‘Parents who aid examination malpractice are breeding corrupt leaders’
Professor Ajibola Falaye is the former Head of Department of Guidance and Counselling, University of Ibadan. In this interview with BOLASHADE ADEBOWALE, she examines the effects of the dearth of professional guidance counsellors in schools.
Today, schools that have professional guidance counsellors are very few, unlike in the past. What do you think is responsible for this, and how does this affect children’s education?
The way the educational package for this particular line of profession works is such that you will do counselling and at the same time have a teaching subject. So, what we have in the school setting majorly is a larger percentage of individuals who are trained counsellors but are also teachers. So many schools use them more for the teaching profession than their primary profession of counselling. Opportunity to practise counselling that they have been trained for. It has a lot of effects. As counsellors, they are expected to make sure that the school environment, psychological environment especially, is favourable for the children to perform adequately in their academics. They are to make sure that they design and implement programmes that would enhance the overall development of the child. Counsellors are supposed to be enhancers.
Is there any legislation that necessitates the employment of guidance counsellors in schools?
For a long time, no; but just recently, a national policy on counselling has been put together. It has gone through the legislative procedures and there is now a national policy on counselling. It has not taken off but it is already in the plans, which will also lead to the licensing of counsellors so that counsellors are true professionals in their own right. There is no way the government will not have to recognize counselling for it to have its effect in all sectors of life.
In most public schools today, children learn under conditions that are not learner-friendly. What effects will this have on the children?
We know that the conditions in the school system are greatly influenced by the economic situation and the environmental situation that the schools find themselves in. It has its psychological effects on the children. Schools that can’t provide adequately what is required for them to facilitate learning and schools where teachers receive very low salary would affect the work attitude of teachers in dealing with the children who are supposed to be their primary concern. I am not saying that children will not gain from the system one way or the other, but a larger majority of these children will not really get the best out of such educational sector.
Children spend most of their time in school with teachers who ironically have limits placed on them in terms of discipline, especially in private schools. How far can and should teachers go in maintaining discipline in schools?
We all know that corporal punishment is not encouraged; there are other means to put children in check and to build up social and pro-social behaviour in children. Professional counsellors are expected to be able to manage the discipline issues in schools. They are expected to design programmes that would encourage and enhance acts of discipline and morality in the school setting. They are expected to give group and individual counselling. Developmentally appropriate programmes are expected to be designed and implemented. Trained counsellors can do this, but when they are loaded with teaching activities, they probably will not have time for this service. How far depends on the school atmosphere and philosophy. In some schools, the teachers go about with cane. Some other schools establish mentoring programmes where teachers act as mentors to these children. The culture of the school determines how far teachers can go in terms of maintaining discipline.
These days, children are hardly allowed to spend their holidays as ‘holidays’. As soon as they are free from regular school work, they are sent to ‘summer schools’. Even after regular school days, a lesson teacher is waiting at home. Is this really healthy for children’s development?
What many parents are concerned about is their children making it academically, but there are so many things attached to a child’s education. Even if the child is getting good grades in school, the fact that the child is not coping psychologically or socially can affect his grades in his academics. So, it is important for parents to know that they should give children some breathing space; make school more of an interesting venture than a regimented one. There will be need to let children have some free time. The whole issue falls back on the fact that parents and families don’t have time for their children; the school then offers the service of keeping the children busy whether the children are tired or not. Whether they need it or not, at least they are out of the way. It gives the parents the psychological feeling that their children are busy doing something all the time.
Some parents, ostensibly due to economic reasons, engage in evasive tactics to avoid payment of school fees, by constantly moving their children from school to school. What effects does this have both on the children, and the nation?
It has a very terrible effect, because many children do not have a stable school culture to identify with. And when we talk about school, we are not just talking about passing the examinations; we are talking of the holistic development of the child. The issue here is that when children are moved from one place to another, the sense of identifying with a school is eroded. Apart from that, some children don’t catch up with the standard of some schools. Moving children from one school to the other almost every school year has a lot of effect and could even be a setback on the academic achievement of the child.
Many parents too, out of desperation to get their children into tertiary institutions, encourage their children to engage in malpractices. Are there any implications for the future?
Sadly, this act by many parents has helped to keep alive the corrupt nature of things in Nigeria, and unfortunately corruption becomes endemic. Such individual will not see any reason why they cannot cheat their way through life. Apart from that, nationally, it is a breeding ground for mediocrity because they have made sure that merit does not prevail; and when we have more mediocre than meritorious achievements, it would definitely affect our national development and it can be very devastating. That is why when you speak to youths these days, all they ask is “what can I get from it?” because that is the foundation that has been laid right from the family setting: ‘cheat your way through life’.