There is no question that there is a need for counselling in schools. Schools in Goa are no exception. Life has changed incredibly over the last 20-30 years with the growth of technology and the emergence of the nuclear family.
Parenting styles have also altered with an increasing number of latchkey children. There is felt a lack of guidance, creating a need for the children to be heard and have someone to confide their problems.
The Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights under the leadership of Peter F Borges has done much to bring about a change in the lives of children in Goa, especially the underprivileged and oppressed.
The Commission organised a joint meeting on April 13, 2023, at the Conference Hall, Secretariat, to discuss the status of counselling services in a school setting and ways to strengthen the same. The meeting saw representatives from the Child Rights Commission, the Directorate of Education, the Psychiatric Society of Goa and Sangath.
At the meeting, Peter F Borges said, “Children spend most of their time in school and their problems can be identified, dealt with and improved through counselling. Thus, avoiding big damages."
During their school years, children are extremely vulnerable and need a safe space and a neutral, non-judgemental counsellor who understands their feelings and helps them to vent their feelings and emotions, he said.
School children are encountering a host of psychological problems these days, such as depression, anxiety, school refusal, gaming disorders, relationship problems, conflict with parents, using gadgets excessively, insomnia, suicide attempts, substance abuse, and learning and behavioural problems.
Another problem of growing concern, according to Borges, is undetected adolescent pregnancies in advanced stages being found in the school setting, arising out of abuse as well as romantic relationships. These children have no access to counsellors, he added.
The following recommendations were put forth by the Commission with inputs from stakeholders to be able to increase and improve mental health interventions in educational institutions.
1) There should be a counselling scheme that has universal coverage in schools. At present, only 295 schools are covered with 85 counsellors, implemented by Goa Educational Development Corporation.
2) There also needs to be a long-term plan to create and introduce an exclusive permanent position of counsellors in all schools to address the huge mental health gap that has been emerging lately as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
3) An environment needs to be created for counsellors by the management to be able to exercise their roles to the best of their capability. Counsellors should be included in decision-making, which is dominated by mainstream teachers and administrators. While the demand for counsellors in schools should be promoted, they cannot be a replacement for teachers.
4) The Revision of the Standard Operating Procedure maintained by Goa Educational Development Corporation to bring in more defined clarity of roles for the counsellor, including preventive education and timely reporting of abuse cases, will lead to better mental health outcomes and handling of cases in keeping with the law.
5) The Commission has proposed a capacity-building module for counsellors developed by Sangath to address all the contemporary issues of students.
The commission hopes that these recommendations implemented in Goa. It opined that with these changes in place, the children of Goa will receive the help they sorely need, significantly impacting their mental health and lives.