Singapore ’s schools will help students cope with stresses induced by the Covid-19 pandemic by lightening examination loads and restarting suspended co-curricular activities, the country’s education minister said on Tuesday, as he addressed last week’s alleged killing of a 13-year-old student by a schoolmate. A 16-year-old student from the prestigious River Valley High School has been charged with murder over the July 19 incident and remanded for psychiatric assessment. An axe was seized as evidence. Under Singaporean law, the victim and the alleged killer cannot be named as they are below the age of 18. The episode has sent shock waves through the city state – known for its ultra-low crime rate – and amid concerns among parents about their children’s safety, education minister Chan Chun Sing sought to outline the government’s official response in remarks to lawmakers in parliament. With the matter now before the courts, Chan said he could not discuss certain aspects of the case, though he made public for the first time a detailed chronology of the incident. Singapore teen charged with murder of 13-year-old schoolmate, remanded for psychiatric assessment The minister revealed that the 16-year-old, holding the axe, had first asked two separate groups of students to call the police before noon on July 19. He later complied when a teacher arrived at the scene and instructed him to put down the axe. Police arrived within 10 minutes and took him into custody. The victim – preliminarily found to have not known his alleged killer – was found lying motionless in a bathroom with multiple wounds and was subsequently pronounced dead. With the mental health of Singapore’s students in focus after the incident, Chan noted that “Covid-19 has compounded the challenges our young people face”. “Much of their usual social and support networks and routines have been disrupted, leading to prolonged periods of uncertainty, anxiety and loneliness for many,” he told lawmakers. In the near term, the government intends to resume co-curricular activities as well as national games, camps and excursions that had long served as “avenues for our young people to build bonds, and to grow emotionally and holistically”. “We plan to reinstate such activities in full as soon as the Covid-19 situation allows for it,” Chan said. The education ministry will also undertake several other measures including the removal of certain topics from examinations “to relieve the revision load and exam stress for our students”. Chan noted that young people growing up today were facing challenges “intensified by what happens online, where comparisons are incessant and unrelenting”, which in turn added “another layer of social pressure”. “That is why as a society, we must continuously improve and strengthen our support system to better prepare children to not only withstand the pressures they face but also thrive despite these pressures,” he said, underscoring that it was a show of “strength not weakness” to seek help when facing mental stress. Singapore’s ‘living with Covid-19’ plan includes relaxed rules, quarantine-free travel from September The education ministry is also boosting its mental health support network, with the number of teacher-counsellors to increase from around 700 to 1,000 “in the next few years”, Chan said. With students’ actions influenced by factors “in and beyond” their schools, the tragic incident could have happened outside the school environment as well, he said: “We will therefore need a whole-of-society effort to keep our children, families and community safe to avoid such tragic incidents from happening again.” Acknowledging parents’ anxiety about the security of schools, the minister said the “real key to staying safe lies not with more intrusive security measures but in prevention and enhanced community vigilance”. He ruled out a scenario of introducing metal scanners and bag checks in schools, saying it would create “unease and stress” among students and staff. “We also do not wish to paradoxically engender a siege mentality among students and staff, causing them to take extreme measures to protect themselves, at the expense of a shared sense of security,” Chan said.