School Counseling Trends in Southeast Asia
Author: Shifa Podikunju Hussain, Ph.D., NCC
Three countries in the Southeast Asian region are showcased in this article on the status of school counseling as a profession. Each country lies while within a geographic proximity of less than 3 miles (Singapore and west Malaysia; Brunei and east Malaysia) to 785 miles
(Brunei to Singapore, and West Malaysia, see map).
The cultural and ethnic populations have many similarities, yet many differences. For example, Brunei and Malaysia share similarities where the majority of the population is Muslim by religion and Malay by ethnicity and language. Singapore has a significant Malay population and Malay is one of the national languages in this tiny nation state. Additionally, there are substantial numbers of Chinese and Indian groups in both Malaysia and Brunei. All three countries at one time were under British rule or protection. The differences among the three nations stem mainly from the political structures: Brunei is a Malay Islamic monarchy where the king is the head of state and government, while Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system where the head of state is the king and the head of government is the prime minister. Singapore, on the other hand, is a parliamentary republic with a Westminster system of government representing constituencies with no established royalties (CIA, 2014).
School counseling in Singapore is a fairly new concept. For example, in 2001, only 15 part-time school counselors were in place in the entire educational system, all of whom were retired teachers with a 6-month diploma in counseling from the Singapore National Institute of Education (Torres-Rivera & Krupski, 2005). Before this, counseling services were provided by teachers in the form of advising students with repeated behavior problems and by including career guidance and
decision-making skills into weekly classroom teaching (Tan, 2004). In 2005, the National Institute of Education (NIE)
developed an intensive, 6 month diploma in school counseling program following the government’s goal of assigning a school counselor in every school by 2008 and to lighten the workload of classroom teachers (Yeo, Tan & Neihart, 2012). As of 2010, there have been approximately 280 counselors who have completed this course and placed in Singapore schools (Yeo, Tan & Neihart, 2012). In almost all schools, only one full-time counselor serves the whole population. For example, at Woodlands Secondary School which serves grades seven through eleven (Form 1 through Form 5), there is one school counselor for the 1360 student population (S. Anshad, personal communication, February 28, 2012).
The job description of the school counselor calls for “working closely with the school management in planning and implementing a school-wide counselling system, providing direct counselling intervention to at-risk students and case consultations to school personnel and parents and training teachers and parents on counselling-related issues”(http://www.moe.gov. sg/careers/allied-educators/school-counsellor/ ). The educational requirements of the school counselor asks for a university degree in any discipline, good interpersonal and communication skills, three years of full-time working experience and experience working with children and youth. The Masters in counseling degree was not required but would be an advantage.
Singapore’s educational system is well known for its high standard of academic performance (Kok, 2013). This high academic performance can also exert high levels of pressure on their students. Singapore follows a streaming educational process that starts in grade three and continues through secondary education (Kok, 2013). Singapore students experience tremendous stress created by the school culture that over-emphasizes academic standards and achievements. For example, students who are placed in lower streams of education are often sent for additional developmental or preventive programs after school, which may cause low self-esteem, negative self-perceptions, and even labels such as being “wicked, or trouble makers” (Kok, 2013, p.538).
The government of Malaysia is working to improve educational facilities especially with approximately 33.5% (about five million) of the Malay population being below the age of 15 (Deva, 2004). Substance abuse and truancy are common issues in adolescence that the government has been tackling through various prevention programs (Deva, 2004).
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