In late August, just a week before the start of the school year, Professor Paul Yip, chairman of the Commission on Prevention of Student Suicides (CPSS), said he was “very satisfied” with the commission’s efforts at preventing student suicide. Yet, ironically, just two weeks into September, a number of students have already taken their own lives.
Both the Education Bureau and the CPSS have remained powerless against the rising number of student suicides in our city.
The CPSS suggested in its recent report that schools should identify students with emotional issues and intervene with them as soon as possible, while the Hospital Authority should shorten the current average waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services.
However, as to the fundamental question of how we can raise public awareness about the importance of keeping emotional health, the CPSS has failed to come up with any suggestion.
As an educator myself, I just couldn’t help looking for clues about the rising tide of student suicides in our current education system. And what I have found is that most of our schools are in fact suffering from the problem of unbalanced agenda: they are focused too much on academic performance while ignoring their whole-person development.
As a result, while schools are drilling their students for public exams relentlessly, they have largely overlooked their emotional needs. Worse still, even if teachers have noticed their students’ emotional problems, they are simply too busy to offer any help as they themselves are often struggling with heavy workloads, let alone fulfill the role as “gatekeepers” as the CPSS has suggested.
That said, I believe that in the short run, the simplest way to address the issue would be for the government to implement small-class teaching in our primary and secondary schools and promote a more diversified and balanced school curriculum.
Meanwhile, the administration should raise the crisis awareness about the rising tide of suicides not only in schools but also in society as a whole. In particular, the government should assume a leading role in removing the social stigma from mental illness through public education campaigns and provide more support for mental patients.
In the long run, I believe promoting life education on a social scale is key to stemming teen suicides in our city.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 14
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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