School mental health guide for parents and teachers

 The entire growth of a child or adolescent is not just the obvious physical growth and maturation. Holistic growth and development entail physical, mental and social development of an individual. The school environment must not just complement the efforts of the parents but provide a mechanism for proactively identifying children who need specific interventions towards enhancing their performance. The outcome of an ideal school experience for a young person will be the progressive attainment of specific developmental milestones at specific times in his/her life within a range of what is expected. The school can serve as a platform for periodic evaluation of these young ones to ensure that those with problems are identified early enough and are given the right assistance towards ensuring that they are always at their best.

An ideal school must have a comprehensive assessment protocol for every prospective pupil. In countries where things are done properly, the comprehensive assessment of a child includes the evaluation of physical, social and intellectual/cognitive developments. This is then followed by yearly comprehensive physical assessments. In such climes, the governments’ regulatory role is always uncompromising and progressively reviewed towards meeting the educational needs of the entire populace. You can’t just gather children into an uncompleted building and call it a school. Serious schools take the pre-admission assessment of pupils seriously. Such schools ensure that prospective students meet standards stipulated in accordance with their accreditation by the governments’ regulatory agencies. One way of knowing a standard school is an attention to detail when it comes to screening children that they want to admit. It’s a complete attempt at profiling every child that they admit into the school. Every teacher who is in charge of children (especially in the pre-school, kindergarten and lower primary classes) must know each child very well.  The teacher must be able to write more than “He/She is a good boy/girl” in the column for class teachers comments!!

This brings us to the issue of “Student-Teacher Ratio”. This simply means the number of students that are assigned to a teacher in each classroom. According to statistics from the World Bank, the best we have ever achieved (average) in Nigerian public schools was in 1978. Then, Nigeria hit a mark of about 33 students to a teacher in public primary schools (Private schools were much better). The United States was about 22 students to a teacher by then. In the year 2007, Nigerian average was about 46 students to a teacher, while the United States was about 17. When you have a low student to teacher ratio, the students are better catered for. The teacher is able to give the required attention to each pupil. A friend dropped off his son in school one day and came back to pick up the boy at the closing of the school. He got to the boy’s class and was alarmed when the teacher said she hadn’t seen the boy in school that day. They eventually found the innocent boy somewhere in the school, playing on his own!! Apparently, the little boy just wandered off since the opening of school that day and was not noticed to be missing by the teacher.  If the teacher had not had too much to handle, probably she would have noticed the boy wasn’t in class and would have called to ask the parents why the child wasn’t in school. An ideal school must have a low teacher to student ratio.

Another issue for serious consideration is how accessible is your child’s school to you? How soon can you get to the school in case of an emergency? Your Child should be in a school you can reach within 10-20 minutes. I have listened to accounts from parents who wished that they could have reached their child’s school earlier; probably things would have turned out differently. Asides that; what emergency medical services are available to the school? Do they have an ideal clinic with qualified staff that can respond appropriately during emergencies? Do they have ready access to a hospital facility that can provide more detailed care in case of a failure of their available service? An ideal school must have appropriate and accessible medical care.

Another issue is the location of the school. An ideal school must be located in a safe place. The school must not be too close to the highway, river, stream, forest, industry etc. the school must not be close to anything that can cause harm to the exploring child. Classrooms for children below the age of 10 years must not be in a story building (if possible)!! Having to get children up and down a flight of stairs is a potentially dangerous situation. The school environment must be located far away from noise, hustling, and bustling of a market or any source of environmental hazard. Imagine a school located beside a rice mill!!!

Lastly, a school for children and adolescents must have a policy for promoting the mental health and well-being of its students. This policy must be a document stating the school’s commitment to partnering with parents in ensuring that their students’ mental health is promoted. The school must be devoted to ensuring a prevailing atmosphere that protects, promotes and provides support for all students at risk of having mental disorders. Also, there must be a drive for assisting specific individuals who already have a mental disorder.  The policy must also include a statement on the prevention of bullying.

Any school that considers all these in its operations will indeed produce sound and emotionally strong graduates.

Stay Safe and Sane; help others do the same by sharing this!!!

 

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Ola Ibigbami

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