SINGAPORE, July 31 (The Straits Times/ANN): Teens may prefer to speak to a familiar teacher about what is troubling them, rather than a counsellor they have little contact with, even though there is at least one in every school.
Students at a forum organised by The Straits Times on Friday (July 30) also told Education Minister Chan Chun Sing that the lingering stigma of seeing a counsellor, and its associations with misbehaviour, hold them back from seeking professional help.
Secondary 4 student at Cedar Girls' Secondary School Alea Hidayati Osman said: "I don't think my classmates go to the counsellor because it is seen as weakness or that you have some kind of problem."
Tampines Meridian Junior College student El'Yez Mu'Arif said teens might not feel comfortable sharing private details with counsellors.
"Generally, people are more inclined to perhaps tell their teachers as supervising adults. I feel like perhaps the Ministry of Education (MOE) could train more teachers in this field so that students are more brave to speak up to their teachers since they are people that know us better," he added.
He and four other students had dialled in virtually to the forum - titled It's Okay Not To Be Okay - while three were there in person at the Singapore Press Holdings Studio.
It was moderated by ST's senior education correspondent Sandra Davie.
Chan, in response to El'Yez's suggestion, said: "We want to equip more teachers, reduce their workload a bit and have them take on some of these (counselling) duties because I think most of you are much more comfortable with your teachers because you know them much more intimately."
In Parliament on Tuesday, Chan said MOE will increase the number of teacher-counsellors, who have had more training, from over 700 to more than 1,000 in the next few years.
At the dialogue, Chan added that to him, it is not just the number of counsellors at a school which is important but the strength of the relationships between them and the students.
Alea said the stigma around counselling may be due to a lack of understanding about the profession.
"I think many people don't actually know the counsellor or haven't met the counsellor, or haven't tried talking to the counsellor," she said.
She said it was important for students to have the option of seeing a counsellor even if they believe they do not need to.
"This mindset of going to the counsellor being seen as a weakness should be shifted in students," she said. - The Straits Times/ANN