In a recent announcement, education minister Vinod Tawde said that counselling cells would be set up in every school in Maharashtra to help students cope with stress and pressure. This is part of the state’s initiative to reduce stress and bring down the number of students who harm themselves due to exam and studies-related pressure.
However, Zilla Parishad (district administration), municipal and smaller government-aided schools are sceptical if these cells will be of much use as they cannot afford full-time counsellors.
The announcement was Tawde’s response to a question by member of the legislative council from the teachers’ constituency, Kapil Patil, in the monsoon sessions of the state Assembly last year. Patil received the letter last week and made it public on Wednesday.
The letter stated that schools should form panels consisting of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) members, teachers and student representatives. The panels would bring in local mental health experts to talk to students on fighting depression and stress.
Every student and parent must receive counselling at least twice in one year, it read. “Schools will soon receive instructions on setting up such cells,” stated Tawde in the letter.
Although most of the private-run schools already have counsellors on a full-time basis, schools depending on government aid are struggling to provide such facilities to their students.
“The government grants do not cover the expenses of appointing counsellors to small schools, which do not have a big management backing them. They are also unable to hire counsellors,” said Father Francis Swamy, joint secretary of the Archdiocesan Board of Education, which runs 150-odd schools in Mumbai.
A survey conducted last year by Prafulta, Don Bosco’s counselling centre for the youth, found that only 40% schools have experts to help children but even then, 85% students do not get assistance.
Often schools appoint only one counsellor, who works either full-time or part-time. But one counsellor is not sufficient to meet the needs of students in big schools that have 60 to 80 students in a single classroom.
“12% to 15% students in every class need extra-attention in terms of requiring help with tackling emotional problems or learning difficulties,” said Godfrey D’sa, director of the counselling centre. “In a school with two divisions, one counsellor has to handle nearly 200 students. This compromises the quality of counselling.”