MORE than one thousand teachers have been commended at the annual Teachers' Day Ceremony. Teachers all deserve commendation for their painstaking efforts to educate the young in the way spring breezes and rain nurture life. However, because of inadequate support from the government, many teachers have been rendered exhausted both physically and mentally. How can teachers take good care of students if they are under significant mental stress themselves? Hong Kong's education system is no longer what it is supposed to be. With society emphasising "winning at the starting line", many care only about boosting students' academic performance while overlooking the cultivation of virtue and good character. Hong Kong students generally tend to be self-centred and weak in facing up to adversity. Youth suicide has become a problem of widespread public concern. But in recent years, more and more schools have advocated changes to such a mindset through positive education and happy learning. The government must strengthen its support accordingly and pour in more resources to address the problem with the right remedy and to avoid aggravating the burden on teachers.
The incumbent government has fulfilled the pledge to increase recurrent funding for education by 3.4 billion dollars after taking office. Although the measure has, to a certain extent, helped improve the teaching environment, it has merely made up for the shortfall in educational funding in the previous years. In the policy address to be delivered next month, the government should make good use of the foundations laid over the past year to strengthen its support for the teaching profession in terms of both policies and resources.
Surveys released at the start of the new school year have shown that many teachers as well as pupils are under huge stress. Over 80% of teachers interviewed rated their work stress as very huge or extremely huge. Some of them worked for more than 60 hours a week. Almost 30% showed symptoms of moderate or serious depression. Some teachers had even contemplated self-harm. As for students, nearly half of them had developed signs of depression to various degrees. About 25% of the students had briefly or seriously thought about suicide. Many teachers mentioned the heavy workload of marking a large volume of student assignments and huge stress from teaching. Overwhelmed further by miscellaneous administrative work and excessive pressure from "achievement-oriented" school authorities, they were left exhausted both physically and mentally.
About 90 school pupils have committed suicide since September 2015. Just this year, at least 14 have taken their own lives. There can be an array of reasons behind student suicides, but many cases involved academic pressure. What worries people further is that the function of the school as a shield against youth suicide seems to have diminished. Students who cannot bear the stress from parents and the school become weary of studying and even develop suicidal thoughts. Teachers overwhelmed by daily work stress have no more energy to care about students. Only if the authorities substantially improve the teaching environment can the way out be found.
The authorities should take the initiative to pour in resources for helping schools who want to change by promoting happy learning and positive education. At the same time, the authorities must by all means reduce the heavy burden on teachers to give them the time to care about students' growth, build good relations with students, and make good use of their expertise in teaching. In addition to implementing small class teaching and the "one school social worker for each school" policy, the government should also strengthen its support for teachers by allocating extra funding to improve class-teacher ratios, enable schools to offer more permanent teaching positions and specialised positions for administrative staff. This can alleviate the daily work stress of teachers and relieve them substantially from unnecessary administrative work. The government should also provide emotional support services for teachers.