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Inspiring leadership in schools

Peer educators can show the way to a positive climate, says Jitendra Nagpal

education Updated: Jan 20, 2010 09:47 IST
Jitendra Nagpal

Leadership remains one of the most relevant aspects of personal development. But what constitutes leadership is challenging and variable. It is ultimately about creating a road map for something extraordinary. Effective leadership is the ability to integrate and maximise resources. One such innovation is the concept of peer educators in schools.

Peer education has evolved because many people today make changes based not only on what that they know, but on the opinions and actions of their trusted peers. The peer educators can communicate and understand in a way that can serve as role models for behavioural change processes.
Today, globally, there is a greater need than ever for schools to implement programmes designed to increase students’ knowledge and skills about HIV/AIDS, prevention of substance abuse and psychosocial problems like aggression, stress etc. The defining characteristic of such a programme, especially for adolescent students, is that the peer educator — usually supervised by adults — is roughly the same age as the students and often shares their background, values and life experiences.

Role models
Peer leaders can support, encourage and help teens both inside and outside the classrooms and are likely to be more familiar with youth language and culture. Young people listen to and accept messages from respected peers more readily than from a teacher, especially in areas of health, safety, sexuality and other responsible behaviours. Such an important influencer should thus be a good, interactive team leader; have a strong and positive outlook; and continuously promote life skills programmes. S/he must also assist teachers and counsellors with clarity and conviction about student development initiatives, and act as a strong link between teachers and students in monitoring co-scholastic activities and a positive school climate.

Here, the most important thing of all is forming networks to encourage healthy living by identifying problems and motivating teens to take early and complete treatment and by providing links to health services. Through interactive workshops, the peer educators convey messages to a target group, endorsing ‘healthy’ norms and challenging ‘unhealthy’ behaviour and beliefs.

Action skills
In a way, peer educators enable teens to learn action skills to prevent substance abuse, enhance self-esteem, reduce bullying etc. This supports academic and personal achievement. They also contribute to the climate of care and respect needed by educational institutions. By establishing a peer programme, schools and community organisations teach children and adolescents how to help, not hurt, others.

Strengthening the ambience of leadership in every young adult, the peer educators lead the leaders.

How do peer educators benefit? They do so by:
. Receiving special training in making decisions, clarifying values and acting in accordance with those values
. Mastering information relevant to their own lives
. Gaining leadership recognition from their peers
. Being directly involved and having a voice
. Learning important skills, like facilitation and communication
. Improving self-discipline and self-esteem

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at hthorizons@hindustantimes.com, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’