The recent surge in the number of student suicides since the beginning of the current academic year has become a cause for grave public concern about the study-related stress and other mental health issues our students are facing.
In March this year key stakeholders from the education, social welfare and other professional sectors formed the Civilian Concern Group on the Prevention of Student Suicides, with the aim of trying to find a solution to stem the tide of student suicides by drawing on the expertise of its members.
A number of my colleagues in the Legislative Council and I have also joined the concern group in order to address this pressing issue.
While the education and social welfare sectors are already working together desperately to try to find out the reasons and arrest the worrying trend, the Education Bureau, unfortunately, has remained rather slow and sluggish in responding to this crisis.
It wasn’t until March 30th that the administration finally announced that it would set up a special commission to get to the root of the crisis and come up with suggestions on how to reduce the risk of teen suicides.
Not only are we getting frustrated with government inaction over the ongoing student suicide crisis, but we are also distressed at our administration’s heartlessness over saving our children’s lives.
Last week the concern group attended a briefing session with government officials over the latest progress on suicide prevention, only to find that Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim didn’t even bother to come to the meeting and only sent his deputies.
In fact, as early as March, after several lawmakers and I made a public statement urging the administration to adopt emergency measures in the face of the recent spike in the number of student suicides, we took great pains to arrange for an urgent meeting with Secretary Ng to discuss the issue.
Even though at last he agreed to meet us, he only had 20 minutes to spare on that day and wrapped up the meeting hastily, which spoke volumes about how much he was really concerned about the issue.
And it appears Secretary Ng has been a little bit too preoccupied with his own business to take care of anything else lately.
At a public forum that took place just a few days after the sudden collapse of the green roof of an amenities building at the City University, Ng cracked a joke in front of the audience about the accident, saying he “would definitely have gone on a lovely vacation in Japan had it not been for the roof collapse”.
Although only a couple of people were slightly injured in that accident, I really don’t think it was appropriate for our education chief to make such a remark.
And his laid-back attitude towards the roof collapse just bore a striking resemblance to the way he treated the sudden growth in the number of student suicides.
The concern group has studied tons of material on education policies in Hong Kong over the past few months, and we have found that the lack of resources often lies at the root of many of the problems that are facing our schools and students at the moment, including the recent suicide crisis.
If our government had diverted more resources into providing sufficient psychological support and counselling services for students in our schools and raising the awareness of our teenagers about the importance of maintaining a healthy study-life balance, all these tragedies could have been avoided.
It is indeed absolutely ironical that while our government is spending tens of billions of dollars on some white elephant projects such as the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, it has been rather stingy when it comes to investing in the truly valuable asset of our society, which is our young people.
I firmly believe the key to the continued prosperity of our city lies in the well-being of our young people, both physically and mentally.
As such, it is the government’s obligation to provide our teenagers with a school environment that can not only teach them knowledge but also help them find a way through tough times and help them build resilience.
There is no hope for our society, regardless of how much money are spent on infrastructure, unless we are able to let our young people see hope.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 31
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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