In the face of constant attacks on schools and abuse of school children especially girls, experts advocated for a safe school initiative to help protect schools.
At the launch of the initiative in 2014, experts said it will start by building community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves.
In the longer term, the programme will focus on bolstering the safety of schools – providing school guards and police in partnership with Nigerian authorities, training staff as school safety officers, and providing counselors to schools.
On equally important component as far as encouraging children and indeed, parents to focus on education is the present of effective counseling services.
In Nigeria, there are concerns over the alarming rate of child abuse, which happens both in schools and at the homefront.
The United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) disclosed last year, that at least three in every five children in Nigeria suffer from one form of abuse or another; before their 18th birthday.
In a statement issued by the UNICEF to mark the 2018 World Children’s Day, it’s Country Representative to Nigeria, Mohammed Fall, said the plights of the Nigerian child still needs to be looked into with seriousness as Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children.
“Nigerian children experience a wide range of abuses and harmful practices. An estimated three in five children have suffered one or more forms of violence before reaching 18, with over 70 per cent experiencing multiple incidents of violence.
“We want to build a world where every child is in school, safe from harm and can fulfill their potentials, and nowhere is this truer than in Nigeria,” Mr Fall stated.
Many of such children are sexually abused. Most of these cases happen right under the noses of the victim’s parents or guardians.”
The story of the late Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje, a 13-year-old junior student of the FGGC Gboko, Benue State who was allegedly raped by her aunt’s husband and son, is one of such stories which continue to reverberate in the minds of well-meaning Nigerians, who continue to wonder why sexual abuse happens in the society and what can be done to curb it.
When these rape cases happen, the question on the mind of right thinking Nigerians are, what if there was someone the abused children had been able to talk to, would it have prevented or stopped the act and in the case of Ochanya, prevented her death? When the family has failed the child, where does the child run to for help?
Many say schools should be the answer. There is a saying that a school is a child’s second home. This is so because apart from the holiday period, children spend the better part of their days in school with their teachers. Therefore, it is the responsibility of a teacher not only to teach, but also to act as a second parent to their students.
Apart from the regular teachers that teach the regular subjects, there are people in the nation’s secondary schools whose responsibilities are to guide and help troubled students and assist them in making career plans.
Guidance Counselors are meant to help a student deal with some personal issues, academic challenges and prepare and plan for the future.
A fellow of Counseling Association of Nigeria, Dr. Mrs Celine Njoku stated that counselors, as professionals, are set-aside in schools to listen and guide children. She, however, added that for a child to approach the counselors, they (the counselors) must have characteristics that will make the children comfortable to approach to them.
“A counselor has to counsel him or herself before counselling others. You have to dress well, interact well with not only the students but also the teachers because sometimes, you can be asked to counsel the teachers too.
“The person needs to be humble. He or she should be able to keep secrets. They should act as a father or mother, a caregiver to the children. They should always be willing to listen. When the children see all these in the counselors, they will be able to come and talk to them when they are troubled because they are the only ones that can calm down their fears,” she said.
Njoku stated that they are there not only to help the students in planning their careers, but are also available to talk to students who are troubled, especially those who are abused and have no one to confide in.
However, the question begging for answer is if the guidance counselors in the nation’s secondary schools have all these responsibilities, why then are there many troubled students who go through emotional and even psychological trauma in their homes, and also their schools without help?
Njoku who also works in the Lagos State ministry of education, District 5, lamented that counselors in the schools are over loaded with work as they have so many students to take care of, adding that most of them are given extra subjects to teach, which normally isn’t in their job description.
If counselors are given the right space and tools to work with, it would reduce the number of abuses, especially sexual abuses on children in the country.
Also speaking, a guidance counselor in one of the secondary schools in FCT who pleaded Aloysius Abeshi, stated that counselors do not have the relevant equipment that will help them do a thorough job.
“Some of us do not even have space to work. Some don’t even have desks. This is because people have not yet understood the importance of this job, unlike in other climes where they are seen as important aspect of education.
“Public secondary schools do well to employ them but over work them but in many private schools, they don’t deem it fit to employ them. They will tell you, there are teachers to do the counseling but they don’t know that there are differences between a trained counselor and untrained person,” he added.
Abeshi spoke of the need for the federal government to act fast and give guidance counselors the place they deserve in the educational sector, adding that it will help a great deal to not only curb abuses meted to children but will also help breed children who are mentally sound.
The importance of guidance counseling on children’s development cannot be over emphasised.
Conscious of this and mindful of the need to support the upbringing of children, the federal government last year, unveiled the National Policy on Counseling, which it believed will help in the coordinated counseling in secondary and primary schools.
While unveiling the policy, the minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, stated that it would help reduce the rate of anti-social behavior and other vices militating against the development of school children.
He added that the absence of the policy has resulted in the lack of well- defined structure for delivering counseling services, poor communication among practitioners and stakeholders and the absence of synergy among professionals.
“It is indeed something of a shame that for almost the 60 years that counseling services have been carried out in various educational institutions in Nigeria, counseling as a profession has not had any national policy guiding counseling services,” he said.
He explained that the policy aims to entrench a regime of international best practices and to clarify all areas of possible conflict and misconception in the practices of counseling.
Speaking in a not so dissimilar manner, director, Education Support Services in the ministry, Mrs Justina Ibe, stated that the development of the policy became necessary in order to have proper counseling services in schools and non-school settings in Nigeria.
She added that the misconceptions between the school counselors and other personnel within the school environment will be quashed with the policy and added that it will also assist in the attainment of the educational goals of the country, create sufficient awareness on the part of counselors and improve the nature of counseling services.
As the government is doing its best to ensure that the guidance counselors have their rightful place in the schools, experts, advised parents and guardians to do their bit and ensure that they make their children their friends so that they will be able to approach them when they are troubled.
“ Parents have a big role to play. Schools are just secondary. The first domestic school, market, church, mosque is the family so if the family gets it right, it will help the society, a counselor, Mary Nwobu noted.
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