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Too few school counsellors

by Marlon Madden
4 min read
Margaret Grant

Guidance counsellors across the education system are under tremendous pressure having to deal with three times the ideal number of students.

This assessment has come from President of the Barbados Association of Guidance Counsellors (BAGC) Margaret Grant, who is calling on individuals and organisations across the island to help provide guidance for students who were experiencing “difficulties”.

She said while guidance counsellors would receive help from various community leaders and associations in cash or kind, they were still under pressure.

“Sometimes we only see crisis when they really happen, but many times there are signals that we tend to ignore. We need to, as a people, wake up and recognize that all of our children need help, not just the ones that you might think have issues. We have children in every school that need help,” Grant told reporters at the 13th National Career Showcase at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Every public secondary school in Barbados currently has one guidance counsellor, with the exception of St George Secondary and St Leonard’s Boys’ School, that have two each.

At the same time, Deputy Chief Education Officer responsible for schools Joy Adamson revealed that the Ministry of Education currently has only two social workers and one senior psychologist to man all the secondary and primary schools.

However, she said the Sandy Lane Charitable Trust has provided an additional six individuals to give assistance at the primary school level and other non-governmental organisations were giving a helping hand.

Adamson said that Government was aware of the situation and was working to make sure that the needed resources were made available over time.

Grant told reporters that the situation of one guidance counsellor for up to 1,100 students was “really not saying anything”.

“I say that because for the model that we use it is really designed for one counsellor to 250 students. So when you look at having one counsellor in a school of 900, 1,000 or 1,100, we are really disadvantaging the children,” said Grant.

She said, ideally, each secondary school in Barbados needed a guidance counsellor, a psychologist and a social worker in order to effectively tackle the myriad of challenges students were faced with and to help guide them in the areas of career and personal development.

Grant explained that besides how to cope with concerns relating to puberty, students needed to be taught health and family life education, how to deal with social issues and burdens, as well as career planning.

“It is not just the children who come out of crisis situations . . . we are faced with situations every day, there are follow up cases that you have to see,” said Grant, who explained that sometimes there were walk-in cases that required guidance counsellors to “drop everything and do crisis intervention”.

“Then you have bereavement counselling, you have children who are abused, children who have poor self-esteem, who are struggling in school and have lost interest in school. These are real problems. Then you have children who want to get out of a situation, they are carrying the burden so to speak, for the family or the community. We see it every day, and as counsellors our heart goes out to these children because we can only do so much,” she added.

The trained guidance counsellor said while some people would argue that parents of some of those students could seek help from a private psychologist or psychiatrist, many of them simply could not afford it.

“We need urgent help. So I would reiterate that, yes, I understand the economic situation in Barbados right now but I think we need to recognise that a team effort is needed,” said Grant, who said more help from the community was also required.

It was in her mini-budget last June that Prime Minister Mia Mottley first announced that a special scheme would be implemented, which would see the introduction of school safety officers, social workers and guidance counsellors.

However, she said given the financial constraints, the initiative would initially cover only seven schools.

“In addition we will introduce a new designation of Master Teacher so that we may allow our best teachers to remain in teaching and to be compensated in so doing,” said Mottley, who pointed out that this, along with initiatives to address issues relating to nurses, would cost government approximately $6 million.

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