| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The Initiative has seen three major phases.
Development and Introduction Phase (1994-1999)
Prior to taking the first volunteers to be peer counselors, training curriculum and peer counselors’ guidebook was developed, focusing on providing basic level counseling skills, particularly the techniques to capture psychological and emotional difficulties of their peers. Key products developed include manuals for counseling teachers and schools, manual, workbook and counseling diary for student counselors, and evaluation survey questionnaires.
Over time, student counselors’ competency increased and even brought added effect of lessening the burden on school counseling teachers, who had been overloaded due to shortage of professional counselors willing to work in schools. Schools and counseling teachers also actively sought suggestions from peer counseling trainers and trainees, as well as the “counselee” students for constant revision and improvement.
Systematic Buildup Phase (2000-2011)
As all stakeholders—researchers, students and teachers, school administrations—gained more experience, enhanced practical guidelines were set out on the content, methods, and procedures for program implementation in more schools. In this phase, counseling materials had been amended to tailor to different developmental stages of adolescents: elementary (5th and 6th grades), middle, and high school levels.
A systematic implementation was supplemented by informational sessions, workshops, consulting, and evaluation meetings for each stakeholder. Orientations are regularly held for working staff of local Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers and local education offices in March, the beginning month of the school year in Korea, to induce better understanding and cooperation from them.
Nationwide Expansion Phase (2012-2014)
Since the launch of the Comprehensive Plan to Eliminate School Violence in 2012 by the joint efforts of relevant government ministries, the peer counseling program was expanded to elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide. As of 2014, 6,396 schools, which comprise 56 percent of total schools, are participating in the program. This total number of schools is exceeding the 2014 target of 5,000 schools.
The implementation plan for this Initiative is revised annually (An abridged version of 2014 Implementation Plan is attached). Key elements of the yearly plan are 1) selection of schools; 2) selection of counseling teachers; 3) training of counseling teachers; 4) operation of Peer Counseling; 5) strengthening student counselors; 6) promotional activities.
1) Schools submit applications to participate in the Peer Counseling program. In reference to the previous year’s performance result, applications are reviewed by the regional education offices mainly for the purpose of budget allocation, and cooperation plan with local counseling centers are prepared.
2) Counseling teachers are appointed based on the size and circumstances of each school. Minimum of two teachers per school are recommended for efficient management of the program.
3) Once the counseling teacher selection is complete, they must attend training sessions: in-depth course for returning teachers and basic course for newly appointed teachers. All counseling teachers are filed in the Peer Counseling program database.
4) Operation of Peer Counseling is through a form of school club activity, but it varies depending on school circumstances. Training sessions for student counselors usually befall during lunch and/or afterschool hours. The counseling sessions, or constant initiatives of student counselors, are the heart of the program, and they have freedom to incorporate various activities like using a letter box or holding a free-hug day, under the guidance of counseling teachers.
5) Student counselors’ competencies are verified and strengthened through diverse ways, including camps, educational opportunities, case sharing contests, and award ceremonies.
6) Promotional materials (posters, leaflets, videos) are disseminated to education offices and schools. Furthermore, active promotions for school principals and assistant principals during executive meetings as well as for students, parents, and other teachers are invigorated throughout the year.
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Youth Self-Support Assistance Division in the Youth and Family Policy Office at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is chiefly involved in the implementation, coordination, and funding of the Initiative. As a co-host of the Initiative since 2012, the School Violence Policy Division of the Ministry of Education contributes to project management and budget execution. In particular, they assist extensively in seeking cooperation from schools and regional education offices for promotion and implementation of the program.
The Korea Youth Counseling and Welfare Institute took on detailed tasks of research and training curriculum and manual development. Distribution of training materials and best practices is one of the key roles they played, through managing the Peer Counseling website (www.peer.or.kr).
Local offices of education are in charge of program orientation, counseling teacher appointments, and facility provision for evaluation meetings and regional association activities.
Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers—200 locations across the country—contributed to organizing and facilitating program orientations, evaluation meetings, regional association activities, and case contests. Through these centers, training and fostering peer counseling teachers are facilitated.
