Teaching Mental Wellness in Schools

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

In a recent news release by Channel News Asia, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has formally introduced mental wellness as part of their Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) syllabus. In summary, specialized teachers will educate students about mental health during CCE lessons.

Having served as a school counsellor for more than a decade in Singapore, I am glad to hear that MOE is making an initiative to place mental wellness as part of the curriculum in schools! This shows that they are ‘formally’ recognising the importance of mental wellness for students.

In the past, MOE has tried various ways to ensure the mental and emotional wellbeing of students. For example, they came up with the role of Teacher-counsellors (teachers who are also trained in counselling) and the implementation of School Counsellors (SC) in every school since 2005, whose role is to provide support for student’s mental health.

However, every school only has one to two school counsellors, which is insufficient to support the large number of students in each school. Due to limited manpower, SCs also tend to be more reactive and engage in ‘firefighting’ – resolving problems only when they arise, such as handling students’ meltdowns – instead of working on preventive measures to ensure that problems do not arise in the first place. Paired with the intensive paperwork and needing to report to the higher management, they hardly have much time to execute preventive or psychoeducational measures.

To add on, the unfortunate reality is that every MOE officer has their own KPI to meet, and hence the effort each officer is willing to invest in these "second order" tasks differ from person to person.

Also, while it is encouraging to see MOE make a stand regarding mental wellness teaching, we must also remind ourselves that every school’s needs are very different. You cannot expect the same syllabus to work for both high achieving Integrated Programme (IP) schools (e.g. HCI , RI) and specialized schools (e.g. Spectra, APS). For example, the risk factors for mental illnesses can be very different for IP schools (e.g. academic stress) and specialized schools (e.g. discrimination, learning disabilities). MOE will need to consider this carefully, and assess whether the new mental health syllabus is applicable to every school.

Perhaps what can work is to allow schools to have the autonomy to customize what best suits their students rather than use a “one size fits all” standardized set of materials. One possible way is to have a range of topics which different schools can select and teach based on their own needs.

It is NEVER easy to teach topics related to mental wellness in school, especially mental and emotional resilience. However, it is never too late to start!