Sunday 17 December 2017

Katherine Donnelly: Service for teens is not a luxury -- it's a necessity

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

About 60,000 Leaving Certificate pupils are currently considering their next move. College or not? What college, what course? If not college, what are the options?

The decision is personal to each pupil, and it may be not only about being guided to an area of strength but selecting one degree programme over another because its modules and approach are particularly suited to that person.

A guidance counsellor can help a pupil navigate the maze of up to 1,500 CAO courses, and beyond.

A recent report from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows the consequences of making the wrong choice.

In universities, about 9pc of first-year honours degree students don't continue into the second year of their initial choice while the average in institutes of technology is 16pc, and even higher among students pursuing ordinary degrees or higher certificates.

Research has highlighted how first-year drop-out has its roots much earlier than entry to third-level, and that the right educational support and advice at second level is vital.

While Leaving Cert candidates are weighing up their career options, another 60,000 third-year pupils are trying to figure out what subjects they should study in senior cycle, to ensure that they tap into their interests and aptitudes.

That is a hugely important decision, and one that they have to take now if they are to be sure that, when the CAO form comes around, they have the right science subject, or are doing higher-level maths, or whatever it is they may require to pursue their ambition.

Again, it is a very personal choice and one where the expertise of the guidance counsellor is essential in helping each, individual pupil.

Along with advising students on career paths, and the routes to them, there are regular knocks on guidance counsellors' doors from students suffering personal difficulties, perhaps heading towards a crisis.

According to counsellors, an increasing number of their pupils are presenting with mental health issues. It is likely that the advent of cyber-bullying, the tragic consequences of which have been seen among Irish teenagers, is a factor.

Whether it is career choices or an issue that could amount to a life-and-death choice, the cuts mean that guidance counsellors don't have the same time to listen, support and advise.

A school counselling service is not a luxury, although the effect of the cuts is, increasingly, making it more a preserve of children in families that can afford private education.

A properly functioning second-level education system has a responsibility not only to develop the academic abilities of its pupils, but to care for the well-being of teenagers in the increasingly complex world in which they live.

Irish Independent

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