by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
The South Korean government has been developing a number of smartphone apps to help warn parents when their child might be at risk for suicide, the Education Ministry announced Friday.
The ministry is hoping to introduce the apps immediately, as they are programmed to detect “suicide-related” trigger words used by children on social networks, messages or Internet searches from their phones. The children’s parents would then receive an alert from the app on their own phone.
The apps are not mandatory for parents to use, but the hope is to bring down South Korea’s alarmingly high suicide rate, which is one of the highest among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations. According to the Education Ministry, 878 students took their own lives between 2009 and 2014, including 118 last year.
The suicides peak during the months when students study for the extremely competitive national college entrance exam, while the most common causes are listed as problems at home, then depression, grades and career concerns. A survey by the Korea Health Promotion Foundation also found that over half of South Korean teens aged 14 to 19 have had suicidal thoughts.
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union raised privacy concerns over the app, adding that the app did not address systematic problems. They also said the exam system itself was also in need of reviewing.