With the opening of the new school year, Senator Win Gatchalian urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to prioritize the hiring of guidance counselors in elementary and high schools to deter bullying and at the same time provide support to victims of bullying.
Gatchalian’s call came in the wake of the DepEd’s revelation that had recorded more than 22,000 cases of bullying in School Year (SY) 2016 to 2017.
“While the 22,059 cases in SY 2016 to 2017 is a significant decrease from the 32,129 of SY 2015 to 2016, I was shocked that the number of bullying cases was that high.” Gatchalian said. “Obviously, there is a large room for improvement in terms of support for the mental well-being of our students and teachers.”
“We need to make our schools safe places for students. Top of mind, one way I can think of doing that is improving the number of guidance counselors in our schools,” he added.
The lawmaker said guidance counselors can provide support not only for victims of bullying but also for the bullies themselves.
“We need to correct the behavior and of course, our guidance counselors are better equipped in handling that aspect,” he said.
“Guidance counselors are an essential party of schools because if we catch and curb the bullying behavior early, we may be able to prevent these students from becoming children-at-risk (CARs) or children in conflict with the law (CICLs) or juvenile offenders,” he stressed.
DepEd defines bullying as an act or series of acts directed towards another student, or a series of single acts directed towards several students in a school setting or place of learning, which results in physical and mental abuse, harassment, intimidation, or humiliation.
Gatchalian previously said he was keen amending Republic Act No. 9258 or the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004 to enable the Department of Education to hire more guidance counselors in schools.
“Isa ito sa mga ihahain nating panukalang batas sa 18th Congress,” said Gatchalian, who is in the running to chair the Senate Committee on Basic Education. “Tututukan natin ito and hopefully maaddress na natin sa lalong madaling panahon ang shortage natin sa guidance counselors.”
Gatchalian is keen on modifying the qualifications for the guidance counselor licensure examination as provided in Section 13 of the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004, saying the strict requirements is one of the main factors in the dismal number of guidance and counseling graduates applying for a license.
He said he is also looking into revisiting and relaxing the guidance counselor to student ratio requirement to be able to arrive at a realistic number, both for the guidance counselors and the budget needed for their salaries.
DepEd requires public and private elementary and high schools to hire one guidance counselor for every 500 students. The Philippines, however, only has 3,220 registered guidance counselors as of July 2017 since the first batch of licensure examinees in 2008.