by Mariyam Nuzuha
Students’ well-being and mental health are two key concerns that have to be duly attended in a school. School counselors play a major role in students’ mental health. They are professionally trained to practice counseling and licensed by Allied Health Council in the Maldives. The school counselors are unfortunately treated as a dull part of a school system. No government school has properly established a school counseling system. Hence, this is also one key areas pertaining to education the government of Maldives needs to focus on, support and the development.
Why hasn’t it been perfected in the Maldivians schools?
My research for the bachelor’s degree was based on the experience of school counselors: the challenges encountered when dealing with Attention Deficit Hyper Active students. During the data analysis, it was identified that there is no particular policy written for the school counselors. Therefore, there is no strategized – systematic structure for school counselors to operate with consistency and a the absence of a regulated monitoring system restricts the performance of school counselors. The Ministry of Education of Maldives needs to think deeply and implement a better system for counselors in schools.
Once I was a school counselor hired by an international school under the category of Ministry of Education Mandate for school counselors. It was a school that poured concern over my graduation while I was in the last year of my degree pushing me to a hell hole at the work. Later it transformed into an abusive work environment as I was abruptly asked to report to an foreign individual hired on outsourcing basis to implement a new counselling approach which absolutely had no compliance with the counseling needs of the said school. This uncommunicataed abrupt intrution was also breaching the conditions in my employment contract and the refusal to comply with it led to the termination of my employment as the school counseller. This resulted a mental break down and as a professional mental health worker, I was perceived with an obligatio not to react emotionally. Everything that I went through was because there was no open communication about school counseling and the abuse of power of school management! I have insisted the management on caring for the mental well being of the staff! Despite constant emotional abuse, I resolved to fight against these violations of the counseling practice in the school system and sought the attention of the Ministry of Education towards them. I aim to make things right and work to develop the weak areas in the field of school counseling staring from establishing a proper counseling system in the schools of Maldives!
Maldivian school counselors are not valued for their work; mostly their words are not heard by school leaders. A lot of school counselors whose names I will keep anonymous have shared the loop holes in their working environments: having no proper station to work, the absence of a filing system and a written policy are the leading issues reported. The interventions of most counselors are disregarded and they are not paid well on top of expecting them to involve in the other activities of the school. When their words are not valued, it highlights the fact that their work is not recognized! These malpractices are not well monitored by MOE.
I was a student of the first batch of counselors in the Maldives and the course is offered by Avid College. Due to personal factors, I was not able to graduate with the first batch, however, managed to finish the modules by now. Being an educator for more than 25 years, I pledge to develop school counselors and started my work in a school. I also believe that a school counselor must learn the teaching methods and classroom management and possess knowledge on educational pychology. However, I was well aware that not all counselors have a fresh degree. My experience in teaching has taught me a lot to deal with students in different age groups.
Moreover, school counselors should also be thorough with the school system. General counseling may prepare someone to deal with the mental issues, however it is relevant to understand the education systems. A school counselor requires to obtain a counselor license issued by Allied Health Counsel . This has to be coordinated by both MOE and the Ministery of Health in order to bring changes necessary as soon as possible.
The student’s brain is a developing system that requires consistant support and the Maldive’s mental health is still premature in the society. It is also a building-up system that fruit is not bearing. The irony is, knowing these facts, under a different license, school counselors have been practicing counseling in schools. For mere compliance with the rules, the school counselors are asked to practice mental health while no professional training is provided. To deal with the concerns based on students’ emotional intelligence and issues for which students have not developed coping skill yet requires a trained counselor with experience. Failing to offer counseling support for students to deal with the issues can cause the situation get worse. I have been able to get parents and teachers to agree on certain issues when addressing behavioural issues triggered neurologically. Especially children who are diagnosed with ADHD and their impulsive behaviors is neurological and needs support.
With immediate effect, MOE needs to establish a school counseling system. By writing a policy, developing a data storage system: an app for which the access can be granted for each school. In addition, it is necessary to organize regular meetings with MOE creating a platform to pitch the concerns of the counselors apart from bringing new ideas and approaches to help improve the schooling experience of the students in Maldives. Formal research can be funded/organized to investigate issues in the field of school counseling for its very growth
School counselors are one of the pillars of the school. We need well-trained school counselors for this country.