River Valley High School principal, teachers put aside grief to care for students: Chan Chun Sing

The principal and teachers did not even have the time to grieve because they were running around taking care of the students under their charge.
The principal and teachers did not even have the time to grieve because they were running around taking care of the students under their charge.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - When Education Minister Chan Chun Sing arrived at River Valley High School (RVHS) after a Secondary 1 student was killed, he was struck by how the principal and teachers put aside their shock and pain to care for the students.

A group of students were waiting to be interviewed by the police, and Mr Chan stopped to speak to them.

Two of them were classmates of the Secondary 4 student accused of killing the 13-year-old boy.

Mr Chan said: "They said, 'minister, please help our friend, please take care of him.'

"In that moment of darkness, I saw grace, I saw compassion, I saw solidarity among the students and staff of River Valley High."

Mr Chan added that RVHS principal Teo Khin Hiang and the teachers did not even have the time to grieve because they were running around taking care of the students under their charge.

Mr Chan was responding to a question from Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who was one of 15 MPs who spoke during a two-hour-long debate in Parliament on Tuesday (July 27) after he delivered a ministerial statement on the death of the RVHS student last Monday.

Mr David had asked Mr Chan about ways to ensure that a tragedy like this would not happen again.

Mr Chan said Singaporeans should collectively take steps to look out for young people and give them a listening ear, and help them grow up in their own ways and find their footing.

He added that everyone must put in the effort to help build a caring and nurturing environment to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.

Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa, Nominated MP Shahira Abdullah and Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) asked how the Education Ministry (MOE) is tracking the mental health of students.

Ms Poa urged the Government to use tools like questionnaires - already used by mental health professionals - to regularly and systematically monitor mental well-being, similar to the way academic achievement and physical fitness are monitored in schools.

"Without measurement, we act and react with a blindfold," she added.

Mr Chan said MOE tracks the mental health of students but not with surveys. He added that MOE will consider her suggestion.

"But beyond looking at surveys and trends, we need to look at building a relationship of trust that would allow our youth to seek help," he added.

Ms Tan asked how Singapore was strengthening mental health discovery and support measures and if this involved a systematic way of tracking incidents.

Mr Chan said in the school system, dedicated teachers are assigned to struggling students even when they are no longer their form teachers, to build a strong relationship where students feel comfortable opening up.

He also said the community must find ways to reach out to young people who have left the school system, as they no longer have the same formal structure of support.

Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) and Ms Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) suggested extending the mental health curriculum to younger students, including those in primary school and pre-school.

Mr Chan said MOE would continue to update and extend the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum - which has components on mental health literacy and how to manage stress - to younger students.

In his reply to Ms Soh, he said MOE would examine how it can implement revisions to CCE to the upper primary levels first.

Ms He also asked about how MOE plans to combat the stigmatisation of mental health issues.

Mr Chan said: "We agree with Ms He that we must not stigmatise people who come forward to seek help. We hope that the House will help us spread this message.

"Not every distressed individual is a violent individual. The distress may express itself in withdrawal, in self harm, and perhaps only in extreme circumstances express itself in harming others."


Getting help

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)

Mental well-being

Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928/6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)/ Tinkle Friend website (Mon to Thu, 2.30pm to 7pm and Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)

Counselling

TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)