Macau’s Future Gamble

In the world’s richest casino city, Macau, 18-year-old student Chi-on is gambling with his education.

In the world’s largest gambling city, Macau, an astonishing 40 percent of 15-year-olds are estimated to have repeated a school year at least once.

Eighteen-year-old Chi-On has repeated three times already. Chi-on’s mother is a primary school teacher and his older brother is a secondary school English teacher. His middle brother dropped out of school to work in hospitality. 

Over one school year, Chi-on and his family provide an intimate and sometimes humorous insight into the education system of Macau which has the highest repeat rate in the world. Can Chi-on pass his exams this year?


By Penny Lam Kin Kuan

Macau has surpassed Las Vegas as the world’s biggest casino capital. Many of the residents are earning almost three times the average salary as they were ten years ago, there is free education for all residents until high school and the government provides every citizen with about US$1,125 in free money every year. Money is everywhere in Macau.

There are many wealthy cities in the world but what impact does Macau’s booming gambling industry really have on the population?

As well as being the world’s gambling capital, Macau also has one of the highest rates of student repeats in the world. Are these two milestones connected? 

Almost one-third of students in Macau have repeated a school year at least once. In fact, such repeat years are very common in Macau, almost normal.

About the filmmaker
Penny Lam Kin Kuan was born in Macau. He decided to study documentary filmmaking in London after realising the power of storytelling through film while he was doing a bachelor degree on journalism in Macau.
Penny has directed and worked on documentaries commissioned by film festivals and broadcasters around the world. Since 2007, Penny has enjoyed a successful filmmaking nd photography career in Macau, where he is based.

Due to various complex reasons, from Macau’s colonial background to its privatised schooling system, in-grade retention has been practiced for a long time in Macau. The repeat system was established to strengthen the city’s academic foundations.

But now, as Macau becomes the biggest gambling industry in the world, receiving an education has just become even more chaotic.

Many of the repeat students feel frustrated at having to study the same subjects over and over again. Meanwhile, the casinos need many labourers, so the gambling industry provides an opportunity for repeat student to exit this frustrating trap with a proper salary.

Chi-on, the main character in my film, has repeated subjects three times before. When I met him last summer, he told me that he was changing schools for the fifth time in his life. But this time he was not being kicked out because of bad grades. Chi-on believes this new school, which has a better reputation than the other schools he went to, would improve his chances of studying biology at a university in Taiwan.

Society always considers repeat students simply as bad or lazy. But with pressures from teachers, classmates and family, it is difficult for repeat students to finish school. It is even rarer to see a repeat student transfer to a more advanced school or university.

So I decided to follow Chi-on for one academic year, to see if he would avoid the lure of the casino and overcome Macau’s complicated education system. I hope we see the city of Macau represented in a subtle and realistic way, through the highs and lows of a native young boy’s life over a year.