26 October 2016
The surge in the number of student suicides suggests something must have gone seriously wrong with our education system. Photo: HKEJ
The surge in the number of student suicides suggests something must have gone seriously wrong with our education system. Photo: HKEJ

We need to change our mindset to prevent student suicides

Just six months into the current school year and more than 20 students have already committed suicide.

While my heart goes out to the families who lost their beloved children, I believe prayers and thoughts alone are not enough.

We must act immediately to stem the tide by getting to the root of the problem in order to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service, almost one-third of the primary and secondary students interviewed were showing symptoms of stress-related anxiety and depression.

Even more alarming is that 24 percent of them had thought about ending their own lives at some point within the two weeks prior to the interview, suggesting that our city could be in the midst of the worst emotional health crisis among our young students we have ever seen.

As experts have pointed out, exams and study stress is the major cause of anxiety and depression among our students, as our education system is fiercely competitive and academic results are often given absolute priority over everything else.

Besides, many of our kids not only have to go to school during the day, but also have to attend private tutorial classes and get drilled for exams in the evening day after day.

Even adults could fall apart in the face of such a bustling schedule and enormous pressure, let alone children and teenagers.

A number of social workers have even told me that they have some cases in which students are showing signs of depression or even emotional breakdown and are trying to seek help from them, but are constantly unable to show up for scheduled counseling appointments simply because they are just too busy with their tutorial classes and homework.

I believe the only way to alleviate students’ stress is to drastically review our education system and introduce a paradigm shift, under which we must let our parents and students understand that there are actually a lot more to education than just getting good grades in exams.

As for example, education is also about self-realization, fulfilling your potential, building resilience, learning skills on interpersonal relationships, identifying your talents, building your own values, developing your interests and establishing your goals in life.

Academic results are undoubtedly important, but they are not the only thing we should aim for in education. That requires a fundamental change of mindset among educators, parents and students alike.

On the other hand, I strongly urge the Education Bureau to allocate more resources into training teachers on how to handle students with emotional problems.

In the meantime, it is also equally urgent for the administration to increase the number of education psychologists and clinical psychiatrists specializing in children’s emotional health.

Currently, there is only one education psychologist for every six to 10 schools in Hong Kong, and such proportion is not only absolutely inadequate but also ridiculous given our huge government expenditure on education every year.

We must also encourage students with emotional health problems to seek help immediately, and educate the public that there shouldn’t be any stigma attached to having emotional or mental issues.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 18.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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