Student Services overwhelmed: school boards want more counsellors

File photo
File photo

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS speaking at a joint select committee meeting on the effects of hybrid learning called for more student counsellors, saying the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) was being stretched thin while addressing students' issues during covid19.

Members of the education boards of the Sanatan Sharma Maha Sabha, Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of TT, Presbyterian Primary Schools, Baptists, St Joseph Cluny, ASJA, Anglicans and Presbyterian Secondary Schools met on Wednesday with JSC chairman Senator Paul Richards.

They gave an assessment of the effects of the hybrid learning system, developed after covid19 hit TT in March 2020.

General Secretary of the Presbyterian Primary Schools Board Keeta K Maharaj, in responding to the question posed by Paul Richards, said while SSSD officers are assigned to schools, they are mostly placed in clusters, so a small group of counsellors treats with issues from several schools.

“Students face behavioural issues, there are socio-economically challenged students, students who are not monitored, children showing signs of stress and those who simply cannot be accounted for,” Maharaj said. “Numbers we are given don’t pan out. Some you can’t visit unless you go to the police and say, 'We have not seen these students.' There is not a very large number (of students unaccounted for) but just one is enough for that kind of thing.”

Debra East, acting secretary of the St Joseph Cluny board, said timeliness was the main issue.

“We can say the SSS have been good at responding,” East said. “They have also put in place life-skill sessions and workshops and seminars for the students.

“Social workers will respond, but it takes very long sometimes to meet with the student – sometimes it takes week. By the time they get to the students there have been other interventions.”

Officials of the teaching boards suggested either there should be more counsellors, or the SSSD handle should handle fewer schools.

The SSSD challenges were not the only issue the boards raised. They also called for middle-management posts to be filled, better investment in practicals and assessment modules, and better handling of educational packages for children who do not have access to online classes. Access to devices and connectivity continue to be an obstacle to online classes.

Richards, sharing statistics from the Ministry of Education, said between March and December last year, only 35.3 per cent of secondary school students and 34.1 per cent of primary school students had reliable internet connectivity, and only 35.3 per cent of secondary students, and 33.4 per cent of primary school students had access to devices. Richards added that 39,861 primary school students, 6,909 secondary school students and 2,109 ECCE students were unable to attend or access online lessons.

Those numbers have since changed, officials said, and between 70 and 90 per cent of students now have access to devices.

School board representatives said the support from government in that regard has been poor, with some schools receiving as many as four devices for students, while others, like the SDMS schools, got none.

But support from the private sector as well as alumni and other stakeholders were able to somewhat fill the gaps.


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