Student Counseling: An area of darkness

There’s a pressing need to make counseling services available in government schools, universities and colleges

CONCERN

PUPINDER S BALI

As reports of student stress and suicides because of academic, peer, and parental pressures multiply, country top schools managements have been forced to wake up to the importance of student counseling services to help children and young adults cope academically, emotionally and socially.
The tragic suicide of students reportedly because they couldn’t bear the humiliation of corporal punishment regularly inflicted upon them by their teachers, and the spate of student suicides which have been widely reported in Kashmir over the past few months, have highlighted the importance of an area of darkness in our state education system—student counseling.
The most common cause of strain and anxiety among students is the unrealistic parental expectations and pressure to secure high grades in annual examinations. Driven by the ambition to enroll their children into few high quality colleges – the annual crumble for admissions is intense, if not cut throat—thousands of well meaning parents are pushing children into a continuous round of private tuitions, intensive study sessions and cram schools. The outcome is pervasive fear of failure, paranoia and chronic depression among children. According to one estimate, in 2010-11 there were 1000 exam related suicides in entire J&K. And in nine out of ten cases, the cause of this final act of desperation was fear of parental wrath over sub-optimal academic performance.
As reports of student stress and suicides because of academic, peer , and or parental pressures multiply, our state school and college managements have to wake up to the importance of student counseling services to help children and young adults cope academically, emotionally and socially. In this new age of globalization, with the distractions of social networking websites, the 21st century steel and glass malls and speed dating, coping with the heavy burden of excelling in school and entrance exams – the prerequisite of entry into the state and neighboring states much-too-few quality colleges—has piled mountainous pressure on the state’s million youth under 21 years of age. Rampant consumerism, recreational drug usage, sexual abuse and the increasing incidence of divorce and single parent families are adding strain to an already strained situation.
In recent years, student stress and pressure has risen to alarming levels. Therefore it’s become vital for all educational institutions to provide counseling facilities delivered by professionally qualified counselors trained to listen, identify disruptive behavior and help children suffering abuse and despair, self destructive and/or suicidal tendencies. Unfortunately counseling services are available only in major cities and within a handful of progressive schools and colleges. In a state like ours counseling is not even on the radar of educational institutions. This lacuna has to be addressed urgently because the mental and psychological health of children and youth is as important as their physical wellbeing.
We can drive some comfort from Central Board of Secondary education—the largest national school leaving examinations board which has 10,000 affiliated schools countrywide—having made it mandatory for affiliated schools to offer counseling services delivered by qualified counselors. The council of Indian School Certificate examination-ICSE, which has 1571 premier affiliated schools –has also issued a directive to its schools to offer counseling facilities to students. JKBOSE and our government’s thoughts on this process is unclear.
Despite the Government directives, only some progressive schools hire professional counselors. In others, selected teachers are asked to play the role. This is very dangerous as counseling is a specialized skill for which rigorous professional training is required. JKBOSE should implement customized programs for special needs children in the state, as well as a general counseling centre offering support and advice. Counselors should advice students to deal with issues such as bullying, poor self-esteem, parental confrontation, over socialization, loneliness and problems with academic pressure. While disturbed children should be offered one to one counseling sessions, regular self awareness workshops should be organized for all students to help them develop self-esteem and positive attitudes. 
There’s a need to make counseling services available in J&K’s 15000 plus government schools, universities and colleges. The myriad problems of snowballing student stress and aberrant behavior require more than casual teacher-student interactions. It calls for active intervention by seasoned counselors. At stake is the emotional wellbeing of our state’s million children from whom J& K future leaders will emerge.  

(Pupinder S Bali is Sr. Regional Manager, Educational Initiatives. Feedback at pupinder@ei-india.com)

Lastupdate on : Sun, 2 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 2 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 3 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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