Speaking out on teen suicide: ‘success’ in Hong Kong doesn’t have to be do or die

Speaking out on teen suicide: ‘success’ in Hong Kong doesn’t have to be do or die

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Not all of Hong Kong's students can cope with the growing pressure to succeed.
Photo: SCMP

It’s always difficult to report on suicide, and even more so when it involves children or teenagers. If you tell someone from outside Hong Kong that a 12-year-old killed themselves, they don’t believe you. We never like to think that young people can go through times that are so painful and unbearable that the only solution they can see is to kill themselves.

Nevertheless there has been a lot of discussion about our circumstances in Hong Kong, and what can be done to prevent more young people taking this drastic step. It’s easy to point a finger at the education system, but the “solution” is not that easy. In Hong Kong we’re dealing with a cycle of stress that starts from childhood and builds into this opus magnus: the HKDSE.

We all know the “reasoning” behind the extraordinary pressure placed on students in this city: study to get into a good pre-school, study to get into a good primary school, study to get into a good secondary school, study to get into a good university, study to get a good job.

The exams and their results loom so large in everyone’s minds that sometimes even adults can’t see past them. How much more difficult then, must it be for someone to deal with the pressure when they are facing it head on .

In all of this, the education system is merely a reflection of the society it serves. We saw a good example of this when the government introduced the voucher system to help families cover the expenses of kindergarten. Instead of just using the money to cover the education costs, many parents used it to send their child to another kindergarten in a second language. So really, by the time they were four or five, young Hongkongers are putting in the same amount of work as – or more than – adults in Europe.

Hong Kong students also have a complete fear of any sense of failure, and many have been trained to be helpless thanks to having a domestic helper that caters to their every whim. This luxury means that they have very little substance to counter this crushing weight of expectation.

Going to yet another “leadership” camp is not necessarily going to help, but no one wants to go to a “follower” camp. Parents expect their children to be leaders, to be bosses, to be exceptional. No one ever seems to strive for “normal” anymore.

This week I was at the judging for the Student of the Year – Linguist section, listening to students who are passionate about English give speeches on their ideas for Hong Kong’s future. Many students proudly spoke of Hong Kong being a prosperous city. But one of them, current junior reporter Catherine Wang, addressed the issue of suicide. She talked about how we won’t solve this crisis just by changing our education system. This is a more intricate issue.

I would like you, as our readers, to think about this idea of Hong Kong. I would like us to talk about this with each other, to start a conversation about redefining success. Do students really have to accept this whole package of constantly striving for perfection and then feeling bad when they don’t attain it? Is there a better way to be successful?


There is help out there. These are 24-hour hotlines if you need to talk:

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
‘Success’ should not be 'do or die'

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