The state of psychological services in secondary schools : experiences of principals, school counsellors, educators and learners.
Muribwathoho, Henry Nkhanedzeni.
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South African education has undergone major restructuring since 1994 with the aim of improving the lives of the learners, their parents and educators. The restructuring and re-orientation has fortuitously caused casualties along the way. One such casualty was the redeployment of guidance counsellors and the consequent marginalisation of school Psychological Services such as Guidance and Counselling Programme Services. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate participants’ experiences of Psychological Services in selected secondary schools of KwaZulu-Natal province and implications thereof and to make inferences on the state of School Psychological Services in schools. The final outcome of the study is, apart from identifying challenges, the formulation of a framework or strategy to address the implementation of psychological services in secondary schools. Through a multi-site mixed methods research study involving 17 high schools, this study utilised triangulation of a questionnaire and interview as data collection methods on three sources of data, namely, school counsellors, learners and school principals. This study also involves critically examining the Life Orientation curriculum vis-à-vis its effectiveness in addressing the educational, career, psychological, social and overall developmental needs of learners. It is guided by one primary research question which is: What are participants’ (learners, school counsellors, and principals) experiences of School Psychological Services provisioning in selected secondary schools in Kwazulu-Natal? Underlying this question are the following sub-questions: (1) What are participants’ (viz., learners, school counsellors, and principals) understandings of Psychological Services and their impact on learners’ well-being and academic performance? (2) What are learners’ needs for School Psychological Services as identified by participants (viz., learners, school counsellors and principals)? (3) What is the current status of Psychological Services (including the various forms of School Psychological Services and resources) in the selected secondary schools? (4) What are the challenges or obstacles to the effective implementation of Psychological Services in the selected schools? Deriving from the interpretive paradigm and informed by two theoretical frameworks, namely ecosystemic theory and social constructivism, the study revealed that there is a dire need for Psychological Services in schools, namely guidance and counselling (including one-on-one counselling), personal guidance, career guidance and career counselling all of which are meant to empower youth to address issues and challenges affecting them and their future prospects. Life Orientation, which is a relatively new addition to the school curricula, is the available form of Psychological Services since it is a learning area prescribed by the Department of Education. The introduction of Life Orientation as a compulsory learning area (i.e. school subject) was meant to accomplish its re-orientation as a substitute for school guidance and counselling. However, services which are meant to promote the holistic development of youth by focusing on and enhancing their social, intellectual, academic and affective aspects are inadequate, especially because, as revealed by the findings of the study, learners’ emotional problems are better addressed in a one-on-one personal relationship and not in a directive teaching-learning process. Impacting on the delivery of School Psychological Services is the scarcity of personnel resources as there are no school counsellors to provide for the emotional needs of the learners. Life Orientation teachers are not suitably or adequately trained to counsel learners and design intervention strategies as the services they provide are limited to their job roles. The introduction of Life Orientation, though noble, is not enough to assist young people to face their challenges head on. Using the interpretivist paradigm, which is informed by multiple participants’ meanings of the fundamental nature of the social world, I was able to interrogate the state of psychological services in schools and understand participants’ experiences of the services, learners’ needs and the challenges they experienced. Social constructivism relates to the importance of psychological services in the promotion of learners’ well-being, and how they need informed adults (i.e. psychologists, counsellors or educators) as mediators between the context, beliefs, feelings and behaviour. The ecosystemic perspective on child development advocates for the availability of such psychological services to address the needs of adolescents, who – in the process of physical and emotional development – encounter challenges that often overwhelm their ability to cope and, consequently, affect their academic performance. The school as a microcosm of society should have tools at its disposal to deal with learners’ psycho-social problems. The study recommends that the Department of Education heeds the call for programmes that will focus on both the academic and emotional needs that tend to characterise adolescence. Academic achievement cannot continue to be viewed as being more important than, and, unrelated to the promotion of personal and psychological development of learners. Although Life Orientation contributes to the support of learners, including those with problems, the need for the revival or introduction of School Psychological Services (SPS), within the ambit of Psychological, Guidance and Special Education Services (PGSES) and Inclusive Education (IE) is highly recommended, with the provision of individual and group counselling services as its main priority.
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