Are children too stressed out in Singapore?
Posted in the Singapore Forum
Resolve unhealthy stress in schools
Published on Sep 14, 2012
IN ABOLISHING the banding of secondary schools ("MOE scraps secondary school banding"; yesterday), Education Minister Heng Swee Keat touched on the stress faced by students, which concerns parents like me.
I am a psychiatrist and my son finished his primary schooling with relatively manageable stress. Four years on, my daughter faces a much more difficult time.
The amount of homework given by teachers - who often do not coordinate with one another although they are supposed to - is unbelievable.
I spend more than $1,000 a month on my children's tuition for Chinese and mathematics because my wife, who was a teacher, and I can no longer help my daughter as the levels of difficulty of the school work are beyond us.
Physical education classes are often replaced by make-up lessons, or the duration of recess is reduced to give teachers more time to teach.
I am glad the ministry has now started to act.
The question is, how will its pronouncements translate into action and plans?
As a psychiatrist, I am well aware of the deleterious effects of undue stress on the mental health of children.
While parents do not want a system absent of stress, the current state is unhealthy.
American wit and novelist Mark Twain once quipped that he would not let his schooling interfere with his education.
But I believe this is what is happening here.
The number of school children seeking mental health care is on the rise, and many are scarred psychologically due to the labelling and stigma of being unable to cope.
The ministry must roll out specific action plans to address this pertinent issue, and parents must come together to lobby for reform.
Joshua Kua (Dr)
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Child stress: Visits to IMH clinic don't tell the whole story
Published on Sep 24, 2012
MY PARAMETERS on the mental health stress of children were broader than those used by the Institute of Mental Health in its reply ("No significant increase in new cases of child stress, says IMH"; last Friday) to my letter ("Resolve unhealthy stress in schools"; Sept 14).
Apart from cases seen at the institute's Child Guidance Clinic, they include those seen by the Response, Early Assessment and Intervention in Community Mental Health teams, private psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors in the public, private and social service sectors, as well as general practitioners and even religious organisations.
Clinic attendance is only a proxy indicator and we lack robust data.
According to the Asia-Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project report last year, failure in school is among the most common reasons for referral to child mental health services, and the number of such cases continues to rise.
A Singapore study also showed that mental health disorders in the young contributed to three out of the five top conditions faced by children up to 14 years old.
Another local study published in 2007 showed that 12.5 per cent of 2,139 primary school pupils have emotional and behavioural problems.
Perhaps the Education Ministry should commission a more detailed study to look into this issue more closely.
I agree that school stress requires a many-hands approach, and that parents have to play their part. But beyond the statistics, as a concerned parent, I know for sure that children are more stressed now and that many parents feel "trapped" by our education system.
The ministry should review its policies. Bold moves are needed to give our children a better and healthier education.
Joshua Kua (Dr)
It is not only children. Many adults are stressed too.
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