A more caring society with better mental health support would go a long way in helping students find their footing in an intense learning environment, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said.
New measures to ensure the mental well-being of students will be rolled out in the “near term”, Minister of Education Chan Chun Sing announced in Parliament on Tuesday (Jul 27).
These measures include strengthening support networks in schools, deployment of additional teacher-counsellors in schools and providing teachers with enhanced professional development on mental health literacy.
This comes after the death of a 13-year-old student at the River Valley High School earlier this month. A 16-year-old student at the same school has since been arrested and charged with murder.
About 540 students and staff from River Valley High have sought psychological support following the incident, Mr Chan revealed.
There will also be an increase of 1000 teacher-counsellors in schools, on top of the 700 counsellors now. Currently, there are at least one or two counselors in every school.
“Where feasible, we will recruit more school counsellors or re-role suitable educators, to augment the counselling support network,” said the Education Minister.
COVID-19 safe management measures in schools has allowed for face-to-face sessions in schools, but not CCAs, national school games, cohort camps and learning journeys.
He stressed on the importance of reinstating these activities, saying that these are “avenues for our young people to build bonds and to grow in a balanced way – emotionally, physically and psychologically.”
As more students get fully vaccinated, this will allow for the resumption of CCAs in the next few weeks. The Ministry of Education (MOE) is currently putting together plans on how CCAs can be conducted safely within national safe management measures.
Other measures such as dedicating more time and attention to checking in on the mental well-being of students and removing Common Last Topics (CLTs) from the 2021 GCE examinations will also take place.
Teachers will devote time at the start of every school term to check in on students and their mental well-being. They will also take that time to guide them to know how, when and where to get support and help from.
As MOE is “especially concerned for the graduating cohorts”, removing CLTs from examinations will relieve revision load and examination stress for students. All schools will also reduce the scope of examination topics for end-year examinations.
The minister also outlined security measures that schools have in place to ensure they remain safe spaces for students and staff to be in.
While there was no mention of any potential measures to be implemented, Mr Chan noted that schools have physical barriers such as fences, roller shutters, CCTVs and alarm systems that can be triggered in the event of an intrusion.
Spot-checks are conducted by security personnel and all visitors are registered before permitted entry into schools. Schools also have a School Emergency Structure to deal with emergencies to respond, recover and restore situations back to normal.
Teachers also take part in regular emergency training exercises conducted by Singapore Civil Defence Forces.
Likening schools to being a second home for many students and staff, Mr Chan pointed out that schools are a place for values to be cultivated and relationships to be built.
“I have asked myself – what would it feel like if I must empty my pockets, be frisked, and have my bag checked before stepping through my house door or school gate?”
Not wishing to compromise the quality of learning environments for students, he urged staff and students to look out for deviant behaviour and report possible threats, if any.
“COVID-19 has compounded the challenges that our young people face. Much of their usual social support, networks and routines have been disrupted, leading to prolonged periods of anxiety and loneliness for many.”
As students cope with problems of adolescence and deal with a competitive, high-performing environment, it is crucial for schools to provide a wide range of support.
MOE is implementing a revised Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum starting with lower secondary levels. This curriculum includes enhanced features on mental health education.
Students will be able to differentiate between stress and distress, as well as mental illnesses. They will also learn how to seek help before getting overwhelmed.
Schools also have a peer support system to encourage students to look out for each other, sit with a friend when they’re distressed and encourage them to seek help from a trusted adult.
In his statement, Mr Chan said that the tragic incident of River Valley High School could’ve happened outside of a school setting as well.
“We would need a whole-of-society effort to keep our children, families and community safe to avoid such an incident from happening again.”
He talked about the need to have a “communal safety net, underpinned by a caring and nurturing culture” for our society to “collectively send an unequivocal message that no one will ever be alone”.
Addressing parents, Mr Chan said: “Within our own families, we can all spend a bit of time listening to our children’s thoughts and feelings. Let them share with us what they find stressful, give them the space to share their emotions. Let us walk alongside them as they grow and learn to handle their new challenges.”
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