Student Stress & Suicides

Posted by See Leong Kit under Features on 17 September 2003

More parents and social workers must speak up fearlessly on the unfolding problems afflicting our children - the next generation of Singaporeans.

If we do not bother to speak up for our children, who will?

A 2000 SPH survey revealed our primary students were more afraid of examinations than of their parents dying. One in three also thought life isn't worth living. A psychiatrist remarked, "That's scary. What kind of life are we putting our kids through if they're so frightened of exams?"

Since then, not one but seven primary pupils have committed suicide jumping off high-rise flats. Just ponder the indescribable anguish of their parents.

In 2001, a coroner's inquiry heard that a 10-year old pupil committed suicide because she was stressed out with schoolwork.

In April 2002, the Straits Times reported, "Last year, about 14,000 children were seen by psychiatrists at the Institute of Mental Health, of which 2,233 were new cases.... these figures have stayed relatively consistent over the last five years."

The following month, former Education Minister Teo Chee Hean's quick dismissive response was, "I should point out, though, that in the movie I Not Stupid, the student wanted to commit suicide not because he could not cope with his schoolwork but because he could not live up to his mother's unrealistic expectations."

Next, Minister of State Education Ng Eng Hen was bemused with Singaporeans complaining so much when foreigners had highly praised our "world class" education system.

Politicians everywhere have no right to "demand" such as through draconian defamation laws respect from the people. Like it or not, they have to first "earn" such respect through what they say and what they do.

If these million-dollar ministers had said, "On one hand, parents should not push their kids too hard. On the other, we will direct ministry officials to look at comprehensive ways to make learning more enjoyable and less stressful for our students", they would have earned themselves much respect from taxpayers and voters alike.

Just recently, the untimely deaths of two junior college students were however not reported in our main newspapers. Their schoolmates were understandably traumatised. Are disturbing social issues "shameful" matters to be hushed up? Although the children of our politicians are unlikely to commit suicide, they could also be emotionally affected by the tragic death of a schoolmate.

Change we must to keep up with changing times. However, are we really "improving" the education system or still "mucking around" with our students as experimental guinea pigs? Are the crammed-up changes coming too fast and furious for our students as well as teachers to cope?

The Raffles Junior College teacher who called her student all sorts of names and tore up his submission in front of the whole class was clearly stressed out and in need of counselling.

The writing has been on the wall for some 10 years. In our pre-occupation with economic success, if our (politicans, civil servants and people) choose to turn a blind eye to such disturbing social issues, our children will end up paying the heavy price.

Our people are our only valuable national resource. So the death of even one student is surely one death too many and not a mere statistic to be quickly forgotten.

Instead of "Stand up for Singapore", it is time to sing "Wake up for Singapore"!

Sources and Relevant Links:

Singapore Forum Student Stress & Suicides In Singapore Need Attention

12 August 2003

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