Suicides in Hong Kong

What’s the value of Hongkongers’ lives? Education chief gets earful over HK$5,000 payout per school to fight student suicides

Eddie Ng Hak-kim defended the HK$5 million plan to instil positive messages, but lawmakers question its sufficiency

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 11:04pm

Government subsidised schools are to receive HK$5,000 each from the Education Bureau as part of a scheme to address the recent spate of student suicides in the city, the education chief revealed on Monday as lawmakers criticised the amount as insufficient and the scheme as not tackling the problem at its roots.

The bureau had set aside $5 million for some 1,000 public and direct subsidy primary and secondary schools in the city to organise activities and talks that instil positive messages among students, including family bonding activities, Eddie Ng Hak-kim announced during a special Legislative Council meeting to discuss issues related to student suicides.

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Lawmakers including Elizabeth Quat and Starry Lee Wai-king questioned whether HK$5,000 for each school was sufficient, while Gary Fan Kwok-wai said HK$5 million paled compared to the HK$1 billion set aside for a scholarship fund to attract students from countries included in the One Belt, One Road initiative to come and study in the city.

“What is the value of Hongkongers’ lives?” he asked.

Several lawmakers said the allowance for schools would instead be a burden for teachers.

Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said it was more important to give teachers enough time to listen to their students, rather than an allowance that would keep teachers busy planning activities.

Lee echoed Chan’s comments, and recommended the money be spent on systematically engaging education experts to eliminate attitudes parents might have towards pushing their children to succeed.

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Ng agreed with Lee’ idea, adding such was the bureau’s intention. The education minister’s remark caused confusion among lawmakers, with meeting chair Lam Tai-fai asking Ng to clarify.

Ng explained the allowance would be used for experts and parents to arrange events, and teachers would not be asked to devise activities that added to their workload.

During the meeting, several lawmakers blamed the education system for the recent student suicides and called for the Territory-wide System Assessment, widely criticised as a cause of stress for students, to be scraped.

Ng said the situation was complicated, and defended the government’s move to keep the TSA, adding it was an assessment and not a test, and that it was important to have a continuity of data for analyses.

During the meeting, Albert Ho Chun-yan asked how long it took for people with mental problems to seek treatment from institutions under the Hospital Authority.

A medical expert at the meeting revealed that it would take about a week for urgent cases.