The Department of Education said that the deficiencies of guidance counselors might hinder the departments’ effort to protect students’ mental health and prevent cases of suicides among students.
During a senate hearing, DepEd Assistant Secretary Dexter Galban on Monday reported that 404 students died by suicide in 2021 while 2,147suicide attempts. This is the first time that DepEd has released figures on a national scale for the various suicide cases reported by student groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is our belief that even one suicide case is too much. And this is an alarming rate that continues to go up.” Galban told lawmakers
“While we do have mental health programs, while we have funding, if we have a limited capacity to onboard additional personnel, the effectiveness of our mental health programs will be affected in a negative way,” Galban added.
The DepEd official said that the face-to-face classes transition would put “a strain” on students, just as the abrupt pivot to distance learning impacted their mental well-being.
However, Galiban said that the “one of the biggest issues” in the state of mental health in schools is the uneven number of guidance counselors that can handle the total number of students enrolled.
According to DepEd, there are only roughly 2,000 guidance counselors and around 28 million students. This translates to a ratio of about one guidance counselor for every 14,000 students. “The ideal ratio (globally) is 1:250. We’re stretching it here in the Philippines to 1:500,” Galban said.
In 2021, DepEd data showed that more than 775,000 students sought guidance services, representing just 2.85% of the total student population. But Galban said that the figure is likely underreported due to the shortage of counselors who can respond to students’ requests for support.
Moreover, according to data presented by a representative from DepEd’s Bureau of Human Resources and Organizational Development, only 19% or around 1,000 have been filled positions out of more than 5,300 authorized positions for registered guidance counselors at DepEd.
““The degree requirement (for guidance counselors) is not commensurate with the compensation provided to them, and therefore there are vacant positions for years on end. We require master’s degree from guidance counselors but their salary is SG-11. In comparison, entry-level salaries for nurses are SG-15,” Galban said.
The DepEd official was referring to the entry-level salaries given to first-time employees at government (SG-11), making guidance counselors among of the lowest paid in the school system.
In schools without any registered guidance counselor, teachers are assigned to become “guidance teachers” as an alternative. This is to provide psychosocial support to students despite not having the license to practice the said position.
Under Republic Act 9258 or the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004 (RA 9258), it states that “only registered and licensed” guidance counselors can provide guidance and counseling services in order to avoid bringing harm to mentally distressed students.
During the DepEd Basic Education Report on January 27, Vice president Sara Duterte who also served as the education secretary said that the agency will lobby for a pay hike for guidance counselors to increase their numbers in schools.
In 2021, DepEd instructed its division offices to promote the mental health helplines of organizations dedicated to providing psychological and psychosocial support services. The order was a response to the growing concerns for the mental health of students and teachers.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact the National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline at +63 917 899 8727 and 7989 8727.