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Is the educational system making Singapore youth anxious?

Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health (IMH) reported that more and more teenagers from top schools are seeking help to resolve their school-related stress and that stress-related anxiety and depressive disorders were common conditions seen at its Child Guidance Clinics

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In 2018, a global study indicated that Singapore students experience higher levels of anxiety than those coming from other countries.

Recently, Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health (IMH) reported that more and more teenagers from top schools are seeking help to resolve their school-related stress and that stress-related anxiety and depressive disorders were common conditions seen at its Child Guidance Clinics.

While IMH does not have statistics on cases related to school stress, Dr. Lim Choon Guan, senior consultant and deputy chief of IMH’s department of developmental psychiatry, confided that “Over the past few years, I have seen more teenagers in our clinic who are from top schools and report experiencing school-related stress.”

Increasing pressure in school

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Associate Professor Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education said that the types and levels of pressure confronting young people today have skyrocketed.

 

While it is true that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has inflated the university cohort to provide more chances and opportunities, young learners are still confronted with stressors, he added.

 

“Now it is not just about going to university but also getting into the best courses and prestigious schools,” the professor said.

 

Citing how the rise of social media has created self-image issues, Prof. Tan also remarked, “Now students are not just competing with their classmates or peers, they are exposed to youth around the world.”

 

This may lead them to have unrealistic expectations. “Unfortunately, there are not enough safeguards in place. Mental health issues are silent, invisible killers,” he added.

 

“Loosening up” to reduce stress

Singapore’s education system has taken the initiative to “loosen up” in order to reduce the stress that students are facing, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in one interview.

 

Just recently, the Ministry of Education has introduced more flexibility. These include moving away from a rigid T-score in the Primary School Leaving Examination to a wider grade band system, returning to the original aim of recognising non-academic abilities through the Direct School Admission, and adopting aptitude-based entry to higher institutions.

 

“We must remove that do-or-die mentality for every checkpoint, so that even if you don’t do so well, it’s okay,” Mr. Ong said at the opening ceremony of a pre-university seminar at the Nanyang Technological University.

 

Stress from all directions

Aside from academic pressure, parenting experts say that children are also confronted with stress from different sources such as having too many enrichment classes and other activities, relationships with their peers, teachers’ expectations and bullying.

 

Ms. Mok Sook Fern, a clinical psychologist at the Department of Paediatrics, National University Hospital said that older children and teenagers are also being confronted with stress related to feelings making them feel that they need to keep up with their peers online.

 

Besides helping them learn when to switch off from technology, “it is important to teach children that stress is normal and expected in a developed society,” she adds.

 

“Getting rid of stress is impossible. What is most important is how they can effectively manage their stress so that their physical and mental well-being is cared for.”

 

Making sure that young people have adequate exercise and sleep are among the simplest ways of reducing stress, experts say.

 

Establishing “emotional safety” and strong family relationships is also important, says Ms Kelvyanne Teoh, a principal therapist with Morning Star Community Services.

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