Gaokao suicides prompt mental health row

Updated: 2013-06-26 20:47


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JINAN - Concerns have been raised about Chinese students' mental health following four cases in which children killed themselves after performing poorly on college entrance exams earlier this month.

Four middle school students -- two from Northeast China's Liaoning province, one from Central China's Hubei province and one from Southwest China's Sichuan province, killed themselves after receiving poor scores on the "gaokao," or national college entrance exams.

The exams were held from June 7 to 9 and were taken by about 9 million students.

In the most recent suicide, a 20-year-old student in Sichuan's city of Chongzhou drank pesticide and died on Saturday after finding out that her scores were not high enough to allow her to enter college.

"She did not know there are actually many other roads. To live with an active attitude is the best return for parents," said the girl's father.

Gaokao suicides have occurred annually for the last several years.

"A failure in the national exam does not mean a failure for a person's whole life. People should view setbacks properly," said Ma Yugen, a psychology professor at Sichuan University.

The gaokao is regarded as the only path to institutions of higher learning and represent the greatest opportunity for students to change their lives for the better.

But the suicides of some applicants have raised concern regarding how students can be taught to be strong in the face of failure.

"A student is a person first of all. We should adopt all-around education and put 'personality education' first instead of prioritizing knowledge," said Jin Weisong, headmaster of the No. 5 Middle School in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning.

The current education environment exaggerates the importance of knowledge, Jin said, adding that educators should place more importance on physical education, mental health and students' sense of responsibility.

The suicides indicate that expectations and pressure from parents are too high, said Ye Bin, a mental health researcher at East China Normal University.

The students are overwhelmed by their failures, as their only goal is to pass the exams, according to Ye.

"My son bore too much pressure. I always asked him to learn from excellent students," said the mother of an exam participant surnamed Yu from Liaoning. He left his home shortly after the end of the exams and his body was retrieved from a river a few days later. Police confirmed he killed himself.

The current generation of single children, a result of the country's one-child family planning policy, tend to be very fragile when dealing with setbacks, said a middle school principal surnamed Liu from Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province.

In many schools, mental health services are unprofessional and only available on a temporary basis, said a psychologist who requested anonymity.

Quality education should be promoted substantially in order to liberate students from their focus on obtaining high scores, according to Sun Yunxiao, deputy director of the China Youth and Children Research Center.

Traditional views regarding vocational education should be changed and the status of technicians should be recognized so that students will be more willing to consider different options, Sun said.