If there is any place where guidance and counseling has been embraced the most, it is in schools. There is probably no public school you will find today that doesn’t have a school counselor. And even more private schools are embracing it.
Despite this seeming age-long existence (or acknowledgment of the need) of guidance and counseling in schools, little progress has been made in reaching the goals of the school guidance services.
For instance, the reoccurrence of cases like bullying and rape is proof that the school systems have not done enough beyond developing students’ academic abilities.
So what are the challenges affecting guidance and counseling in schools?
Problems of Guidance and Counseling in Schools and Solutions
The most common problems of guidance and counseling in schools include:
1. Limited funding and resources
Many schools lack the necessary funding and resources to provide comprehensive guidance and counseling services. And this is not surprising.
The government allots a very little percentage of the nation’s budget to education. For instance, for the past 5 years, the education sector of Nigeria has been receiving about 5% of the nation’s budget.
Now, this 5 percent is expected to cater to elementary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. Regardless of how generous the Ministry of Education decides to be to guidance and counseling, a large percentage of nothing is still nothing.
The Ministry of Education should intensify its advocacy for more funds from the government. While that is being done, counselors must also intensify their advocacy because even the ministry does not pay enough attention to the profession.
2. Limited access to qualified professionals
The second problem affecting guidance and counseling in schools is the shortage of trained guidance and counseling professionals available to work in schools.
While there are many graduates of guidance and counseling across the nation, a good number of them are not adequately trained to provide effective help to students.
This is because there are several shortcomings in counselor training programs among which is the nonpracticability of the lectures being provided.
As a result, when counselors who aren’t well versed are sent to school, they give a wrong image of the profession and do not know how to organize effective school guidance programs.
To produce more qualified counselors, several reforms must be made by tertiary institutions to counselors training programs and that starts from providing sensitization to secondary school students to willingly choose the course.
I have highlighted other practical ways to improve counselor training programs in this article.
3. Limited time
Now of the few guidance counselors that are present in school, they usually have a high caseload of students, and may not have enough time to provide individualized support.
Most schools do not have a specific time for counseling on their timetables so students usually have to sacrifice lessons to see the counselor. This approach is not sustainable.
School timetables could include room for students to seek professional help if they so desire without any negative impact on their academic performance. This will also include setting out time for school-wide guidance programs.
School counselors must also develop effective time management skills to make the most of the limited time available.
4. Lack of understanding of the role of guidance and counseling
Many educators and administrators do not fully understand the role/importance of guidance and counseling in education, and so do not prioritize it.
Successful guidance and counseling is a collective effort of all stakeholders in the school (the school guidance personnel). If these other parties do not appreciate the need for counseling, little progress will be made regardless of the counselor’s input.
The role of guidance and counseling in educational development should be emphasized in the training of all teachers and academic professionals. This way, they will go into the system conscious that their contribution isn’t all-encompassing without counseling and counselors.
5. Stigma associated with seeking help
Students may be hesitant to seek out guidance and counseling services due to the stigma associated with mental health and emotional support.
This problem alone, if not addressed, will render any other measure taken for the growth of guidance and counseling in school unproductive.
Through orientation exercises, sensitization at school assemblies, and PTA meetings, students and parents should be made to understand that it is normal to have psychological issues. Even the strongest of humans still get stressed.
Teachers and administrators should also openly share about episodes they have had with these issues. This will make the students more comfortable and acclimatized with them. This destroys the stigma.
Students should also be taught not to make fun of these psychological and mental health issues since they may be unknowingly hurting someone close by.
6. Limited cultural sensitivity
Some guidance and counseling professionals may not have the cultural competency to work effectively with students from different backgrounds.
This is especially true in African countries where the average school is made of people with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Their priorities and life expectations are also different as a result.
If the counselors are not apt enough to understand and navigate through each student’s background to find resolutions to their issues, it could lead to conflicts and disregard for the profession.
Muslims would, for instance, know that their Christian counselor would try to influence their faith while offering counseling.
More counselors should be trained from the different cultural and religious backgrounds of the nation so they can easily cater to those from those regions.
Regardless of whichever background counselors come from, counselor training programs should teach them to accommodate all backgrounds effectively.
Embracing traditional guidance and counseling would also be a great decision.
7. Limited technology and resources
Some schools may not have access to the technology and resources needed to provide guidance and counseling services, such as online counseling or mental health screening tools.
And to try to separate counseling from technology in the 2020s is to refuse effectiveness.
Record keeping/transfer will be more tedious and unsafe, psychological tests and counseling appraisal will be slower and prone to errors, the counselor will lack access to online training for professional development, and so on.
Since tech is something students use in their day-to-day life, integrating it with help will reduce the barrier to accepting professional help for students.
8. Limited parent and community engagement
Students’ perception of the activities in the school is largely determined by what they hear outside school (at home and in communities). This perception issue is another problem affecting counseling in schools.
If their parents constantly undermine the place of guidance and counseling, the school will continue to struggle with no positive impact on students.
Some schools may have difficulty engaging parents and community members in the guidance and counseling process.
This limits the effectiveness of professional help on students because many psychological issues require continuity even after the students have left the school.
Schools must continue to brief parents through the PTA to understand the need for guidance and counseling and how they can come in for the overall development of students.
9. Poor staffing
Besides having qualified counselors, when a school does not have other necessary members of staff that should make up the school guidance personnel, setting up guidance committees will not be possible.
The workload on counselors would be much and they might have to sometimes leave their duty post to, for instance, teach in classes.
Counselors should be generous in letting the school administrators know that these other staff members are necessary as well. And the administrators should open their systems to accommodate more hands.
10. Limited privacy and confidentiality
Some students may be hesitant to seek out guidance and counseling services due to concerns about privacy and confidentiality. It is not uncommon to hear counselors discussing issues brought to their tables in the staff room. The things is students know and it discourages them from visiting the counselor.
Lack of privacy and confidentiality can also be fostered by the absence of technological tools and a display of unqualified professionals.
Setting up a school counselor’s office separate from other staff, hiring professionals, sponsoring refresher courses, and investing in technology for record keeping are some solutions the school can implement against this problem.
Other Challenges Affecting Guidance and Counseling In Schools
Some other challenges affecting guidance and counseling in schools include
11. Limited training and support for teachers
Teachers may not have the necessary training and support to provide guidance and counseling services to students or to identify and refer students who need additional support.
12. Limited coordination and collaboration
Guidance and counseling services are not well-coordinated with other school-wide or district-wide programs and services, such as special education or mental health services.
13. Excessive focus on preventative measures
Guidance and counseling services are primarily reactive rather than proactive, meaning they are focused on addressing problems after they occur rather than preventing them from happening.
14. Limited evaluation and assessment
Guidance and counseling services are evaluated and assessed regularly to measure their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.
15. Limited support for educators themselves
Guidance and counseling services are usually not available for teachers and other educators in the school, who may also be facing personal and professional challenges.
The problems affecting guidance and counseling in schools are not so bad that they can’t be worked upon. With intentional efforts from the Ministry of Education, school counselors, school guidance committees, and every school guidance personnel these challenges identified will be overcome.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.