Time to face facts that student suicides in Hong Kong are linked to school workload

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:24pm

In the article (“Put an end to stereotypes for students’ sake”, January 12) Paul Yip says those who criticised the Education Bureau’s Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides report were “misinterpreting” the report’s message and trying to “only blame the school system” rather than recognising the “complexity of the suicide situation”.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. All serious research on suicide recognises that there are usually multiple factors; nobody is suggesting otherwise.

True, many of those who testified in the Legislative Council earlier this month focused on the intense pressure that students experience in Hong Kong schools, but there was no misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

They were responding to a report that goes to great pains to avoid saying that academic pressure is an important factor in student suicide. It ignores academic research and even Hong Kong government reports that contradict this conclusion.

The wording of the report’s denial is chosen carefully, as if written by a lawyer or politician trying to squirm out of a tight corner. It claims that “there is no substantial direct link between student suicides and the education system”.

But there are plenty of links, and a mountain of evidence linking school and test pressure to student suicide.

The Social Welfare Department’s child mortality reviews from 2006 to 2011 showed schoolwork pressures were linked to between 29 per cent and 42 per cent of youth suicides.

According to the report of the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides, the bureau’s own data showed 24 per cent of primary and secondary school students who committed suicide were known to be worried about their academic performance, but this is somehow ignored in the report’s conclusion.

Numerous surveys show the biggest sources of pressure for Hong Kong students are tests and homework.

Those who spoke up in Legco were not misinterpreting the report.

Parents, teachers, and so many others who care deeply about Hong Kong’s children have had enough of doublespeak. We need to protect our children.

Yip writes that we should “look for evidence-based measures to ... ensure the school system helps those in need”.

We couldn’t agree more, and the evidence in this case is strong and clear: excessive testing, homework, and academic pressure may produce high test results, but they are overwhelming Hong Kong’s children.

A frank and honest public discussion, and comprehensive reform of the education system, is urgently required.

Odilon Couzin, Citizens’ Alliance to Prevent Youth Suicide