Hong Kong schools
Primary school students study during their visit to a national education centre in Hong Kong in 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The Hong Kong government has announced that schools will receive better student counselling support from a team of psychologists after four pupils committed suicide in five days. However, critics have said that the move fails to address the fundamental problems in the education system that puts so much pressure on students.

Other measures introduced include seminars and lectures by psychologists to enable teachers and parents to identify emotional problems early, The Education Bureau announced the measures following an emergency meeting on 10 March with representatives from schools, parents and professionals.

A primary school headmaster, Fung Pik-yee, from Aplichau Kaifong Primary School in Ap Lei Chau however was not impressed. He said the bureau failed to respond to a demand for at least one psychologist to be based in each school. He said the measures introduced did not address the fundamental problems in the system.

He said there is only one psychologist for every six primary schools. This meant that a psychologist could only visit each school 12 times a school year, which was not enough. She slammed the bureau's unwillingness to provide more resources for schools to hire permanent teachers as the current staff have no time to help depressed students.

"The bureau is only scratching the surface with these measures," she told South China Morning Post. She pointed out that the fundamental cause of the problem was the score-oriented education system that was putting increasing pressure on schools, parents and children.

Dr Ng Shun-wing, the head of the Institute of Education's department of education policy agreed, saying: "If the education system is not reviewed, [the measures] won't make a difference." Last year, tens of thousands of parents signed a petition urging the bureau to drop assessments for Primary 3 pupils as it led to excessive drilling and homework.

According to the newspaper, since September last year, there have been 22 suicides involving students. This included 12 secondary pupils as young as 11 years old and 10 university students. The Samaritan Befrienders which runs a suicide prevention hotline plans to extend the duration of its daily online chat forum from 8pm to 2am.

In a study conducted by the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service and the Institute of Education, just over half of secondary school pupils in Hong Kong showed signs of depressing. The study surveyed about 10,000 pupils. The survey found that almost 24% of pupils had considered committing suicide two weeks before the survey, with around 1.8% saying they would do so if they had a chance.