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With Serious Lack of School Counsellors, Are We Failing Our Kids?

India has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world, yet credible school counsellors are woefully lacking.

Updated
Mind It
3 min read
Less than 3 per cent schools in Delhi-NCR have full time school counsellors.
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Here’s a disturbing statistic. Less than 3 per cent private schools in Delhi-NCR employ full-time counsellors. This despite a Central Board of Secondary Education guideline that makes it mandatory for schools to have them on board.

In a recent case, a 15-year-old student of a private Delhi school committed suicide at her residence in Noida, allegedly because of harassment by two teachers who first threatened and then failed her in their subject. An FIR has been registered against them.

Earlier this year, a class VII student threatened his teacher and her daughter with rape on his Facebook page. The case brought to light not just the need for good counsellors, but also the complexity of their role today.

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With India having perhaps the worst teen suicide rate in the world, where one student commits suicide every hour, role of school counsellors, and safe spaces for children to talk, becomes even more important.

What Does a School Counsellor Do?

One needs a master’s degree in psychology or other allied fields like sociology or human development to qualify to become a school counsellor in India. There is no specific university qualification that focuses specifically on professional ‘school’ counselling.

And of the 3 per cent of schools that do employ these counsellors, how many actually utilise their skills correctly?

Speaking to FIT, Swarnima Bhargava, a clinical psychologist at Children First, says quite often the management doesn’t know what to do with the counsellors. They are rarely included in decision-making, that is dominated by mainstream teachers and administrators.

They will either use them for administrative work, or to take that one psychology class, or to teach English. How successful a counsellor is depends upon what the management expects them to do.
Swarnima Bhargava
10 to 18 years is when children are most vulnerable to abuse - emotional, physical and sexual.
10 to 18 years is when children are most vulnerable to abuse - emotional, physical and sexual.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Quite often counsellors are seen as spies for the school administration. Students don’t feel comfortable approaching them for advise.

“In our cultural context, a child is not seen as an individual. The counsellor is also answerable to so many people, the school administration, the parents. It’s so important to recognise that the student is an individual and he/she has a right to privacy,” says Swarnima.

While many counsellors are keen to explore student problems and issues, most schools will limit their role to career guidance. Sudeshna Nath, a counsellor with a private school in NCR says their role is three-fold.

We take on three aspects of counselling: academic, behavioural and career guidance. We work at multiple levels with students. Our first step is preventive and early intervention. To prevent the children from reaching a place of harm.
Sudeshna Nath, School Counsellor, DPS, Vasundhra

Why Are School Counsellors So Important?

Ten to eighteen years is when children are most vulnerable to abuse - emotional, physical and sexual. According to Indian Council of Medical Research, around 12 per cent to 13 per cent students suffer from emotional, behavioural and learning problems. Early detection becomes key, and that is missing. As a result, crisis management becomes the norm.

Children First works with schools to help them build structures and programmes. They carry out regular training workshops with teachers, students and work with the community as a whole.

It’s not enough to just have a counsellor on board. You need to train your entire faculty to recognise problems and address them. It has to be a continuous process of learning.
Swanima Bhargava

With a serious lack of professionals, those who suffer the most are students who can’t cope with the mainstream, who don’t get the help they need on time, and unable to keep up with stress, take the extreme step.

(Looking for help? Reach out to this list of safe mental health professionals compiled by The Health Collective)

(Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

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