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Suicides in Hong Kong

Hong Kong lawmaker urges government to withdraw comment on education system’s effect on student suicides

Government committee and education minister ruled out education system as direct cause of spate of suicides

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 7:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 10:42pm

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen called on the government to withdraw its comment that the education system was not the direct cause of student suicides, after another teenager killed himself on Tuesday.

This came after four other students committed suicide and two made attempts within a two-week period from February 5.

The Education Bureau set up the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides after a spate of such cases last year. In a report submitted to the bureau in November, the committee ruled out the education system as a direct cause of the phenomenon.This was later echoed by Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim.

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“The government should withdraw the comment,” Ip said. “The latest cases show there has not been an efficient way to handle the issue.”

Ip urged the government to set up a cross-departmental task force to deal with the problem with the aim of taking emergency measures such as reducing academic pressure in the education system and increasing the number of counsellors and other support staff.

But Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a University of Hong Kong academic who chairs the committee, said a multitude of issues were behind youth suicide, including family and parenting problems.

“[Only blaming the system] is a very dangerous accusation,” Yip said. “We never said that the education [system] was not a reason, but there are many other reasons. We should not simplify the matter.”

Yip said the most important thing at the moment would be to prevent a copycat effect and help schools, teachers, parents and students become “gatekeepers” and know when to seek help.

He added that the committee had issued letters to schools, teachers, parents and students, advising them to spend time caring for youngsters around them and seek help when necessary.

The committee’s report 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.

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The suggestion to review the education system, which has been blamed for pressuring 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.

A bureau spokeswoman said the public should avoid associating suicide with a single reason, thus ignoring other important factors such as mental health, relations with family and friends and adjustment to school life. Ignoring other issues might prevent people from intervening in time, she said.

She added that the bureau had had meetings with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Bureau, the Home Affairs Bureau and the Social Welfare Department to discuss how to follow up on the report’s recommendations, including reviewing the education system.

The suicide on Tuesday involved a 14-year-old boy from SKH Lui Ming Choi Secondary School who jumped from a building in Wah Fu Estate in Aberdeen.

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