Counselling in Schools

Most progressive schools are acutely aware that the twenty first century child needs far more than the “learning by rote” taught through traditional “chalk-and-talk” techniques. The emphasis is moving significantly from “teaching” to “learning”. As in any other field, education in today’s competitive world needs to be result-oriented, and the result one aims for is no longer just the degrees and diplomas a child can acquire.

Needs of the twenty-first century child

From examples like Bill Gates, to innumerable success stories in India itself, we are painfully aware that paper qualifications can no longer be deemed to be the passport for a good future. In 1984 Howard Gardner elaborated on the fact that there are at least eight different intelligences that a human possesses, and the traditional education system hardly helps in cultivating one or two of them. A decade later, Daniel Goleman, in his book titled Emotional Intelligence, brought to the notice of the common man that Emotional Intelligence (measured as EQ) is far more significant than the traditional IQ.

Gardner and Goleman have been more than proven right in this decade. In the era of Information Technology, one does not need to cram up one’s head with long division, square roots, or Wren and Martin’s grammar. Children of this era will succeed if they can understand their own emotions, manage them, be motivated from time to time, understand and be able to analyze what is going on in others’ minds, and build social skills. This is what EQ is all about – and unlike IQ which is inherited through one’s genes, EQ can be built up in a child to any level.

Understanding the child

In the 1970’s I had the privilege of being taught by a guest faculty during my engineering days at IIT Bombay. His name is Sharu Rangnekar, and he is a legend in simplifying management jargon to harsh reality of day-to-day life. His books In the Wonderland of Management, and Learn Management from your Wife made people sit up and think far beyond established theories and complicated techniques. Sharu said something very significant that has echoed in my ears for the past three decades. He said, “If you want to teach Ramu Mathematics, it is not enough to know Mathematics, you should also know Ramu!”

This Mantra has guided me in the field of counselling, particularly in dealing with young people. I realized that motivating a child, removing his mental blocks, showing him light at the end of the gloomy classwork-homework tunnel, and understanding and acknowledging his needs, can make him learn by himself. Like Martin Luther King Jr, I too have a dream. I dream that the day will come when children will run to school and walk back home, instead of the other way round as they do now. I dream that the natural curiosity of the child will not be suppressed, but will be allowed to blossom – so much so that he will crave for learning, and not have to learn for tests or home work. I have a dream, that one day the new generation will feel the joy of this fast expanding world, and be able to break the classroom walls and step out into nature. I have a dream that one day teachers will be redundant, and all that the students will require are facilitators in their thrilling and adventurous learning process.

Mother Teresa said, “What I am doing is a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would have been poorer without this drop”. The same way, a change has to be initiated in the process of education, even if it has to be done drop-by-drop. The first step would obviously be to start understanding the Ramus of today, individually. This in turn will lead to a better rapport, freer communication, and a deeper understanding. Armed with this, the educator will only have to, in the words of our illustrious former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, “ignite the minds of the children,” and happily sit back and watch them zoom towards their goals, with the sky NOT being the limit.

This is where the role of counselling comes in. In reality every true teacher is already a counselor, and is doing her best to give emotional support to her students. The need of the hour is to empower her and strengthen her skills so that she can become more effective, and keep herself abreast of the changing needs of twenty-first century children. The teacher also needs to be given support in the form of additional counselors who will not only lighten the burden of the teacher, but will also be sounding boards and supplementary forces in the teacher’s mission.

What is Counselling?

Even before we begin the process of providing counselling support to students, we need to be absolutely clear on what the concept is. Counselling is NOT – giving advice, solving problems, ensuring discipline or keeping the children quiet during free periods. The simplest way I can define counselling, is that “it is a process of encouraging and motivating a person to share feelings; and empowering him to either resolve his issues, or cope with them”. Counselling is very important whenever there is a crisis, but its relevance goes far beyond crisis situations. Facilitative counselling helps in healthy and overall growth of children, guiding them gently in the right direction, strengthening their ability to take right decisions, to delay gratification, to understand themselves and others. At the same time preventive counselling can help those who are likely to go off-track, children who are moving towards addictions, unacceptable behavior, or wrong relationships, those who are getting distracted from their goals, or those who are feeling lonely and isolated.

The parent cannot be a “counselor” because the parent’s emotions are closely entwined with the emotions of the child. It is very difficult for parents to take an objective view of their child, and remain detached when they hear him out and watch him falter or take wrong decisions. While parents are the most important role models and providers of emotional security, they cannot play the role of counselors – because the counselor has to be one who allows the individual freedom of choice to live his own life. The ideal person to counsel children and adolescents hence is the teacher. She is one person who not only spends a lot of time with the child, but also has occasion to observe and understand his behavior and his emotions.

Counselling by teachers can be divided into three categories

  1. Every teacher should be given some inputs and basic understanding of child behavior, and the skills to identify those who may require personal help. If all the teachers are made competent to do this, no child requiring emotional support will be left unattended. Once the needs of any child are identified, the teacher can decide whether she has the time and inclination to go deeper into the case and to try and help out herself – or whether to seek the help of another colleague.
  2. A few selected teachers in every school should be given rigorous training in counselling not only children, but also parents as and when required. In fact these teachers can at times be very useful to their own colleagues who may be going through some emotional trauma. The school can identify those teachers who have a natural flair for such work, and already seem to have empathizing skills – and send them for training. Such teachers need not necessarily have studied psychology, but they should be subsequently encouraged to take up distance learning psychology courses to enhance their knowledge.
  3. At least one or two trained counselors, depending on the size of the school and the emotional needs of the children, should be available on part or full time basis. Such individuals should not be burdened with classroom teaching. On the other hand, these counselors could be given classes for Group Interaction, where they can encourage the children to come out in the relative comfort of their friends’ company, with issues that are important to them. The counselor can take them through group counselling sessions on various life skills, interpersonal relationships, management of emotions, etc., and this in turn will pave the way for the students to approach her individually. If there is likely to be a stigma, the counselor can be labeled as a “Life Skills Coach.”

There is no doubt that such emotional support, individual or group counselling, and dealing with the child’s emotions, can pave the way not only for better discipline, but also for better learning. In this era where behavioral scientists are predicting that 80% of one’s success, fulfillment and enjoyment in life will depend on the person’s Emotional Intelligence, counselling can be a very effective method of providing the right platform for the overall growth of every student, and schools that produce these wonderful citizens can indeed be proud of their achievement.

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