While the need to talk about mental health and well-being in children has always been pertinent, it’s only in the last few days that we’ve needed it the most.
The recent death of the 13-year-old River Valley High School student sent shockwaves across Singapore. More so, because the 16-year-old boy of the same school confessed to murder.
The horrific incident questioned the mental condition of children today and where we are heading as a society.
Echoing the same thought, several politicians in Singapore have recently spoken about the need to prioritise the mental health of students on the island.
In fact, earlier this week, Minister of Education, Mr Chan Chun Sing announced that new measures were to be rolled out in the “near term” to better care for the well-being of students in schools.
Mental Health Services For Children Will Start With Teacher Training
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Mr Chan elaborated that these measures will also focus on giving teachers “enhanced professional development” on mental health literacy, along with the deployment of over 1,000 teacher-counsellors in the next few years.
In addition, here are some more measures being undertaken by MOE:
- Teachers who have already received additional training can help students undergoing extreme emotions like grief and loss.
- Currently, most schools in Singapore have one counsellor, while some have two. Wherever possible more school counsellors or re-role suitable educators will be recruited.
- The government will allow co-curricular activities for secondary schools and pre-universities to resume within the next few weeks as more students complete their coronavirus vaccinations. These activities will help the students to bond and grow in a balanced emotional and physical manner.
- The minister also informed the Parliament that the ministry plans to reinstate these activities as soon as the current situation (owing to Covid-19) allows them to do.
- Mr Chan noted that when students require help, they can meet the school counsellors. If students need further intervention, the school counsellors can refer them to professionals, such as Response and REACH.
He also spoke about the difficulties faced by youth and how they are learning to cope with the pressure of a highly competitive environment.
“For the youth growing up in this fast-paced world, their challenges are getting intensified by what happens online. There is an added layer of social pressure as comparisons are incessant and relenting,” he said.
So Singapore must do “all we can” to help the children find their place in this fiercely competitive environment.
“Society needs to come together”
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Mr Chan stressed that the mental well-being of the country’s youth would require the whole society to come together.
MOE and MSG have set up a new task force that aims to address issues related to the mental wellbeing of the youth segment.
He added that in order to avert such tragic incidents, the government needs society’s effort at large.
“Spend more time listening to our kids”
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The minister urged that we need to spend a little bit more time trying to listen to our children’s thoughts and feelings. This will help them open up about issues they find stressful.
“Give them the space to process their emotions,” he said.
There needs to be a more frank conversation with children and family members on the definition of success.
“Success cannot, should not and must not be the constant need to be compared with someone else and having to live up to someone else’s image,” added Mr Chan.
He reminded parents of the need to set the “right tone” for their kids by treating others with love and grace.
The stigma around mental health needs to be addressed
The Minister of Education further appealed to everyone to not stigmatise those students who come forward to seek help.
“Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness,” he said. This incident should therefore, motivate everyone to treat every struggling individual with love and care.
The minister further emphasised that the medical confidentiality of people who wish to come forward will be respected. This information will not circulate to different agencies.
“Only in the exceptional cases, if there is a real threat, agencies might take a call to work with other agencies to pre-empt this,” he concluded.
While these are long-term measures and are largely focused on training teachers, most Singaporean parents have welcomed them. However, opinions are divided on schools placing less importance on mental health as compared to grades.
theAsianparent reached out to four mums in Singapore to understand their viewpoint on the subject matter and their reaction to MOE’s latest initiative.
What Singaporean Parents Feel About MOE’s Mental Health Push
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While all four mums who spoke to theAsianparent welcomed this initiative, they were also empathetic towards the plight of teachers who are now being given the extra role of monitoring the mental well-being of children.
Alia Demelda Sharma, a mum of two, welcomed MOE’s decision and felt that this is a step in the right direction.
She shared how her child is doing well in terms of interacting with her teachers. From communicating via Whatsapp calls and group chats, the teachers are always there to attend to their problems.
However, she hoped to see an improved understanding between teachers and the students. “There should be more counsellors in schools and social workers need to work closely with them,” she points.
She concluded by highlighting the need for the entire society comprising of schools, social workers and parents to remain vigilant if a child has a record of mental distress.
There is still room for improvement
On the other hand, mum Lena Tan Pereira feels that the responsibility of helping students shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of teachers.
The mum explained how the current system is already overworked and inundating with paperwork for teachers. They need the help of a larger team of allied educators who can be the bridge between the school and the parents.
Is her child well supported in school in terms of mental health? Pereira says there’s still room for improvement.
“My elder son went through years of bullying in primary school and I felt the school lacked the know-how and resources to follow through on individual cases. Having 1-2 counsellors attend to a cohort of hundreds of children is not fair. Also, each case does not get the amount of attention it needs,” feels the mum.
Focus in schools still on grades than providing support
Mum Pam Teow points out that having teachers with more knowledge to handle mental issues is great, but unfortunately, it is just one side of the story.
Echoing similar concerns, like the other mums, even she wonders if teachers will be able to manage the additional workload.
She highlighted that the focus of schools is still more on grades than on providing support to kids. The mum also said that parents aren’t a part of the mental health discussions at the current stage.
“What’s missing is involving the parents in that mental health discussion. I’d like to see more room and time set aside for both parties (faculty and parents) to have more dialogue, whether in groups or individually to talk sbout childrens mental health. I’d like MOE to support not just the teachers but the parents more too,” she told theAsianparent.
Similarly, another parent and a mum of three (name withheld on request), felt that one can’t expect teachers to do everything. From completing the syllabus to organising events, the government now wants them to look after the mental well-being of children.
“Something’s got to give!” she points.
She also raises few valid questions. Will the teachers receive extra pay for the additional work? Or if the syllabus will now become secondary?
“Preparing them to keep a lookout and flag them out is great, but how are we expecting them to be the first line of defence,” she asks.
She concluded by highlighting the need for everyone to work together as a whole to address the issue.
We hope MOE’s new directive can answer these questions and set the initiative in the right direction to address the mental health issue of the youth.
News source: CNA
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