as employment is concerned, studies in two developed countries found that drug users were more likely to be unemployed, or if employed, to be casual or part-time employees [ 12] - [ 14] , or to have a history of job-hopping [ 15] .

Similar results have also been found by studies carried out in developing countries [ 16] - [ 19] . Employed drug users in developing countries tended to be unskilled workers or clerical staff, whereas a study in a developed country reported that more drug users were engaged in skilled, managerial or professional work [ 20] .

This article summarizes the results of a study of the educational attainment and employment of drug users, which was carried out in 1980 in Singapore.

Method

Sample

This study was based on a comparison of drug users and non-users. For this purpose, a sample of 120 drug users consisting of 115 males and 5 females, who roughly resembled the gender structure of the current drug-using population under treatment in Singapore, was drawn at random from 377 drug users who were registered for treatment and rehabilitation by some major voluntary organizations dealing with drug abuse problems, such as the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and Teen Challenge for Treatment and Rehabilitation. Subsequently, a subsample of 20 was randomly selected for constructing a set of rating scales to measure attitudinal and psychological characteristics. The remaining 100 drug users became the main sample for this study, consisting of 96 males and 4 females, aged from 14 to 46 with a mean of 23.4 years. The sample included 76 Chinese, 22 Malays, 1 Indian and 1 Eurasian; 70 of them were educated in English schools, 23 in Chinese schools and 7 in Malay schools. They lived in various parts of Singapore.

Subsequently, they were individually matched with equal numbers of non-users on the basis of sex, approximate age, ethnic group, education and neighbourhood. The drug users were requested to come for interview with one of their siblings, relatives, friends or classmates of the same sex, and 45 of them did so. Only 38 of these 45 were accepted as matched controls, because they met the five criteria stated above and had no drug experience. The remaining 62 controls, who were later matched with the other drug abusers, were identified and introduced by the author's students and friends. The analysis showed that the drug users (X = 23.4) were older than their matched non-users (X = 22.5, t = 2.23, P < 05, df = 99).

Instruments

A questionnaire was constructed to collect demographic and social data on the basis of 63 questions relating to psychosocial variables. It was indicated on the questionnaire that respondents' answers were to be kept anonymous and confidential. The questionnaire served as a basis for interviews, which took 30 to 40 minutes to complete. Of the collected data, this article presents only those relating to education and employment.

To check the truthfulness of the responses, information on 11 items, which were common to both the questionnaire and official records, was collected. The agreement on information obtained from both sources on these items was used as evidence to establish the degree of truthfulness of responses. The agreement ranged from 83 to 100 per cent, which showed a high degree of accuracy of responses.

Procedure

A letter, which had been written both in English and Chinese, was sent to each of the 100 drug users, clearly stating the purpose and nature of the study, and the date, time and venue of the interview. The suggested venue was the residence of the user or the community centre in his or her neighbourhood. The letter was followed by phone calls to confirm the interview and quite often to clear some doubts. The majority of the drug users came forward quite readily to participate, while some others had to be persuaded. Still a few others had to be traced because of a change of address. The interviewer again assured all the subjects of the confidentiality of information to be given by them. At the time of the interview, the respondents were not under the effect of drugs.

Findings

Education

The drug users appeared to have attained significantly lower educational levels than the non-users (see Table 1); 73 per cent of the drug users indicated that they had only achieved some secondary education or less, whereas more than two thirds of the non-users reported to have completed secondary education or higher. This result supports the studies indicating that drug users tend to have lower educational attainment.

Table 1

Highest educational level attained by drug users and non-users

Educational level

Drug users(N)

Non-users(N)

No formal education
0 0
Some primary education
12 7
Completed primary education
25 7
Some secondary education
36 17
Completed secondary education
24 30
Some pre-university education
1 7
Completed pre-university education
1 13
Some college or university education
0 11
Completed college or university education
1 8
Total
100 100

Note: x 2 (corrected) = 49.90; P < 0.001; df = 6.

When asked about their scholastic performance prior to drug usage, the drug users were more likely to report significantly lower achievement than the non-users (see Table 2); 59 of the drug users mentioned that they had had average or above average performance, and 41 below average. In contrast, with the exception of six non-users, all of them claimed that they had attained average results or above.

Table 2

Scholastic performance of drug users and non-users

Scholastic performance

Drug users(N)

Non-users(N)

Above average
8 12
Average
51 82
Below average
41 6
Total
100 100

Note: x 2= 34.09; P < 0.001; df = 2.

