Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pioneer JC Girls' Deaths - The Cost of Singapore's SocioEconomic System

The straits times story of the suicides of 2 JC girls from Pioneer JC is depressing to read and is sad indeed.

TWO Pioneer Junior College classmates died within three weeks of one another by leaping from high-rise blocks of flats about a year ago, a coroner's court heard on Thursday.

Ho Yi Xin, 17, was described as a hard-working student with high expectations of herself. Her ambition was to be a doctor.

The second-year Pioneer Junior College student had been seeing a private psychiatrist since June last year as she was feeling anxious in school and at home. She had problems sleeping and could not concentrate on her studies.

Her last visit to the psychiatrist was on July 3 - the day she was found dead at the foot of Block 533 Jelapang Road in Bukit Panjang. She was believed to have fallen from the 24th storey of the block as her silver-coloured bag was found there.

At an inquiry into her death, the court heard that Yi Xin, an introvert, had confided in her classmate around May last year that she was depressed over a detention form given by her favourite teacher for being late.

Seventeen days later, her classmate, Wong Peek Yian, leapt to her death from her seventh-floor bedroom window at Jurong West Street 81. Peek Yian had found out that she had done badly in her mid-year examination and dreaded to see her vice-principal over her poor performance.

A few hours before her death leap, she had sent text messages to her boyfriend, full-time national serviceman Valentino Lee, 19, telling him that her teacher had advised her not to see him too often.

Our education system, as everybody knows, is a pressure cooker in which Singaporean students face immense social pressures to conform to society's standards.

These social pressures come from multiple angles - from parents who want their children to be doctors, lawyers, bankers or scholars. From the government, which places pressures on teachers to churn out A grades from their students. And from their peers, where everybody is competing to outperform and outscore their fellow students in order to emerge at the top of this rat race, which begins the moment a 7 year old child steps into primary school, and only ends when the child has ended his or her working career (now pegged at 65 years, according to the PAP system)

These immense pressures have a huge psychological and human cost on Singapore's young people, most of whom were never designed to take some pressures. Indeed, how is it possible for every person to be a lawyer, doctor, banker, or scholar?

The hard truth is that only a small minority will make it into the ranks of the elite. The rest will have to carve out their own niche in society, or languish in mediocrity. Yet Singaporeans refuse to recognise this fact, and refuse to accept that it is fundamentally unwise to expect their children conform to a narrowly defined standard.

It is time for a mindset change.

We need to be more accepting of the alternative professions... chefs, mechanics, plumbers, musicians, athletes, entertainers etc. We need to embrace diversity and plurality and different talents.

Parents need to learn how to love their children even if they do not score straight As in school. They need to give their children the security and safety net of acceptance at home, even if they may not be elite in the eyes of broader society.

Otherwise, one day, the pressure cooker will explode, and will hurt many many people with it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this insightful and timely article Mike...

Yes, while stress is indeed very real regardless of the station of life we're at, perhaps parents should also be more observant and spend more time with their children to understand the struggles and pressure they face. Apart from providing financially for their children, emotional support and motivation is imperative too.

Let us learn to cherish our loved ones around us and not take them for granted...

Andrew said...

As an alum of Pioneer JC, I can say the overly strict enforcement of academic and behavioral discipline there is more of a detriment than motivation for many (though not most) students. These methods are still ineffective, as students may not apply what they are learning well enough. And many parents still send their children to that school.

We need more than a mindset change. We need to embrace and encourage students to live life at its fullest, without fear of failure of attaining a certain objective. Sometimes it's the beauty of the in-betweens that make a difference to people.

I think the Ministry of Education had done its best to inculcatethe appreciation of life, through increased emphasis on co-curricular activities, which involve aesthetics and the arts.

Anonymous said...

The school is not to blame. Keep it up and we'll have a society of the over-entitled.