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Note Dropped in a School Complaint Box Helps Arrest Abuser Highlighting the Need for Counseling in Schools

23 October 2018 Posted by No Comment

Tuesday, 23rd October 2018

Hettipola Police said that a 52-year-old man who had been sexually abusing an under-aged girl for a period of 10 months, had been arrested. This came as a result of school teaching staff who read an anonymous letter written by the victim which had been dropped into acomplaint box put in place by the school authorities reports the Daily Mirror

A police officer said yesterday that the girl who was allegedly abused had been sent for a medical examination. She was identified as a grade six student of a school in the Hettipola Police  division who had been living with her grandparents due to a dispute she had with her parents. The teaching staff of the girl’s school had put in place a complaint box put in place by the school authorities to help students with anything they need help with to come forward and request for it anonymously. In her note she had shared that an uncle from the neighbourhood used to come to our house and had had regularly had intercourse with her and begged the school authorities to put him behind bars so that she could live in peace.

Cases such as this remind us of the urgency to reexamine the need to create and ensure the running of support systems for students within the school system that can provide them the space to come forward, and thus identify and address such issues.

In July 2016, a report entitled “School Counseling in Sri Lanka: Analysis of the Past Recommending a Way Forward” by Buddhiprabha D DPathirana. (Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Peradeniya) was published in the International Journal of Advanced Research. This paper notes that the primary responsibility of delivering a comprehensive school counseling program seems to be shouldered by Ministry of Education. The information highlighted shares the concerns on the lack of counselors being made available to ensure the implementation of these programs:

Among them, the most profound difficulty being; the inadequate number of school counselors. For instance, Ministry of Education (2012) report that there are 1086 guidance teachers employed in Sri Lankan government schools, providing psychosocial services to 4,004,086 students; making the counselor student ratio to be 1: 3687. This ratio is way below the counselor student ratio (1:250) recommended for a country by organizations which provide guidance/counseling services (ASCA, 2008). Besides, almost all the Sri Lankan schools have only one school counselor for the entire school. Hence, based on these facts, if one is to take into account that there are 9905 schools in Sri Lanka, then 8819 schools would be without a school counselor (MoE, 2012) making only few Sri Lankan schools being fortunate to procure their services. Statistics also convey that about 74 Sri Lankan schools have more than 3500 students (MoE, 2012). Therefore, school counselors in these 74 schools would be providing their services to more students than the stipulated ratio (1: 3687) mentioned above, making an effective psychosocial service provision an impossible reality

The NIE Health and Physical Education syllabus encourages students to access counseling services from Grade 7 onward.

In case you need further help, contact a recognized social welfare institution set up to help you. eg: Suwa Sariya – 0710107107 Yowun Mithuro – 0112850986”: Grade 7 – Let us experience love and protection

The Grade 8 text also points to counselling services that should be available within the school.

Your school should have a counselling facility which enables students to discuss these issues. Those engaged in counselling services should be acceptable by students, ensure confidentiality of what is discussed and be available when needed.” Grade 8 – Let us make our school environment healthy

While there is no adequate discussion on how to overcome the stigma and discrimination that is associated with accessing counselling services, and the professional qualifications and skills of school counselors vary, this discussion is an important step in helping students deal with issues they are facing and ensure we can provide the support and protection they so desperately need. It is also vital to recognize that it is not adequate or advisable to simply re-route teachers to begin counselling simply by giving them the job. Much like how a Grade 5 English teacher cannot begin teaching Grade 10 Physics, counselling is a specific area of expertise that one must be trained for and have the necessary skills.

According to the National Plan to address Sexual and Gender Based Violence, the Ministry of Education plans to recruit over 10,000 trained counselor into the school system as well as develop centres nationally which will be accessible to school children who require these services. If effectively implemented this will go a long way in addressing the issues at hand.

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