Primary school students are dealing with a heavy load of issues that include family deaths, parental drug abuse, lack of utilities, abuse and peer pressure that are all having adverse effects on their learning.
And a special team of counsellors in select schools said they have found that having a shoulder to lean on helps significantly.
Kim Bryan and Latisha Bourne, two of the Sandy Lane Charitable Trust funded counsellors with four to five schools each told reporters today that they were seeing some gradual successes in dealing with students for whom behavioural challenges were mostly about more than surface problems.
Bryan outlined concerns such as, “siblings who have died, parents who abuse drugs, home situations, living social issues such as housing, electricity, some children don’t have any electricity, water, sexual abuse. We have lots of children who have lots of bereavement in their family. I met a girl who had nine.”
Bourne added that peer pressure was another issue at the primary level that they were dealing with, adding: “It is not just in secondary. Most of the time the secondary is a mere extension of the primary level because it starts there.”
There are currently five counsellors participating in the pilot programme, Bryan said, with four to five schools each, a situation that could become difficult, but they found that having a listening ear for the children helped.
“I would have to say it is quite challenging because we work within a system and the system has lots of different aspects. When we do encounter children, and each of us our case loads at time is quite large, and making sure that each child gets the necessary help and the academic does not suffer can be quite complicated depending on how complex the issue is.
“What we do try to do is work with all the other agencies that are sometimes involved, like the Child Care Board and maybe the Probation Department and whoever else to make sure that the child gets the maximum out of the education system, but it is not always possible,” said Bryan.
The two counsellors were speaking during a briefing on the ministry’s secondary summer school programme at St. George Secondary this morning. St. George Secondary is one of four schools where form one to form three students who have scored less than 35 per cent are undergoing classes during the summer vacation to help improve their performance.
This year, counsellors have been added to the programme, to help deal with the underlying problems that spill over into their academic performance.
Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Senator Harry Husbands noted that such support services were vital.
“We recognise the need for counsellors in the primary schools. However, as one can expect, to provide counsellor for every primary school, though needed and required would be a fairly massive undertaking at this time. So I think the opportunity has been used through the support of the Sandy Lane Trust to provide a number of counsellors in identified primary schools in the country.
“We need in Barbados, I think, to provide more … support services for our students, whether tertiary, secondary or primary and this really is the genesis of that programme. One would expect therefore from here again, it would grow and expand, but we need to provide generally speaking, greater support services for the students and this is how this programme has started,” he said, thanking the Trust for making the initiative possible.
“Generally speaking our society is more complicated than when I attended primary school… Our students need the counselling support, issues of drugs, issues of HIV/AIDS, the other social issues they have to battle with every day before they come into the classroom, so this kind of support is absolutely necessary.
“I would like to see a situation where each of our schools has a nurse employed at the school…, but life is a lot more complicated and our children need that kind of support,” he said.
In addition to the courses, coordinator of the St. George Secondary programme, Dr. Dawn Taylor, said they had seen positive intervention from the introduction of counsellors this year and had already seen one student who was having additional challenges being introduced to further counselling with his family.
“We need to nip them in the bud, one child at a time,” said Taylor. (LB)