UNODC works to strengthen the "Schools' Programme"
"Arash was there in my office, silent and ashamed. He had escaped from the school that same day with older students and tried to use drugs in the nearby park. His classmates were mean to him, particularly Hossein, who had bullied him for a long time," stated Mr. Hadadi, the counselor of district 17 of Tehran Province. Arash could be considered a high-risk and vulnerable student. His parents were divorced and he was constantly bullied in school. Arash was only one of the cases identified by Mr. Hadadi through the "Strengthening Schools' Programme" package developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
School counselors at all levels help students to understand and deal with social, behavioural, and personal problems. They focus on preventive and developmental counseling to provide students with the life skills needed to deal with their problems before they get worse. Furthermore, they enhance the students' personal, social, and academic growth. Counselors provide special services, including alcohol and drug prevention programmes and conflict resolution classes. They also try to identify cases of domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a student's development.
A survey on the "Structural Model of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Use Among At-Risk Adolescents: Direct and Indirect Impact of Social and Personal Factors," published in 2007 in the Research in Psychological Health Journal (vol. 1), demonstrated that 19.7% of Tehran students had experienced smoking cigarettes, 18.8% had tried drinking Alcohol, 1.3% had experienced Opium, 0.4 % had used Heroin, 2.3% had experienced Hashish and 1.9% had used Ecstasy.
In 2009, the UNODC in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in cooperation with Dr. Shahram Mohammadkhani (Professor of Psychology, Kharazmi University) and with the support of its funding partners Italy, Germany and Norway, developed the training package on the "Strengthening Schools' Programme," with the aim of enhancing the knowledge of counselors on conducting screening and identifying high-risk students.
The package is tailored for school counselors and its main target group is high-risk students aged 13-16. It focuses on several themes and concepts in the field of drug use prevention among youth, such as different theories on preventive interventions, risk and protective factors, and prevention models. The goal of this package is to strengthen the capacity of counseling services. It aims to enhance the knowledge, confidence and skills of school counselors in working with high-risk students and in supporting the latter's health and psychosocial skills.
In the framework of its Country Programme 2011-2014, UNODC conducted two Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops for school counselors on the "Strengthening Schools' Programme" in Tehran and Isfahan provinces, as well as their respective booster sessions and evaluation meetings with the aim of assessing the feasibility and efficiency of the developed package.
The package was officially commended during the "Action research for improving the life skills of students" conference, which was organized by the Ministry of Education, district 16 of Tehran Province, on 16 July 2012. During the event, Mr. Hadadi presented the package, as well as its outcomes, to Mr. Hossein Baboui, the Director General of the Health and Physical Education Department of the Ministry of Education, and to the participating school counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. A number of school counselors implementing the package in their respective districts were also honoured by Mr. Baboui during the event.
Later this year, UNODC is planning to revise the package on the basis of the evaluation results and to add a parenting manual.
"This training package will help counselors, like Mr. Hadadi, to screen and identify high-risk students and assist them in acquiring the needed life skills to deal with pressures and gradually learn to empower themselves and lead a healthy and drug-free life," said Mr. Antonino De Leo, UNODC Country Representative.