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Youth suicide in Hong Kong

Hong Kong education system not to blame for student suicides, say government advisers

But critics say report fails to propose extra resources to hire more teachers, social workers and psychologists to better identify and help students at risk

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 11:10pm

Advisers on student suicide prevention have ruled out the city’s education system as a direct cause of the phenomenon, even though they are calling for a review of the system to reduce students’ burden and recognise non-academic achievements.

But the final report prepared by the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides, which was submitted to the Education Bureau on Monday, stopped short of calling for more teachers, social workers and psychologists to better identify and help students with problems, prompting educators and social workers to call for extra resources to tackle the problem.

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“Our focus is not on adding extra manpower, but how to do better with our current resources,” said Michelle Wong Yau Wai-ching, deputy secretary for education and vice-chairwoman of the committee formed in late March after more than 20 students killed themselves in the first half of the last school year .

The report,which analysed 71 student suicide cases between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years, concluded that student suicides were probably the result of mental health problems, negative attitudes and stress from both family and studies.

It recommended 19 measures to tackle the problem ranging from training teachers and parents to become gatekeepers to making use of social media to spread positive messages.

The suggestion to review the education system, which is known to pressure students with homework and tests, was briefly mentioned at the end of the report.

The report also urged the bureau to strengthen students’ ability to handle stress and recognise their talents instead of just their academic achievements.

Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim emphasised on Monday that the report did not find a direct causal relationship between suicide cases and the education system. But he added that the bureau had in recent years reminded schools to reduce homework and drilling exercises and simplify assessment methods.

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But committee chairman Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai said only 20 per cent of those who had committed suicide were known to suffer from mental problems, in contrast to more than 90 per cent of overseas cases.

“Many students with mental health problems weren’t actually identified in a timely manner,” he said, adding that teachers and students should be trained to identify students at risk.

Yet, the report does not recommend increasing manpower to relieve understaffed schools, with some counselling professionals having to take care of 800 students on their own.

Fung Pik-yee, vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union and a retired headmistress, said teachers did not have time to observe and identify students with poor mental health as they often had to handle teaching and administrative work.

She said more teachers should be hired so the ratio of classes to teachers in primary schools could be increased from the current 1:1.5 to 1:1.9.

Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the bureau was shirking responsibility and a thorough review of the education system was needed.

Social welfare lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said it was “impossible” without more resources for integrated family service centres to find “hidden parents” of students who were at risk as they were already overburdened with cases like family violence.