Ten-year-old Lysher Loh climbed over the parapet on the fifth floor of her flat and jumped to her death. Two weeks before she committed suicide, she told her maid she did not want to be reincarnated as a human being because she did not want to have to do homework ever again. The last straw came when she fared poorly in her mid-year exams.
Tragically, Lysher’s case is not uncommon. Twelve-year-old, Simran Kaur, jumped 12 floors to her death when she found out that she was placed in the Normal (Academic) stream. In 2009, an 11-year-old student killed himself when he jumped 16 storeys from his apartment block at Compassvale Walk after an exam.
The statistics below paint an all-too-depressing picture of the pressure that the education system piles on our children.
- The number of youths seeking psychiatric help increased by 16 percent from 2005 to reach 3,126 in 2010. More than half of them were primary-school children. (here)
- The number of children warded for “aggressive, suicidal or hallucination tendencies” at the IMH jumped by 35 percent from 259 cases in 2005 to 351 in 2010. Mental health professionals attribute these problems to academic stress. (here)
- Calls to an IMH programme to help schoolchildren with psychological problems increased from 306 in 2007 to 8,336 in 2008 - a nearly 30-fold jump with one year. 70 percent of the cases involved primary-school children. (here)
- One in three students say they sometimes think that life is not worth living because of the fear of exams. “That’s scary. What kind of life are we putting our kids through if they’re so frightened of examinations?” a psychiatrist said.
- While a majority of the American and Japanese children said that losing a friend or the death of their parents was their number one fear, Singaporean students said that not achieving good grades was what they were most afraid of.
- 12.5 percent of primary-school children in Singapore suffer from depression and anxiety. As high as the number is, the researchers say that this might be an underestimation of the prevalence of mental health problems among children.
- Over 50 percent of our schoolchildren diagnosed with shortsightedness which, according to the Health Promotion Board, is caused by engaging in “long hours on near work such as reading and doing homework”). Singapore is the myopia capital of the world.
In spite of this, PM Lee Hsien Loong boasted: "Among the top performers worldwide, we have the highest proportion of students who are in that top performing group." This is the price our children pay so that the Government can claim that they are the top performers in the world.
This is wrong. We must not subject our children to such crippling school pressures that they are psychologically maimed and, in some cases, have their young lives taken.
The SDP has a different idea about education. We must let our children be children. At such a young age, they should be encouraged to read, play, discover themselves and develop a love for books. In so doing, they will develop a love of learning.
Subjecting them to such cutthroat competition during their formative years is not only inhumane but also socially counterproductive. Also, our economy gains nothing - especially in a world that is changing so rapidly - by making our children learn by rote and streaming them at such a young age.
The goal should be to lead our students to learn, not push them to study. The former will open up their naturally enquiring minds and foster creativity, the latter will kill off curiosity.
It's time for Singapore to have a rethink of our approach to education and, to this end, the SDP will propose our policy ideas in our soon-to-be-released paper.
1. Student, 10, jumps to death over school workload, AFP, 22 August 2001
2. Girl jumps to death over PSLE results, Straits Times, 30 December 2000
3. 11-year-old boy jumps 16 floors after exam, Lianhe Wanbao, 15 October 2009
2. At sixes and sevens over PSLE Maths, Straits Times, 21 October 2007
3. Singapore National Eye Centre opens myopia clinic, Asiaone.com, 17 December 2013
4. What is Myopia?, Health Promotion Board
5. In Singapore, as in much of Asia, stress starts early, FEER, 9 August 2001
6. Under 12 and stressed out, Sunday Times, 11 July 2010,
7. More children get early help with mental health issues, Straits Times, 28 November 2012
8. Emotional and behavioural problems in Singaporean children based on parent, teacher and child reports, Woo B S C, Ng T P, Fung D S S, Chan Y H, Lee Y P, Koh J B K, Cai Y, Singapore Med J, 2007; 48 (12)
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