Date
11 December 2016
Despite the intensifying education reform over the past 15 years or so, the suicide rates among students over the past 30 years have been in decline. Photo: HKEJ
Despite the intensifying education reform over the past 15 years or so, the suicide rates among students over the past 30 years have been in decline. Photo: HKEJ

Student suicide prevention: What the studies tell us

Hong Kong has seen a decline in suicide rates among students since the beginning of this school term but the fact that there were still two university undergraduate students and two secondary school students who took their lives this month alone has caused widespread concern in the education sector and society as a whole.

The Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides (CPSS) recently published a comprehensive report on the causes of high student suicide rates in the past school year.

It concluded that there is no correlation between the rise in suicide rates among students and study-related stress as a result of ongoing education reform.

The report immediately came under fire from politicians and members of the education sector who accused the CPSS of deliberately downplaying the the role of mounting stress among students from the education reform.

They said the report was intended to cover up the truth and to make the Education Bureau and its overly aggressive reform policy look less responsible for the mounting suicide rates.

However, when I finished reading the entire report, I found that the conclusions such as “there is no necessary correlation between the mounting student suicide rate and the education reform” do make sense.

Despite the intensifying education reform over the past 15 years or so, the suicide rates among students over the past 30 years have been in decline.

The primary school student suicide rates are not only lower than those of our East Asian neighbors but also lower than those in Finland and Australia, where students are widely considered much less prone to school-related stress.

The CPSS report was candid about the fact that among the 38 student suicides in recent years, 58 percent were directly related to learning adaptation issues in schools, second to family problems (74 percent).

In other words, the report did not seek to hide the truth that over half of student suicides were directly related to learning stress and adaptation difficulties in school.

In fact, many of the suggestions put forward in the report have largely been overlooked by the education sector and the public.

These include:

1. Identifying students struggling with learning stress as soon as possible and helping them to undergo counselling;

2. Strengthening support for families and enhancing the role of parents in helping their children deal with study-related stress;

3. Facilitating the use of social media in supporting students suffering from stress;

4. Providing more life planning education and career guidance for students.

The CPSS’s suggestions made a huge difference.

For instance, student suicide rates dropped significantly within four months after the the CPSS had called on the media in its interim report to cover student suicide cases in a lower profile to avoid peer influence on students who are already struggling with stress or family-related issues.

I really hope that members of the public could stop blaming everything on front-line teachers as they too are already suffering from a lot of stress.

Pointing the finger at our teachers would only exacerbate their stress and would not be helpful in resolving the fundamental issue of study-related stress at all.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 28

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

RT/RA

Principal Lecturer, Department of Education Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University

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