Hong Kong students, parents and teachers in dire need of mental health support to prevent tragic outcomes
- School-age children are stuck at home, can’t see their friends and are kept busy with schoolwork while parents and teachers face new demands on their time
- Schools should understand the challenges online learning pose to parents, teachers and students and show flexibility in their curriculum, schedule and support
The outbreak has also triggered many changes in the life of school-age children as they are stuck at home, can’t see their friends and are kept busy with schoolwork. They have been overloaded with information and teaching.
Home-based learning has been in place while in-person classes are suspended. The change in the learning environment has, however, hurt the well-being of students. According to the preliminary findings of the Quality Education Fund, which aims to promote wellness in school through mental health programmes, upper primary students of participating schools saw reductions in their well-being and positive thinking indicators. Other students had worse empathy and other indicators despite the fact that their knowledge of mental health had improved.
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Research suggests that online learning is less effective than in-person learning, especially with younger children who require more attention and need more guidance.
Schools should understand the challenges online learning poses to parents and teachers and see if they have difficulties in adopting a new delivery style, communicating with students and using technology. Providing emotional and administrative support to teachers and lowering the expectations on teachers and students can be a great step towards reducing their stress and improving their mental health.
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Students in Hong Kong have always been overburdened with homework, causing frustration, anxiety and stress to themselves and parents as well. These mental health concerns have an impact on their quality of life, concentration and optimism.
Mental health will always be our concern, especially during these uncertain times. Behavioural and emotional changes in students might not be as easily noticeable by fellow classmates, teachers and staff in an online environment. Therefore, asking students to take a self-assessment test and providing counselling services will be helpful in understanding more about their condition and offering appropriate assistance.
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We hope the Education Bureau can work with schools to be more flexible in their curriculum. At the same time, schools should exercise more professional judgment by making amendments to some course content, shortening teaching time, replacing examinations with assessments and providing clear, reliable guidelines on promoting mental health at schools to raise awareness and ensure students receive adequate support.
It is time that we respond to these challenges by providing alternative, practical support to those in need to prevent any further tragic events from happening.
Anna Chan is a training consultant and Paul Yip is the director of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong
If you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.