Schoolchildren are paying a heavy price for Singapore’s success in global education rankings, with rising numbers seeking psychiatric help as they struggle to cope with the relentless pressure for academic excellence.
Children are reporting symptoms of anxiety and stress related to school as early as elementary school, experts warn, and there have been extreme cases where pupils have been driven to suicide.
Youths often face long days at school, hours of homework, and are then pushed by parents to have private tuition, which is having an impact on mental wellbeing — a recent report found that overall the city’s pupils reported higher levels of anxiety than average.
Now, in a bid to reduce stress in its schools, Singapore is embarking upon reforms that will scrap some academic tests, and change the rigid streaming process.
“We have to balance the joy of learning and the rigor of education,” Singaporean Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung (王乙康) said, as he announced some of the changes in parliament earlier this year.
The move comes at a time when more authorities in Asia are being forced to assess if pupils are being overwhelmed by pressure to perform — Hong Kong’s Child Fatality Review listed problems with schoolwork among one of the key reasons for teen suicide.
Japan reported its highest youth suicide rate in 30 years in the 2016-2017 school year, with officials saying there is an annual spike on Sept. 1 — the start of the school year.
Singapore has placed education at the heart of its development since independence in the 1960s and now tops the PISA international rankings — a system dubbed the world cup of education — for math, reading and science.
However, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which conducts the PISA assessment, found that despite academic success Singapore’s students reported higher levels of anxiety about schoolwork than other nations.
Elementary-school children are required to take a leaving exam, regarded by parents and teachers as crucial because success often means access to prestigious schools and top sets.
“Children are being forced to mature too fast without the relevant foundation and reasoning power to reassure oneself,” said Daniel Koh, a psychologist with the Insights Mind Centre. “Society does not want to allow the luxury of taking it slow.”
The youngest person he has treated for school-related stress was a first-grader who was struggling with the transition from kindergarten, he said.
Under such heavy pressure, private, after-school tuition has become the norm. Singaporean students rank third globally on time spent on homework, at 9.4 hours a week, an OECD survey found.
As major exams approach, suicide prevention group the Samaritans of Singapore typically sees a rise in students contacting them, Samaritans senior assistant director Wong Lai Chun said.
In 2016, an 11-year-old boy jumped to his death on the day he was supposed to reveal his mid-year exam results to his parents. He had failed two subjects.
“Over the past few years, based on my clinical experience, I have seen more teenagers who are from top schools and report experiencing school-related stress,” department of child and adolescent psychiatry deputy chief Lim Choon Guan at Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health.
However, he said this might be due to a greater willingness to report problems and that school counsellors are more aware of such issues and refer them.
Authorities hope the reforms can go some way to ease the pressure. Measures include axing some exams in both primary and secondary school, and only grouping students according to ability in more academic subjects such as math and science — rather than separating them into streams for all subjects.
Students are to be taught together for classes such as art, music and physical education.
“The reform recognizes some of the detrimental cultural and emotional effects that streaming has had on some students,” said Jason Tan, an associate professor at the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University.
However, one of the biggest hurdles to easing expectations might be tackling parents’ attitudes.
For Wendy, who only gave one name, sending her 12-year-old daughter for private tuition in addition to her schoolwork is the only way to ensure success.
Ministry of Education Divisional Director of Planning Cindy Khoo said schools have been “actively engaging parents to explain how the changes will benefit their children in the long run.”
However, pushing one’s children to do well was “deeply rooted” in Singapore’s culture, she said.
HISTORIC FLIGHT: The astronauts named their capsule ‘Endeavour,’ after the space shuttle on which they both flew, while Elon Musk said he was overcome with emotion Two veteran NASA astronauts headed for the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Saturday became the first commercial company to launch a rocket carrying humans into orbit, ushering in a new era in space travel. SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a 19-hour voyage to the space station. “Let’s light this candle,” Hurley, the mission commander, told SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, before liftoff at 3:22pm from NASA’s
POINT-BLANK RANGE: Reporters and camera people from several outlets say police officers in Minneapolis had fired tear gas and rubber bullets directly at them Multiple journalists on the ground in Minnesota said they were teargassed and subject to other attacks by police on Saturday evening, a day after the widely condemned arrest of a CNN reporter live on air. Los Angeles Times journalist Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who was reporting outside the Fifth Precinct in Minneapolis, said she was with a group of about a dozen journalists when the Minnesota State Patrol “fired tear gas canisters on us at point blank range.” “I was saying: ‘Where do we go?’ They did not tell us where to go. They didn’t direct us. They just fired on us,” she said
For nearly a decade, the UN Security Council has been frequently paralyzed by Russia’s obstinacy over the Syrian crisis. Today, however, it is the US-China rivalry that has infected a growing array of issues, according to officials and diplomats. As recently as 2017, an understanding between Washington and Beijing allowed the UN on three occasions — involving separate sets of economic sanctions — to project international unity in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat. Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a ferocious competition erupt between the UN’s two main contributors, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May
INDIA Pride to be preserved The nation would not let its “pride be hurt” in its latest border flare-ups with China, but is determined to settle the dispute through talks, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh said in a television interview late on Saturday. “Situations arise with China. It has happened before,” Singh said, adding that the government was striving to make sure “tension does not escalate.” The government has turned down US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate, he said. IRAN Speaker says talks futile Newly elected Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf yesterday said that any negotiations with the US would be “futile.” The nation’s