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Strikes: Ministry refocuses on counselling

NAIROBI, July 31 – The Ministry of Education plans to aggressively embark on guidance and counselling programs in secondary schools as a mitigation measure against perennial students’ unrest, an official has revealed.

Speaking to Capital News the officer in charge of guidance and counselling (G&C) at the Ministry, Agnes Odawa admitted that schools across the country had a weak counselling system owing to inadequate resources and capacity.

Odawa has however insisted that school administrators ought to be innovative.

“Schools are supposed to do with what they have and ensure that they have a strong department,” she stated.

She was however quick to add that guidance should not be used as an alternative to punishment.

 “Let discipline take its toll, then counselling will come,” she intimated.

As student strikes persist many have touted guidance and counselling as key to averting indiscipline which has featured prominently as a major cause of the chaos.

Although the government has developed a policy paper on the system in schools, it has failed to cascade implementation structures down the system leaving it a free-for-all environment.

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With this, its implementation depends on the good will of school administrators.

Secondly even though the Teachers Service Commission posts one G & C teacher per secondary school they are usually overwhelmed by other teaching responsibilities and as such fail to meet their obligations.

To overcome these challenges, experts have advised that the Ministry should mainstream basic guidance and counselling skills into the curriculum to make it a responsibility of all teachers to inculcate the skills with other studies.

Besides, schools are pushing for the guidance and counselling teachers to be exempted from other responsibilities so that they can concentrate solely on the department.

Education consultant Emma Wachira says entrenching basic life skills into normal learning would be key in shaping behaviour and helping students deal with their challenges.

 “Once this is effected, generally, they will be able to face life better; they will be all-rounded not just academically but they will also have better interpersonal relationship skills. Conflicts will also be reduced and this will go a long way in promoting good behaviour,” Wachira said.

On her part Kiambu West G&C patron, Florence Wamakima says there is need to train all teachers and even the parents extensively.

“When the principal and the deputy are counsellors there is no antagonism with the head of the G & C department. The deputy is able to combine both the discipline and the counselling,” Wamakima said.

“You cannot force a student to go to a certain teacher; (the student) must be free with the teacher. So you cannot timetable it and say that this is the time you ought to go.”

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Odawa on the other hand insist that parents too need to take part in guiding their children and preserving the gains made by teachers.

“It cannot be done by one party, teachers, peers, parents must join in,” she voiced.

Although various education task forces have identified counselling as a solution to problems in schools, curriculum developers are yet to implement the recommendations. The Ministry has however hinted that a course on life skills could be out next year.

The role of prefects too is central in safeguarding discipline in learning institutions. Although some have also been featured prominently in the planning of strikes, ideally they ought to be the administration’s eye.

 “We act as intermediaries between the students and the teachers so that there is no communication breakdown,” noted James Karanja, School Captain at Rungiri Secondary school.

An interesting concept is one of training a group of students and using them to reach out to their peers. They act as role models and do referrals of cases that are beyond them.

“Peer counsellors are very important because they are the youths and they know what issues they have. So they will be able to reach them more than we can do. And if they impact on them positively it helps us much more so for a problem reaches to us they have tried to help them,” Wamakima noted.

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