Tragedy a sad lesson in human fragility

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Mar 2019

Development has been swift since a teacher at a Tin Shui Wai primary school committed suicide by jumping from the sixth floor of the building allegedly in protest against bullying at work by the principal.

It was a very sad incident. Life is precious and at ideally, one might just change jobs for a new environment.

Tung Wah Group of Hospitals has been in a crisis mode ever since, with chairman Vinci Wong Yin-chi leading the management to contain the crisis at the group's Leo Tung-hai Primary School.

Their actions have been appropriate so far - first, letting principal Law Yuen-yee go on extended leave; and second, undertaking to set up a committee to conduct a wide-ranging investigation, not merely looking into the incident itself, but also other issues about the school management and teacher appraisals.

Officially, Law has taken sick leave due to emotional stress following 48-year-old teacher Lam Lai-tong's suicide last Wednesday and, according to Wong, isn't expected not to return to school for some time.

There have been numerous reports about the principal for the past several days, including allegations that she had ordered Lam back to work from sick leave, and to write a repentance letter. Were those accounts fact or hearsay?

To be fair, the principal must be given the opportunity to defend herself after the committee is formed and the probe started.

Critics, including Professional Teachers' Union president Fung Wai-wah, have called on Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung to conduct an independent investigation into Lam's suicide, rather than leaving the matter to the school sponsoring body to handle it.

It's difficult to see any conflicts between the two. While Yeung should be free to take measures he deems necessary to ensure a probe is performed without prejudice, the SAR's oldest and largest charity group shouldn't be prevented from doing its part to find the truth, and introduce remedies to fix problems discovered as a result.

Wong has demonstrated a sincerity in solving the crisis. Maybe he can do it better than Yeung.

This suicide has revealed another sad aspect that many people may have ignored - teachers are also humans and, as such, they're sometimes vulnerable.

It's a mistake to assume teachers are invincible once they're in their job role.

While the government has been ready to commit extra resources to supporting students, for instance, by raising the number of social workers per school to two to handle students' emotional problems, teachers are often mistaken as super heroes who have endless energy to tackle challenges of all kinds - when they actually don't.

That is a misconception also applying to doctors, nurses, bus drivers, and so on.

Should support be available to teachers too? Wong confirmed that Lam had tried to seek help by visiting the Tung Wah group's headquarters to lodge a complaint on the eve of her suicide, and conceded they could have handled her complaint in a better way.

The public is now watching if Tung Wah can complete the investigation thoroughly and impartially as promised.

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