S Korean ministry's plan to curb student suicide slammed

S Korean ministry's plan to curb student suicide slammed

The government's plan released Friday to prevent suicides such as by monitoring their student social media messages sparked controversy in Korea for being ineffective and unrealistic.

The Education Ministry said it would work on introducing an application and software that would alert the parents if words suggestive of a suicide are used by a student in text and social media messages or Internet searches.

They said a similar application has already been developed by the Korea Communications Commission.

The plan also included restricting access to the rooftops of public buildings, citing that the largest number of students who committed suicide did so by jumping from buildings (65.9 per cent). The measure would require co-operation from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The announcement was quickly met with doubts from experts, who pointed to the measures' inability to address the core causes of suicide among young Koreans.

"Policies like these that focus only on the 'signs' and 'means' of suicide are meaningless," said Yi Soon-hyung, a professor of child development and family studies at Seoul National University.

"The basic reason for students committing suicide is a deep-rooted sense of loneliness and lack of self-worth. That psychological element is what must be tackled through policies that foster better communication in the family and in schools," she said.

Efficacy of the measures were also questioned. The proposed software for monitoring students' messages and social media, for example, would be useless once students learn to avoid the words being monitored.

There are also concerns about the violation of students' privacy and the possibility of parents being alerted incorrectly due to system errors.

Furthermore, the programme would only be installed on smartphones with the students' consent, raising questions about how many students would agree to use the service.

The proposal to install more safety locks on doors leading to rooftops was also seen as no more than a stopgap measure. Some critics noted that the additional safety locks could be hazardous in emergencies.

Education experts said that the overall plan, which also involved strengthening intervention and counseling systems, would do little to alleviate the fundamental problem of excessive competition and neglect in schools.

The number of suicides among students in Korea has decreased steadily from 202 cases in 2009 to 118 cases in 2014. The goal of the new plan is to bring that number down to under 100 cases.

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