Training of educators / counsellors as well as concerns about teachers’ mental health

Published Date: 14 September 2021 06:00 PM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms Carrie Tan, Nee Soon GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) whether the Ministry will review the plans for making teachers take on teaching-counselling hybrid roles given the vastly different roles and responsibilities of each that could add to additional stress to teachers; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider setting up an allied unit of specially trained and dedicated mental health support staff in MOE to support educators on the ground with mental health care for students.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Darryl David, Ang Mo Kio GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education whether mental health first aid training can be incorporated for all educators and students in secondary and tertiary institutions.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms He Ting Ru, Sengkang GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) whether schools follow and apply the tripartite advisory on mental well-being in the workplace for their staff; (b) whether teachers and other staff in schools have access to free or subsidised mental health consultations and treatment; (c) whether the Ministry reviews the mental well-being of staff in schools as part of the risk assessment of workplace health; and (d) whether the Ministry can commit to regularly publish more details of such risk assessments, if any.

Response

1. A number of members of this House have raised questions related to the training of educators and counsellors to support the mental well-being of our students as well as concerns about teachers' mental health. Let me address these related questions together.

2. First, the issue of capabilities and deployment. Ms Carrie Tan asked about teachers taking on teaching-counselling hybrid roles, while Mr Darryl David asked on mental health first aid training.

3. In our schools, teachers, teacher counsellors and school counsellors work closely together to provide a holistic support network for students. Teachers are in regular contact with students. They know their students well and serve as trusted adults whom students can approach for help in school. They are often the first to detect signs of distress in their students.

4. Hence, all teachers are trained in basic counselling skills and mental health literacy, which include the key elements of mental health first aid training. They learn about common mental illnesses and their symptoms, facilitating help-seeking, addressing the issue of stigma, and how to support students with mental health issues. These equip our educators in schools to detect signs of distress in students and take timely action to refer them to the school or other professional counsellors when necessary. With these basic skills and knowledge, they can also create a supportive environment in class and CCAs. In the IHLs, students also have access to pastoral support and our IHLs continue to strengthen their staff's capabilities to support students' mental well-being, such as by providing training to identify early signs of distress in their students.

5. Through the Mental Health Education lessons in our revised Character and Citizenship Education curriculum, students also learn elements similar to mental health first aid training, including recognising signs of distress, when and how to seek help for self and peers, as well as developing empathy and care towards people struggling with mental health conditions. Similarly, mental health programmes and activities for students in the IHLs seek to raise awareness on mental health issues and build their resilience. These include self-care and stress management workshops as well as a compulsory mental wellness literacy curriculum for all Year 1 students in the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

6. Beside teachers providing the first line support, teacher counsellors, who have additional counselling training, have been deployed in schools since 1996. They help to counsel students on school-related issues, such as friendship issues, emotion regulation, learning difficulties and stress management. They can also take on more complex issues such as coping with grief and loss. To support teacher counsellors, schools have flexibility to reduce their teaching or CCA duties to provide them with more time to spend with students. We will continue to monitor the workload of teacher counsellors to ensure that teachers are well supported.

7. Ms Tan also asked whether the Ministry would set up an allied unit of specially trained mental health staff to support educators in their mental health care for students. MOE has a team of Counselling and Education Psychologists, Specialist Officers and experienced Lead School Counsellors. They work closely with school personnel, including educators and school counsellors, providing consultation, case assessment, training and resources in the area of mental health and student well-being.

8. Dr Shahira Abdullah asked about the issue of certification of MOE's school counsellors by Singapore Counselling Association (SAC). MOE recruits both trained and untrained applicants for School Counsellors (SC). Untrained applicants undergo the Diploma in School Counselling (DSC) programme conducted by the National Institute of Education (NIE) before they are deployed as SCs in the schools. The DSC programme is specially designed for school counselling to equip the trainees to work effectively and meet the needs of our children and youths in the educational setting.

9. NIE has a wealth of knowledge and experience in research and training in counselling psychology within the school context. They have been offering the Master of Arts (Counselling and Guidance) programme since early 2000, which is recognised by professionals and the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC).

10. Counsellors in Singapore are not required to register with SAC as it is not an accreditation or licensure body. MOE too does not require School Counsellors to register with SAC. Registration is voluntary.

11. The next set of issues concerns educators' well-being, which Ms He Ting Ru touched on. The well-being of our school staff has always been of paramount importance, and even before the tripartite advisory on mental well-being was issued in 2020, measures that were contextualised for schools and well aligned with the advisory, were already in place to support their well-being.

12. First, counselling services are available for school staff when needed. As part of the Civil Service medical benefits scheme, school staff are eligible for subsidised medical treatment, including mental health consultations and treatment. MOE provides in-house counselling services by trained professionals and there is also a whole-of-government counselling hotline for our teachers. These sessions are confidential and free for all staff. Our counsellors also organise workshops for staff in areas such as managing difficult conversations and stress management.

13. Second, MOE has structures in schools to support the well-being of our staff. School Leaders are guided by the Teacher Work Management Framework on staff deployment and measures to support staff well-being, including ensuring protected vacation time for staff to rest. In every school, the Staff Well-being Committee looks into staff welfare and bonding. MOE HQ supports these committees by offering professional knowledge, resources and sharing platforms for them to share their best practices and to learn from one another.

14. We recognize that ground practices may vary. Leadership is thus crucial in setting the tone, and our school leaders are committed to supporting the well-being of our school staff by building a culture of care and openness. In addition, MOE also obtains feedback through various sensing platforms such as engagement surveys and platforms, and school visits by MOE senior management. We take steps to provide support where needed such as working with schools to review teacher workload, and organising workshops to address the well-being needs of staff. Key indicators are also shared with schools so they can implement interventions and adjust their systems to support their staff.

15. Mr Speaker, MOE is committed to ensuring the well-being and building the capacity of our educators and staff so that they can rise to the demands and challenges, as they educate and support our students, especially in the context of the on-going pandemic situation. We will continue to refine our efforts, and work with relevant partners in this endeavor. Thank you.

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