Urgent measures needed to help at-risk students

PETALING JAYA: The Education Ministry should make use of existing trained counsellors to help school students who may be suffering from sadness, depression or a lack of interest in learning, says educationist Prof Tan Sri Dr T. Marimuthu.

While mental health and learning disability problems among students are not new issues, he said the problem had escalated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Isolated and online learning has led to disinterest among students, especially those from underprivileged families.

“It is good that our Education and Health ministries have identified the students at risk.

“Our schools have the resources, such as counsellors, compensatory programmes and all sorts of strategies,” Marimuthu said when contacted yesterday.

He said the counsellors would be able to look at these students and counsel them positively.

On Nov 22, the Education Ministry said in a written reply in Parliament that a mental health screening had found that over 100,000 Year Five and Six pupils were at risk of suffering sadness, depression and a lack of interest in learning.

It said this involved 12.55% of the total of 818,430 Year Five and Year Six pupils who participated in the screening between June and August.

The screening was part of the Healthy Mind in School Under the New Normal programme with the Health Ministry to keep tabs on the psychological well-being of students.

The ministry added that 1,737,755 Remove to Form Six students in the country were also screened and it was found that anxiousness and depression were among the main issues.

National Parents and Teachers Association Consultative Council president Datuk Dr Mohamad Ali Hasan called on all professional groups and individuals to help.

“Early warning detections and continuous monitoring must be carried out seriously. As we do medical check-ups for our young ones, periodic intervention and screenings of mental health should be carried out in all primary schools to identify ‘the core problems’ of the situation and formulate remedial measures without delay.

“Besides students, parents and guardians must also be given proper and continuous counselling,’’ he added.

Parent Action Group for Education president Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said that psychiatrists should come into the picture on a large scale to assist.

She said the risks facing the students, if not addressed, could lead to other consequences such as self-harm.

“If the relevant agencies put their minds together, we can find a suitable approach and steps to minimise these harmful effects,” she said.

Buddy Bear, an initiative of HumanKind and a psychosocial helpline and messaging service for children to connect with to get psychosocial support, said that untreated depression not only impacts academic performance but also children’s health, development and self-esteem.

HumanKind founder Pam Guneratnam said that in some situations, affected children might also develop negative coping methods and become vulnerable to addiction and self-harm.

“School avoidance is also common as seen in the report of children not feeling motivated to study or return to school,’’ she said.

“We have found that children really appreciate and benefit from having someone to really listen to them and help them feel heard and understood.

“Children also need skills so that they can cope and be able to deal with the uncertainties of life, especially as we enter into the realities of living with Covid-19,” she said.

Buddy Bear is Malaysia’s only child-dedicated free helpline to assist children during the health crisis, providing them with empowering knowledge and skills when facing challenges rather than becoming overwhelmed and depressed.

With 50 trained, screened and supervised counsellors, Buddy Bear is available from 6pm to midnight daily at 1-800-18-2327.

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