'Unhealthy' education system blamed for recent suicides

March 14, 2016 16:25
Curriculum development has focused on students chasing international recognition rather than nurturing their personal development. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong's unhealthy education system has been blamed for the recent series of student suicides that rocked the community.

Speaking at an RTHK program on Sunday, Kristy Wong Wing-ki, spokesperson for the Secondary Students Parliament, said the suicides were not due to the students' immaturity but their lack of motivation to live, Apple Daily reports.

“We cannot deny there are fewer opportunities to move upwards," Wong said.

While the local university admission rate has remained low, society regards college education as important, and those who fail to secure a university place as “having no future”.

Wong said students are worried over their future, especially if they look forward to a salary of just over HK$10,000 a month as a fresh graduate.

There is also a huge gap in expectations as parents are hoping that children would single-mindedly work hard at school, while students are longing for more freedom.

A secondary five student from the audience said many parents still see a university place as the only goal for their children.

Another student noted that there are communication problems between parents and students, with parents focusing only on career paths and not the psychological health of their children.

Education Convergence vice president Ho Hon-kuen said the low university acceptance rate, below 20 percent, has pushed many parents to compare secondary schools and favor those with higher university admission records and using English as medium of instruction.

Ho also criticized the curriculum development in Hong Kong which has focused on students chasing international recognition rather than nurturing their personal development.

Paul Yip Siu-fai , director of Hong Kong Jockey Club's Center for Suicide Research and Prevention, said the secondary school curriculum is overloaded, depriving both teachers and students of time to take a break and reflect on the lessons.

Yip said parents should not only set their sights on a university place.

Verena Lau Wing-yin, a senior specialist in Educational Psychology Service at the Education Bureau, cited a government slogan developed in the 1990s that called on parents to take 10 minutes each day to listen to their children’s sharing their experiences for the day.

During these sharing sessions, parents should put aside work and their smartphones in order to communicate better with their kids, Lau said.

Scholarism spokesperson Wong Tsz-yuet hit out on the Education Bureau for ignoring the fact that the pressure faced by students came from Hong Kong’s problematic education system.

“The problems cannot be solved by asking parents to stop for ten minutes each day [to talk to their kids],” Wong said.

Legislator Fernando Cheung, from the Labour Party, said the government has been too slow in addressing the issue and the measures so far proposed by the government were inadequate.

Cheung said the chairman of the Legco’s Panel for Education has initially agreed to hold an urgent meeting on the subject on March 21 and a public hearing session has also been suggested.

According to the Ming Pao Daily, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG) has received 44 requests for help from young people who felt depressed and thought of taking their own lives during the first 10 days of this month, or about 35 percent of all similar help requests received in 2015.

The HKFYG said there were also patients whose conditions have already stabilized but worsened again after hearing reports of recent suicides on mass media and online discussion groups.

Tsang Chin-kwok, director of the non-governmental organization Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, said it is difficult for an average person to fully understand what is on the mind of those who want to commit suicide.

In fact, a person who is going through a difficult period may only close lines of communication if they feel insincerity from the one who is supposedly encouraging them, Tsang added.

Seven students have taken their own lives in the past nine days and there have been 23 cases of student suicides since the school year started in September 2015.

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