Learning Curve: Coping with job loss

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 3:36pm

In my experience, student behaviour and academic performance that rouses concern can often be linked to problems at home. These may range from marital problems to a sibling's health issue or a parent's job loss, but the number of cases have been fairly consistent through my teaching career.

In recent years, however, I have observed an increase in students facing such issues that coincided with fallout from the 2008 collapse of international financial markets, with nearly every industry experiencing job cuts. With one student, it went from falling behind in her homework to falling grades in all subjects. The faculty later learned that her father had lost his job.

A Norwegian analysis confirms the observations that parents' loss of a job has an adverse effect on the child's academic performance, although researchers Mari Rege, Kjetil Telle and Mark Votruba's findings suggest that mental distress resulting from a father's displacement from work is generally more severe than that if a mother loses her job.

Any change in circumstances can be unnerving for students, even if it's moving from a home on The Peak to one on the outlying islands, when it is an outcome of parental job loss or marriage break-up.

How can parents help their children deal with this change in the family situation?

Jill Jukes, co-author of I've Been Fired Too, argues we can go a long way to ease the stress associated with unemployment by keeping our children informed in a realistic way that focuses on a positive outcome.

It's important for children to be given age-appropriate information and the permission to confide, so that they have words they can use with friends who might talk to them about the situation.

By being open and a bit creative, parents can use their predicament as a chance to teach their child about dealing with adversity. For young children, role-play with dolls or action figures, or reading a relevant book such as A New Job For Perez, the Mouse by Alma Flor Ada, may be the way to go.

The University of Hawaii's Family Adaptation to Occupational Loss Project has highlighted four Ps that helped families cope with the crisis of being unemployed.

Problem solving: Families that worked together to find solutions to dilemmas reduced tensions and conflicts. Showing real interest in working as a team to deal with issues, setting up meeting times to deal with family problems, listening to each other without criticism, and deciding as a group how to resolve problems helped families become closer and cope better.

Positive Vibes: Families in which members expressed emotional support, showed warmth and communicated positive messages fostered a sense of security that allowed them to deal with the hardships of unemployment.

Parenting: Children react mainly to parents' responses during such a crisis. Parents who controlled their temper, showed affection, stayed involved in their children's daily lives, and maintained household rules and rituals did a lot to keep their children healthy during this difficult period.

Planning: Families that worked together on a financial plan or household budget reduced the stress that can lead to other family conflicts.

Students attending international schools are generally not eligible for means-tested loan schemes offered by the Hong Kong government's Student Financial Assistance Agency. But parents are often unaware or hesitant to make use of help that the schools can offer in extenuating circumstances.

The government administers several non-means-tested financial assistance schemes for residents and students who have resided in Hong Kong continuously for three complete years immediately prior to the start of the course.

The Non-means-tested Loan Scheme is available for full-time tertiary students and post-secondary students.

Students pursuing specific part-time and full-time post-secondary and continuing and professional education courses can apply for the Extended Non-means-tested Loan Scheme.

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School