Ministry of Education, Guyana

Tuesday, 02 April 2019 09:41

Over 100 students get help from mobile psychosocial unit

…MoE looking to expand fleet

Since the launch of the Ministry of Education’s first ever mobile psychosocial unit, over 100 learners have benefitted from counselling which meet their psychological and social needs.

The learners range from the nursery to secondary levels. The $16.3M mobile unit was launched in November, 2018 with the aim of enabling effective coping skills in response to trauma; to enhance resilience; to teach learners to better exercise control and reduce stress levels.

In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle recently, Chief School’s Welfare Officer, Glenna Vyphius said the response received thus far has been excellent with the ministry now looking to expand its fleet. She stated that while the learners were intimidated at first by the presence of the unit, things changed as soon as the aim of the initiative was explained.
“At first, when the students saw the unit they thought it was something bad so we had to let them know why we’re there with the unit and we told them it’s for the purpose of helping them. Then they started to open up and speak to us,” Vyphius said.
The unit is being managed by the ministry’s School’s Welfare Unit through an initial workforce of some 10 counsellors, with the aid of the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Social Protection for the provision of specialists.

Thus far schools include all those situated on Woolford Avenue such as St Joseph High, North Georgetown Primary, Tutorial High School and Richard Ishmael Secondary. The mobile unit also visited schools in East and South Ruimveldt and as far as East Berbice-Corentyne in Region Six.

“The mobile psychosocial unit is getting to the children because we know children are faced with issues in schools and often times they don’t know who to turn to for assistance or where to go. So, we’re taking the services to the children and parents, also,” Vyphius said.
In explaining that not only children have been beneficiaries of the work of the unit, she spoke to some of the most recent incidents which caused the unit to zero in on a particular education institution.

Following the suicide of a 15-year-old student on January 24, 2019 at the Mae’s School in Georgetown, the psychosocial unit was swiftly deployed to offer suicide prevention services to learners and teachers affected by the occurrence. The same was offered to a school in Corentyne which also experienced a suicide case in the past months.
Two of the main issues the Chief School’s Welfare Officer noted as a concern among the learners visited are suicidal thoughts and bullying.

Even as the designated personnel are there to provide help in this regard, Vyphius also spoke to the advice she gives to the students when she interacts with them: “Most of the time I would say to them: ‘practise resilience’. Sometimes they may be faced with an issue or a situation but I would say to them ‘it’s not the end of the road. You can get up and you can continue with the school’s welfare unit’.”
The support received from partnering government agencies sees collaboration with Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) coordinators; HIV coordinators and the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) officer which ensures that a wide range of issues are covered and discussed among key influencers.

Now, even as the mobile unit operates by notifying the schools about their impending visit and by encouraging students to open up, teachers who know of specific issues that children within their care are facing are helping to direct the focus of the unit. Moving forward into 2019, Vyphius says the Ministry sees room for improvement and expansion and has already begun to act on this.
“What we’re advocating for right now is to have a special staff to run the unit because we’re working with [our own] staff on the mobile psychosocial unit and with all other activities that are happening in the Ministry sometimes we don’t get to follow up on time,” she explained.

“It will impact more Guyanese if we have more psychosocial units and if we can go out there on a daily basis. Because of staff we are not able to impact as much as we would want to but in this year’s budget we budgeted for two more psychosocial units and that will be able to help us out a lot.”

While commissioning the unit back in 2018, Education Minister, Dr. Nicolette Henry had expressed that her vision is for the initiative to better enable children to receive age-appropriate psychosocial services and narrow the gap which exists in the education system where psychosocial support is concerned.


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