The government and the Education Bureau should reflect upon the recent wave of student suicides, and not put sole blame on media reports, says pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Chan Yuen-han.

Chan rejected the notion that media outlets were adding colour to the incidents, writing in AM730 on Monday: “Many media were merely reporting news facts. Putting blame on the media is unfair, and feels like lobbying for government officials.”

Chan Yuen-han. File Photo: StandNews.

“Instead, there is no doubt that the government and the Education Bureau are the ones who need to reflect upon this series of events,” she added.

Chan was also critical of the “dismal” counselling and psychiatric support in schools and said that government should review this properly.

“The government has endless funds, spending billions to make enormous infrastructure projects one after another, but has no resources for school psychiatric support,” she added.

Seven cases in nine days

“If schools can provide more mental support to students, and teachers do not need to spend a large amount of time dealing with TSA [exams], spending more time communicating with students, the thinking that ‘there are more happy things in life than unhappy and disappointing things’ will influence more students,” Chan said.

Chan’s comments came after seven student suicides were reported within the space of nine days, including an 11-year-old primary school student and 20-year-old university student who took their own lives over the weekend.

Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Photo: RTHK screen cap.

In response to the successive student suicides, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said on Saturday: “All cases since September last year are unique, and are not caused by one specific reason. Hence what we feel we can really remedy is a trans-sector and all-societal effort to deal with this issue.”

The Education Bureau announced several measures last Friday, including setting up a committee to look into the suicides, and holding seminars to exchange ideas between government officials, teachers, parents and students.

Situation complicated, says former finance secretary

“The problem is complicated and [we] cannot blame it on one thing. I think we should review the educational system, but at the same time it is also related to the overall social climate. Of course, the media can also help,” said former finance secretary Antony Leung Kam-Chung, who is tipped as a potential candidate for next year’s Chief Executive elections.

Antony Leung Kam-chung. Photo: RTHK screen cap.

“Parents should not force students to just take exams and study,” he said. “Hope does not only come from getting good grades.”

“Society is diverse, and we hope that there will be diverse students and diverse capabilities. Students having hope is very important,” he added.

‘Extremely concerned’

“We’re extremely concerned about that issue, and I know all of the universities in Hong Kong are,” said Peter Mathieson, President of Hong Kong University, when asked about the recent numbers of student suicides on Sunday.

“I’ve been looking this week with my colleagues at what we do to try and provide help to students in distress,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of measures in place, including very proactive measures trying to reach out to students.”

HKU Vice Chancellor and President Peter Mathieson. File Photo: RTHK screencap.

“We want them to achieve but we don’t want them to feel under so much pressure that they would even contemplate taking their lives. It’s a tragic loss of young life,” he added.

Parents can share the work, says Education Bureau

“Pause for ten minutes every day, listen to teenagers’ dreams,” Dr Verena Lau Wing-yin, a senior specialist at the Education Bureau, wrote in the bureau’s blog, “Insiders’ Perspectives”.

“At these key moments, support from family, counselling from teachers and encouragement from classmates are particularly important,” Lau said.

“Even if it’s just five to ten minutes, [it] can help children feel the parents’ care,” she added. “They will understand that no matter how bad the situation, their parents will have their back.”

Hermina Wong

Hermina is a Hong Kong writer and journalist. She graduated with a degree in politics from Cambridge, and is interested in international affairs, particularly those related to China, the EU and the Middle East. She also enjoys political satire.