A lot has been written in the literature about how it is important to work at the grass root level within the school systems, targeting the students as they are the future of our society, if we are to bring about a change. However, a lot of times how one should do this and what all is it that can be done tends to evade us. The question is that does getting down to the grass root level imply experts getting involved in the nitty gritty of what happens, how things are done and tackled at school?
Looked at traditionally, this would mean academics and learning and if we were to look at the more associated yet left unsaid aspects then it would also include behavior, life skills, and learning to lead a healthy, successful life in general.
The fact is that our population is on the rise, the number of school-going children is on an all-time high, the number of schools that already exist and that are mushrooming is only increasing, and yet the number of experts available in the world outside the school are not expanding at the same exponential rate.
What then can be done?
I believe rather strongly that we under-utilize the resources that we have at hand. And this would not mean the monetary or infrastructural resources, rather I talk about the manpower that we have at our disposal. The fact is that frequently we get tied up in trying to provide the best education and a lot of problems that exist get swept under the carpet till as long as they can be kept there and once things become unmanageable, people like us end up coming into the picture to try and resolve the problem.
But this cannot and should not be our approach. Instead we need to have a more proactive and a preventive outlook towards things and the best way to do this would be to start utilizing the people we have with us.
The key is to train!
To train and continue to train and talk about the same and even different things at different forums to provide a continuum of services is the need of the day!
What this means is that besides working through those already trained in providing counselling services, it is imperative that basic skills be imparted to each and every individual who works directly or indirectly with the children. The fact is that good mental health practices need to trickle right from the top till the bottom rung of those who work within the school system.
Training need not be around how to counsel alone, an aspect which most working within the school systems engage in at an extensive level already, but also on how to be able to identify problems at a nascent stage. The fact is that a lot of times because of our inability to be able to identify things at an early stage, problems become exaggerated and things complicated making them difficult to work with. Intervention, particularly when conducted early, is the most effective approach to dealing with school related problems – academic, learning, behavioural or emotional.
And the fact is that a lot of this training can and should happen through those who already are within our school system, namely, the School Counsellors. Of course, there is no substitute for having an external expert come and talk on a topic but a large proportion of the training needs to shift in-house. And this training needs to start with the staff, skilled and unskilled, moving towards the students and their parents as well. Training in identification, on the basics of how to manage challenging behaviors or learning related issues, how to handle difficult emotional experiences is the call of the day for both teachers and parents.
At the same time, students need to be pushed towards acquiring life skills which include being assertive, learning to problem solve and take decisions, being able to balance and multi-task, having the ability to cope with difficult circumstances as well as learning to be tolerant of differences.
No system can function on its own, not without the people that make it. And for the school system to work best, it is important to integrate people who are sensitive to the mental health needs of students, who are able to provide the right kind of environment which fosters their development while imparting skills for life, and who are able to leave a lasting impression on the students as well as their parents so that the sense of engagement and belongingness develops, which can be utilised to make them connect and focus on what’s important, moving them away from the problems and channelizing strengths!