Youth suicide a complex issue of which Hong Kong’s education system is just one factor
Pilot scheme aimed at preventing more tragic waste of young lives is a step in right direction but traditional educational values should not bear all the blame
Youth suicide challenges experts and the authorities because it involves complex, evolving issues unique to the younger generation. As we observed a few months ago, having 22 young people take their own lives in half a year should ring alarm bells. One result is the decision to launch a pilot scheme in nine schools in the next academic year aimed at preventing more tragic waste of young lives. The Committee on the Prevention of Student Suicides, chaired by Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai of the University of Hong Kong, concluded from an analysis of 34 cases going back to 2013 that 85 per cent involved relationship problems with peers and families, such as conflict with parents.
The committee recommended 11 preventive measures including nursing support and extra funding for schools, half of which are to be introduced in the coming academic year. Two senior Hospital Authority psychiatric nurses will visit the schools regularly to assess mental health problems and advise teachers and parents. The committee found about 60 per cent of cases involved school adjustment issues, such as transferring to a new environment or repeating a grade. Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim added that the reasons behind each suicide could be very complicated. The fact that many students express their emotions online instead of seeking counselling does not help.
But educators and parents’ concern groups maintain the committee failed to tackle the root of the problems stemming from the education system. Fung Pik-yee, principal of Aplichau Kaifong Primary School in Ap Lei Chau, said this was the “immense pressure in the exam system now”. In an exam-oriented system where results can have negative implications for future opportunities, it cannot be ruled out that the system feeds into wider, complex problems, such as family conflict. Traditional educational values should not be allowed to cloud an open mind about such a complex interaction of factors. Raising awareness is a step in the right direction. The pilot scheme should be expanded and resourced in the light of regular reviews.