This result further supports the findings of other studies that drug users tend to be academically less inclined. The study also indicated that the drug users dropped out of school early. The majority of the drug users reported that they had had some secondary education or less, disclosing that they had left school when they were 15 years old or earlier. This information indicates that they have ample time to mix with other people or hang around on the streets, and that it may not be easy for them to find a job because of their educational handicap.

Employment

The drug users were more likely to be unemployed or holding unskilled jobs than the non-users. Of the non-users, 26 per cent were still in schools or universities at the time of the interview, apparently in pursuit of higher educational qualifications. Conversely, almost all the drug users had already left school at that time. This significant difference in employment status between the two groups also existed in the three years preceding the interview. There was also not much change in the employment pattern within each group during the same period.

With respect to the change of job and length of stay in a job in relation to drug use, this study showed that, excluding those who did odd jobs, 35 drug users and 18 non-users had changed jobs 1 to 15 times (X = 23) and 1 to 4 times (X = 1.5), respectively, during the three years preceding the survey. The drug users tended to change jobs significantly more frequently than the non-users (X 2 = 6.58, P < .05, df = 1). Some changed jobs as much as three times a year. Each year preceding the survey, the drug users changed jobs (except casual work) nearly three times as often as the non-users. This further supports the earlier studies that job-hopping is not an uncommon phenomenon among drug users.

Significantly more drug users than non-users reported that before they started using drugs, they had stayed a shorter time in a job than other people in general. The frequent changes of jobs and the shorter stay in a job indicate that the drug users tend to possess a higher degree of instability in employment.

As far as the monthly income from the current or last job was concerned, more drug users than non-users reported to have had a low salary, but the difference was not statistically significant. The low salary for drug users has also been reported in other studies carried out in Singapore [ 16] , [ 18] , [ 21] . This consistent finding may indicate that the relatively low income of drug users is the result of their poor achievement in education.

When asked whether or not they were satisfied with their current or last jobs, approximately half of the drug users and the non-users answered that they were satisfied (see Table 3). Nevertheless, more users (35 per cent) than non-users (12 per cent) replied that they were dissatisfied with their jobs and a significant difference was found between the two groups.

Table 3

Satisfaction with current or last jobs by drug users and non-users

Job satisfaction

Drug users(N)

Non-users(N)

Satisfied with job
56 51
Dissatisfied with job
35 12
Not applicable
9 37
Total
100 100

Note: x 2=28.53; P<0.001; df=2.

With a further investigation of the reasons for their job dissatisfaction, it was found that both groups reported "pay too low" as the most important reason, but without a significant difference between the two groups. Other reasons given were "work unpleasant or boring", "work too hard or demanding", "unpleasant boss or supervisor", "inability of getting along with co-workers", "feeling small among other workers". But no significant differences were found between the drug users and the non-users.

The drug users who were dissatisfied with their jobs were asked whether drug-taking made them feel dissatisfied with their current or last employment; 31.4 per cent answered affirmatively. The reasons given by both drug users and non-users for leaving their last jobs were similar to those given for job dissatisfaction, but no significant difference was found between them. Drug use was the major factor that forced 39 per cent of the drug users out of their jobs.

Though significantly more users than non-users expressed dissatisfaction with their jobs, the reasons given by the two groups were not significantly different from each other. Further, their monthly income was also found to be insignificantly different from each other. Should there be any association between employment and drug use, this study showed that it was not due to the financial gain. Instead, the combined effects of low career status, instability in employment, and job dissatisfaction appear to be closely related to drug use.

Conclusions and discussion

The drug users were found to have significantly lower educational attainment and poorer scholastic performance than the non-users. Eight out of 14, who were asked what happened after drug use, stated that, after using drugs, their school grades dropped sharply and consequently they dropped out of school.

Educational and vocational guidance services should cater for this group of drop-outs. While they were encouraged to take part in continuing education and training, opportunities must be provided and incentives given to equip them with knowledge and skills so that they can find appropriate jobs.

The drug users were also found to possess significantly lower career status, higher instability in employment, and greater job dissatisfaction than the non-users. It was further found that 53 per cent of the drug users initiated their drug-seeking behaviour while at work. Of 69 drug users who replied to questions related to work, 36.2 per cent had lost their jobs and 40 per cent could not stay long in a job after using drugs. This reflects not only the social but also the economic consequences of drug use.

Obviously something must be done at the drug users' places of employment. The employer should be encouraged to extend his welfare scheme and to provide not only counselling services for this group of employees to help solve their problems, but also in-service training to help upgrade their working knowledge and skills. Such an employment policy can help employees to advance in their career development, to become better paid and more satisfied with their work and to stay longer with their employer.

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