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Peer counseling in schools

MMAOTHO SEGOTSO
PC involves one-on-one interaction or interaction between members of a group, who have several things in common.

In an academic setting, it usually refers to students helping fellow students. It is a way of relating, responding and helping people, aimed at exploring thoughts, feelings, issues and concerns, with the hope of reaching a clear understanding and making informed decisions.

According to Mugo, Peer Counselling (PC) is based on the fact that students are more likely to accept and feel at home with counselling information validated and disciplined to them by their peers than they would receive the same from trained professionals whom they often consider as out of tune with needs of younger generation.

In today’s fast paced world, young people face problems like juvenile delinquency, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, threats of HIV infections and many other psychological problems. Adolescence is a stage where individuals establish a sense of personal identity. Identity achievement implies that the individual assesses their strengths and weakness and determines how they deal with them. As they begin to evaluate their strengths, skills and abilities, they become prone to peer pressure, hence PC.

How does PC help students?

Students have several stressors in their lives, including but not be limited to: academic stress; career choice; peer pressure; relationship problems; body image issues; substance abuse and addiction. It may not be possible for everyone to approach a professional counsellor with ease, due to various reasons including unavailability, and the stigma associated therapy. In such cases, a peer counsellor can help you or your friends with several issues such as:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Building confidence and self-esteem,
  • Academic difficulties, exam stress
  • Adjustment issues with teachers, other students
  • Issues adjusting to hostel life
  • Ragging, bullying and many more.

Peer counsellors must be trained:

Peer counselors must be trained in communication, listening skills, assertiveness, ethics of PC, issues of confidentiality and breach of it, boundaries regarding helping others, and basic counseling skills. A peer counselor is also trained on when to refer the person to a professional counselor. Though they receive training, they are not certified counsellors. For schools with a teacher counsellor, a peer counsellor becomes a bridge between the counsellor and student. In the absence of a teacher counsellor, peer counsellors help their fellow students understand their emotional and behavioural disturbances and work on solutions. In some cases, they also refer them to a professional counsellor in their area.

Even with the training, a student should have certain qualities to become a peer counsellor.

  • Active listening skills, without being intrusive
  • Empathy and sensitivity
  • They must keep the student’s information confidential, not gossip about it
  •  Good communication skills and the ability to dig deep into a student’s psyche
  • Amiable in nature

More importantly, they should be innately interested in helping the other student with their issues.

Peer counsellors also conduct awareness campaigns in their respective schools on mental health issues, address stigma and discrimination, myths about mental illnesses, disability and so on.   

Peer counsellors gain too:

It is not just the fellow students, but peer counsellors themselves make positive gains during their training and practice.

  • Some foreign universities ask for NGO/volunteer experience. Students can list PC experience in their resume when applying to such institutions.
  • Increases their self-esteem and problem-solving skills.
  • Teaches leadership skills.
  • Helps them learn empathy, respect and other life skills.
  • Peers must not counsel peers about suicide, rape, divorce, abuse, death, etc. However, with topics like conflict resolution, relationship building, confidence and self-esteem, study skills, academic motivation, and school attendance (amongst others), peer-counselling or mentoring can be highly successful.
  • Benefits:
  • Positive outcomes for both the mentor and the mentee, providing growth and
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    learning opportunities.
  • Fewer resources required because mentors are gathered from the student population, compared to if the school had to recruit adult mentors.
  • Peer relationship building, especially because youth are at a critical point in life where they’re looking for relationships, and younger kids in particular are looking for a role model
  • Improved transitions from elementary to middle, or middle to high school.

How do you create a programme that fits your school?

  • Design a programme fit to accomplish your goals.

Your design should take into account your student population, who you are planning to serve, logistical issues you may face, and the specific needs of your mentees.

  •  Outcomes should be defined and supported by a logic model.

A logic model will show exactly how the relationships and activities work to achieve the positive outcomes. This model should show specific activities, partnerships and resources, data. Consider how your efforts and activities would differ if the end goal was to decrease absenteeism verses a goal of increasing exposure to career paths.

  • Match mentors and mentees based on developmental focus.

The developmental focus should emphasize competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring. While academic achievements, tutoring, and more instructional approaches can be weaved in, the relationship between the mentor and mentee should be developmentally focused.

  • Have support from school administration.

As is the case with any programme, you need to get administrative backing and buy-in for success. Support is critical, and as teachers and staff promote peer mentoring, getting student involvement will be much easier.

  • Clearly define roles of staff and partners involved.

You will need a coordinator who is responsible for getting participation and matching mentors with mentees. This coordinator needs to provide supervision and support to the mentors but other teachers and staff play a role as well. They can refer participants, advise on successful matches, and prove to be valuable supporting players in the overall success. Who is actively involved will likely depend on your program and your desired outcomes. If outside partners are involved, they must know their role. Students must also know what is expected of them. Communication is key here.

  • Understand and account for the risks.

Understand that while you may clearly define the roles for students, they may night fully understand them. Also know that while most mentors may have the best of intentions, some may not. Still others may unintentionally or unknowingly prove to be a negative role model. Additionally, acknowledge that consistency and quality are critical to success.

Food for thought

  • Ministry of education could ensure that the PC programme is established in all secondary schools. 
  • The ministry could develop a PC curriculum that will be used to train the peer counsellors.  
  • Refresher courses could be given to the peer counsellors.
  • The school administration could ensure the appointed guidance and counseling teachers are friendly and interact well with the other students. 
  • Guidance and counselling teacher could appoint peer counsellors who are academically above average and students who are respected by the other students. 
  • The best in character are to be appointed as peer counsellors.
  • Peer counsellors are supposed to be given basic counseling skills and life skills.  They are also supposed to be shown their responsibilities; students also need to be sensitized on the role and responsibilities of peer counselors.
  • Proper recording system could be developed so that work done by peer counselors can be recorded.  l In addition, the process could take the form of social club in the school.

SOURCE: Dr.  David N. Bururia



Educationally Speaking

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