Hong Kong schools

‘Emotional education’ lacking in Hong Kong schools for both teachers and pupils, survey finds

Educators say they lack the knowledge and expertise to manage youngsters in need

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 August, 2017, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 August, 2017, 6:27pm

Emotional problems among pupils have become an issue of priority for many Hong Kong schools in recent years, but teachers say they do not feel equipped to handle such concerns, a survey has found.

More than half of 400 teachers polled at 62 primary and secondary schools around the city in June and July said their schools lacked “emotional education” on how to identify, express and manage feelings.

The survey, conducted by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, a service organisation for young people, also found 43 per cent of teachers said they lacked the knowledge and expertise to manage pupils in need.

“The results reflect that teachers see the importance of ‘emotional education’, but face many difficulties trying to implement it, given their time and workload constraints,” said Hsu Siu-man, a supervisor at the group’s Jockey Club Student Support Centre.

Statistics show that an increasing proportion of students receiving counselling reported mental stress and “emotional problems” as the reason for seeking help rather than family disputes or academic difficulties.

Teachers said students often became anxious or depressed due to a complex mix of problems.

Some 21 per cent of the 1,500 students that the centre dealt with in the last academic year were suffering from emotional problems, making it the second biggest concern.

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The figure was a step up on 2015-16, when 18 per cent of cases were emotionally stressed children. Prior to that, cases related to emotional problems did not rank in the top three.

The issue of how Hong Kong’s young minds are struggling to cope in the city’s economic, societal and emotional pressure cooker has caught the spotlight since government statistics exposed how more are becoming increasingly stressed out and unhappy.

According to the Hospital Authority, the number of mental health patients in the city has risen 2 to 4 per cent every year over the past five years, from about 187,000 in 2011-12 to more than 226,000 in 2015-16. The increase among children was as high as 5 per cent annually.

Ricky Chan Chi-wai, a teacher at Lions College in Kwai Chung, said most educators were not aware of the tell-tale signs that a student might be struggling before the stress snowballs into a full-blown crisis.

“Most teachers and parents are aware of how to seek help when the situation develops to a point where the student is crying all the time and keeps themselves locked inside a room. But it requires a certain sensitivity and training for teachers to realise that symptoms such as not being able to focus properly may also be a warning sign,” Chan said.

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Hsu said schools should focus on convincing youngsters to be open to seeking help while equipping them with the ability to help themselves, while teachers should spend more quality time developing close relationships with pupils to monitor their well-being.

When the new academic year begins next week, the group will launch a number of training sessions for teachers on differentiating and dealing with emotionally stressed students. It has also set up a weekly hotline to dispense advice from social workers. Teachers can call 2777 1567 every Friday between 4pm and 8pm.