Deficit of Professional Counselors in Schools

Addressing social harm in schools is a taxing job since it is a multidimensional task and counselors do not have the necessary leeway to take matters in their own hands
Counselors play an important role in sustaining the mental health of students.Counselors play an important role in sustaining the mental health of students.

School counselors are vital for the education system. They help students in the areas of academic achievement, personal, social and career development; and ensure that students become productive and well-prepared for tomorrow.

Despite the valuable assistance of school counselors whether in elementary, middle or high school and beyond, such personnel are lacking in the Education Ministry.

According to Ali Zarafshan, deputy education minister for secondary education, only one hour of counseling is allocated to every 15 students per week under the existing circumstances.

“There are 18,000 school counselors across schools in Iran. This is a very low number,” he told ISNA recently.

Masoud Shokouhi, director general for education and counseling at the ministry, said nearly 100 counselors were recruited for the current academic year that started in September.

“Our estimate is that over 18,000 more counselors are needed to meet the requirements of all students in the country,” he told the Persian-language  newspaper ‘Iran’ on Wednesday.

Counselors also play an important part in promoting the mental health of students. Experts believe that violence in schools, educational regression and failure, depression, and social harm are the products of the absence of adequate school counselors.

“To help make up for the shortage of professionals, we created a system of electronic counseling records in which the entire psychological background and current status of students is recorded,” Shokouhi said.

The files are completed by family members, teachers, and counselors as well as students who are asked to talk about their lives and personal problems.

According to Shokouhi, all counselors recruited must have a degree relevant to the area of practice. Studies conducted suggest that the educational qualification of about 8.4% of the counselors were unrelated to their field of work last year.

“Over 90% of our staff is trained for counseling in schools, and over 60% hold post-graduate degrees. They have to go through interviews and training before appointment since this is a demanding position and requires a number of personal as well as professional traits such as discretion.”

  Critical Areas to Address

School counselors provide counseling in three critical areas: academic, personal/social, and career. Their services and programs help students resolve emotional, social or behavioral problems and develop a clearer focus or sense of direction. Effective counseling programs are important to the school environment and a crucial element in improving student performance.

“If they deem a situation is serious, counselors can refer students to specific counseling centers under the ministry where students are counseled on a one-on-one basis,” Shokouhi said.

There are 719 such centers in the country offering psychological and psycho-cognitive intervention services.

In some provinces like Sistan-Baluchistan, North Khorasan, Razavi Khorasan, South Khorasan, and Kerman there is dire shortage of the centers. Tehran also has a shortfall, in particular for male students.

Addressing social harm in schools is a taxing job since it is a multidimensional task and “counselors do not have the necessary leeway to take matters in their own hands.”

  National Plan Devised

The State Welfare Organization had announced in June the implementation of a project dubbed ‘Namad’ (literally symbol) that aims to provide social security to students of all age groups. The project seeks to provide support to students who are or could likely be exposed to social harm by bringing together a number of competent organizations to identify students who are vulnerable to violence or addiction.

Joining the SWO in its efforts are the Education Ministry, judiciary, Management and Planning Organization, and the Barekat Foundation (affiliated to Setad which is a special office for executing the decrees of Imam Khomeini in helping the underprivileged).

The project, in its pilot phase now, will educate students at all levels in preventive measures, and include life skills, anger management, and information on drug abuse.

Habibollah Masoudi Farid, social deputy at the SWO, had underlined the need for specialized social services, specifically for the education system given that social maladies are increasing.

“Although schemes such as Namad are a form of supportive services for students, the social circumstances today call for universities and social work groups to shift their approach from general social services to specialized ones, and specific to every institution such as schools, prisons, families.”

State officials have often acknowledged that there is a lack of specialized human resources in psychology and social work to deal with the existing problems. There are 13 million students in schools across the country.

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