Coroner: Failures are temporary
State Coroner rules death of Primary 5 boy a suicide
Parents and educators should always remind the children under their care that failures are temporary.
They should also remind every child that their efforts in studying may not always yield a commensurate result.
State Coroner Marvin Bay said this as he delivered his findings yesterday, following an inquiry into the death of an 11-year-old boy who jumped from the 17th storey of a Sengkang block of flats in May.
Coroner Bay, who found the Primary 5 pupil's death to be a deliberate act of suicide, said: "Parents and educators should also constantly reassure them that they will always be there to help the child through each stumble, winding turn and setback in their education journey."
The boy is not named to protect his identity.
On Thursday, the court heard that the boy had never fared poorly in his examinations from Primary 1 to 4, and scored an average of about 70 marks.
His mother, a housewife, also expected him to score at least 70 marks for each subject.
But he failed two papers - Higher Chinese and mathematics - in his most recent mid-year exam.
Out of 100 marks, he scored 50 for English, 53.8 for Chinese and 57.5 for science. He fared poorly in two subjects, scoring 12 marks for Higher Chinese and 20.5 for mathematics.
Coroner Bay said: "(His mother) admitted to imposing corporal punishment of caning (the boy) on his palm 'lightly' for every mark he fell short of her stipulated standard of 70 per cent.
"She was flexible in this regard, and would set-off his higher grade in a stronger subject, against a grade below 70 per cent in a particular subject that he was weaker in, and only impose strokes of caning on the net deficit."
DIP IS COMMON
The boy's principal had said that pupils tend to see a dip in their results in Primary 5 because of changes in the exam format to prepare them for the Primary School Leaving Exam.
Coroner Bay said: "(The principal) had arranged for parent communication sessions on the first Saturday of Term 1, when parents would attend a briefing at school where the teachers would share with parents the 'expectations for the year'.
"There were also parent-teacher conferences conducted at the end of each term for parents to meet the teachers and receive updates."
These sessions were optional and the principal had noted that the boy's parents did not attend them this year.
The boy knew his results a few days before he died but told his mother that his results were average.
He was getting ready to go to school and was supposed to bring his papers home on May 18 when he decided to jump from his bedroom window.
A paramedic pronounced him dead at the scene around 7am that day.
The cause of death was found to be multiple injuries, consistent with those sustained after a person had fallen from height.
Yesterday, Coroner Bay said: "It is widely understood that exam and study stress play a significant role in the development of suicidal ideation among those as young as (the boy).
"It was most unfortunate in this case that (he) appeared to have difficulty in understanding, and coming to terms with his precipitous fall in his grades."
It is widely understood that exam and study stress play a significant role in the development of suicidal ideation among those as young as (the boy).
- State Coroner Marvin Bay
If you are in emotional distress, you can get help from:
Samaritans of Singapore (24-hour hotline)
Singapore Association for Mental Health
Care Corner Counselling Centre (in Mandarin)
Mental Health Helpline
Comments by The New Paper readers
Since our report on the death of the Primary 5 boy was posted on The New Paper's social media, there have been more than 8,000 shares and about 800 comments on Facebook. Here are some of the comments, including this post from a reader:
"An 11-year-old boy falls to his death after failing his school mid-year exams. If this is a suicide, then this is yet another severe and bitter indictment of our culture and way of life here.
Our society and school system, especially the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), is just too hyper-competitive, and our children live under huge pressure to be successful from a very young age. It is terrifying to think that exam results may have been the main suicide reason.
The stresses directly related to living and being brought up in Singapore is simply proving to be too much, especially for more sensitive and young individuals.
The number of student suicides are alarming and probably understated. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves, the systems and structures that have contributed to this crisis.
I am advocating for more probing questions to be asked. Singapore's wealthy population may be the happiest, or the unhappiest, or least positive in the world, depending on who you ask.
But one thing is for sure and that is that we put too much pressure on our young children to get top marks for exams because of the PSLE system and we need to change this.
I am afraid that format changes already proposed simply don't go far enough in substance to address the systemic roots of this crisis."
- Khush Chopra
"It is time for parents to realise that not every child is the same. Do not compare your child's grades with the grades of other children."
- Josephine Soo
"Parents... Results are a combination of factors, and the love and environment you provide are some key contributing factors. The only thing you want from them is to be a happy child. Your job is to build love, encouragement and confidence in them."
- Dek Liewh Tiew
"Punishment for failing the goal set for them does not always work. Talk about the things they did right instead, put focus on how they have improved. The emphasis should be more on building character, not on immediate results at such an age."
- Colin Chee
"We need to reconsider the notion of success, one that isn't based off academic results but happiness." - Ian Wong
"Schools should work to identify kids suffering physical/non-sexual abuses at home too for early intervention. There should be no more such cases in future."
- Jack Klu Soh