Local TD Kathleen Funchion, who is a member of the Dail Joint Committee on Education and Skills, has added her voice to those insisting on the implementation of the Report on Positive Mental Health in Schools.
The Sinn Fein TD says it is a topic that often fails to get the coverage and attention it warrants. “If the proper care, attention and facilities are provided at the early and critical stages it can do so much to prevent and/or alleviate future problems,” she said.
Deputy Funchion told the the Dail that Ireland not only needs services for crisis situations, but also requires counsellors and play therapists in schools to assist those affected by the stresses, and anxieties attached to schools, some of which are the result of bullying. Schools involved in the School Completion Programme already provide some of these services, but this needs to be expanded, she said.
“Preventative measures are also critical. Each student in school needs to be encouraged to develop their own particular talents and strengths ,” said the Sinn Fein TD. “Also, non-academic achievements, could be taken into consideration for college entry. We must take the stress out of school and ensure that all the focus is not on academic achievement. It cannot be the case that one is only seen as a fantastic student if one gets all A's because students might have other skills and that must also be encouraged. These children must realize that they are just as valuable as those who are good at mathematics.”
The local TD said that most children in junior and senior infants love going to school, but as time goes on they encounter difficulties. “At some point in the system they feel they are not good enough and they lose confidence and self-belief,” she said.
“That is where mindfulness, coping skills and emotional resilience come into play. These need to become part of the school
routine along with the academic considerations.” In addition, Deputy Funchion said she had a concern with the level of
homework especially in secondary schools, and the stress and worry that causes.
“There is a need to change the mindset not only of the school, but also of parents and society,” she said. “All need to see that the emotional and mental health side is as important as the academic side,” she said. “Children need to know it is okay to be different and it is okay not to fit in with everybody else. There is also a need to teach children how to cope when things go wrong or something does not go their way.”
The Sinn Fein TD concluded her remarks by calling attention to the plight of children attending school from emergency
accommodation in hotels and bed and breakfasts.
“They have gone from having a certain routine and familiarity to a situation of upheaval and living in one room with all of the family,” she said. “We need to put supports in place for these students and their teachers. It is time for this excellent report to move from theory to reality and so really improve the mental well being of future generations.”
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