Real Hong Kong News
25 March 2016
Parents Commemorate 24 Students who committed suicide, Urge Education Reform
In this academic year, starting in September 2015, a total of 24 students age between 11 and 24 have committed suicide. A small group of parents organised an event today, Good Friday, in Causeway Bay’s pedestrian zone to commemorate the students.
With a banner saying “Jesus was resurrected, but our children won’t come back”, the theme of the event, the commemoration event began with a flower presentation ceremony. Participants lay flowers in front of 24 pictures drawn by the organisers’ children to commemorate the 24 students who committed suicide in this academic year.
At the simple yet touching event, the lead organiser – and a concerned parent – Ms Billie Ng called for parents to spend quality time with their children and challenge schools and the status quo which stress academic and exam performance rather than a focusing on children’s balanced development.
In the statement distributed to the crowd, the organiser urged all parents to take 10 steps:
- Always believe in and trust your children;
- Tell your children that “your scores are not important, you are”;
- Ensure that your children have at least one hour to play each day;
- Ensure that your children can do outdoor activities at least one day per week;
- Defend your children’s playtime at school, and resist schools cutting recesses, breaks and activity time for schoolwork or preparation for exams;
- Review your children’s coursework and books, and complain to their teachers and schools should the curriculum be too difficult or taught too quickly;
- Reject any exercises, homework, supplementary classes and exams related to Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) exam;
- Limit the amount of homework your children receive: accept a maximum of only 30 minutes worth of homework (for primary school children) each day;
- No homework on weekends, allow your children to fully enjoy their weekly break;
- If you realise your children are stressed by school work, apply for leave for them to rest.
A mother and her teenage daughter burst into tears after laying flowers down. The young girl who refused to be named said that someone she knows has been talking about taking her own life because of the pressure, which is why she decided to join the commemoration.
After a one-minute silence, a few participants including parents shared their views on the education system and personal experience in dealing with the schoolwork and pressure their children face.
Mr Leo Lai Tsz-chun, who graduated from Queen Elizabeth School Old Students’ Association Tong Kwok Wah Secondary School and supported the students at the school during last week’s in-campus protest demanding a dialogue with Eddie Ng Hak-kim Secretary for Education (which Mr. Ng refused by remaining inside his car), said that adults have the responsibilities to protect children, “by not doing anything, we are ruining the future for our future generations. We are consuming the future of our future generations.”
Ms Fu, a mother, and a secondary school English language teacher whose student committed suicide, said in a cracking voice, “many teachers, including myself, are very upset (about all these suicide cases). We feel powerless, just like the children nowadays. It’s not that we do not want to provide support, but with the amount of homework and tests we need to mark and the extremely demanding curriculum, we simply have no time to care for our students… Schools put a huge amount of pressure on these children and refuse to cut back coursework and tests, despite teachers’ objections, because they want to secure the schools’ good ranking and reputation.”
“There is one social worker stationed in each school, but it’s impossible for one person to look after all the students in a school. We, as teachers, want to do our job properly, not just to equip the children with knowledge, but to also care for them and listen to them. Parents need to stand up and voice their opinions. I hope one day, parents like us who care and have the courage to challenge the status quo will become the mainstream,” said Fu at the event.
When asked about her view on the education system, Ms Fu said that the options for children are becoming more and more limited. “There used to be opportunities for school dropouts to succeed, at least to learn a skill. Nowadays, every child has multiple ‘talents’ like violin and piano forced upon them, but they are not given any opportunity to learn survival skills or a trade, let alone to build a healthy mind-set and a balanced life. Everything has been planned for them. Everything is about their academic achievement – as if without a degree they cannot survive. With only 18% of local students able to receive university education, what hope do the majority of them have? Job opportunities are limited while entrepreneurship is discouraged largely due to the sky-high rent, those who are better at critical thinking, which is supposedly the core of liberal-studies curriculum, will come out and fight. Those who are less inspired by liberal-studies may end up in a downward spiral and eventually give up and end their lives.”
Ms Billie Ng, one of the organisers of the event, said “some of these children are university students, who should have been the victors under the current system, after all only 18% of our children are able access tertiary education. Why did they choose the end their lives? I think it is largely because they are empty inside. Parents nowadays plan everything for them, even their interests are picked and designed by the parents who want them to be ‘talented’ so that they can enter a good school. Our children have never had a chance to think for themselves, they may have many ‘skills’ but they have never been encouraged to have curiosity and to explore and enjoy life.”
“Our children are not tools. The government creates a system that produces tools which pay tax but never question authority. Education is not about force-feeding children with knowledge. As parents, we ought to guide our children, nurture their curiosity and support them to find their own paths. We must speak up for our children and stop the system from ruining their future,” Ng said via a loudspeaker.
The event ended with the burning of TSA exercise books. The organisers and participants burned copies of TSA exercise books, and said that they are offerings to Eddie Ng Hak-kim’s late mother so she could enter into his dreams and tell him how much damage the TSA exams bring to children in Hong Kong (many Hongkongers think that the deceased speak to their families in their dreams). The symbolic gesture, said the organisers, is to urge the Secretary for Education to reflect on, and reform, the failed education system and abolish the meaningless TSA exam.
Organisers and participants, including activist Mr Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, cleaning up after the commemoration
The organisers also questioned whether the hundreds of millions dollars-worth of TSA-exercise-books-printing-business may be a reason for the government’s lack of motivation to reform the existing system.