Schools and Students:
Participating schools contributed to implementing school-specific plans, organizing and managing Peer Counseling clubs, training of peer counselors, case sharing between classrooms and schools, and partaking in regional association activities.
Peer counseling teachers endeavored to cultivate closer relationship with the selected student peer counselors so that they are better prepared for unexpected circumstances as they act as “counselors” in classrooms.
Though the collaborative workings of each stakeholder largely contributed to the success of the program, student counselors were the most important stakeholders in the implementation of the Initiative. With the help of training course and continual support of the counseling teachers, they played the key role of being the initiators in classrooms.
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
This Initiative was funded entirely through the government budget, executed by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the Ministry of Education.
In the fiscal year 2014, a total budget of 2 billion KRW was allotted for the program. About 55 percent of the budget was allocated to participating schools to support their Peer Counseling operations, e.g. counseling teacher-student training sessions, evaluation meetings, etc. However, the yearly support funds for schools were minimal, which was less than 200,000 KRW per school, when distributed to over 5,000 schools around the country.
The remaining 45 percent was spent for the work done by the Youth Counseling and Welfare Institute and 17 major Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers: counseling teachers’ training and teacher’s manual (35%), informational and evaluation meetings (35%), case sharing contests (15%), and peer counselor’s workbook, diary, and badge (15%).
Starting from 1994, focused research on Peer Counseling was actively conducted and the research results were used for program and manual development. Incorporating feedbacks and ideas from peer counselors and counseling teachers as well as various case studies, revised editions of program design, training curriculum, and manuals were completed and distributed to all participating teachers and student counselors in 2012. Above all, grade-specific manuals allowed more effective and resourceful training and counseling for the participants as the new editions are tailored according to the developmental stages of the counselors and counselees.
In order to provide increased accessibility to information and best practices of peer counseling, the Peer Counseling website (www.peer.or.kr) was created in 2013. Through this site, systematic database management became easier. Besides, active interactions among peer counselors and between counseling teachers and students became possible.
Close collaboration with all relevant organizations and experienced persons, including former peer counselors, contributed to securing the necessary human resources.
Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers (200 centers) and local offices of education (177 offices) teamed up so that all schools are sufficiently staffed with counseling teachers or professional counselors who can train and oversee student peer counselors. Naturally, experts from Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers and the counseling teachers undertook the job of training and fostering peer counselors. Counseling teachers who have finished the required training course selected or took volunteers for peer counselor training. An outstanding gain is that the key HR supply for Peer Counseling Initiative came from the students, as the idea of the Initiative was to place beneficiaries, the youth, in the seat of service providers.
Additionally, professional peer counseling trainers have been raised since 1994 and total of 1,305 experts provided training and consulting to Peer Counseling participants. In 2014, an association of senior and former peer counselors was launched to give mentoring support to active peer counselors.
In 2013, total of 7,310 counseling teachers and 77,233 student counselors participated around the country, which is an impressive progress compared to the numbers in 2011: 1,926 counseling teachers and 6,128 student counselors.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
1) Grade-Specific Manuals
Peer Counseling is designed in a way that considers developmental stages of teenagers, according to elementary, middle and high school year levels. Supporting guideline materials were prepared so that topics and skills would be presented and practiced flexibly by grade levels.
For elementary school 5th and 6th grades, the focus of training and counseling is on empathy and communication skills. Students at this level, typically ages 11-12, are at a stage where they start to develop greater interest and curiosity about other people, their thoughts, and understanding of them. Considering that, volunteering opportunities requiring consideration, for example, are used to motivate them to participate.
For the youth in middle school, usually between age 13 and 15, different academic situations are underlined in the way they are encouraged to participate. For the 1st year (grade 7), transitioning from elementary to middle school, for the 2nd year (grade 8), increased peer influence and group mind, and for the 3rd year (grade 9), academic preparation for high school are the most pronounced characteristics. Thus, counseling teachers and peer counselors are selected, trained, and managed keeping those characteristics in mind.
For high school students, though they are generally more mature in their physical, cognitive, and social development, the time they can dedicate to counseling activities aside from their studies is the bigger issue. Therefore, stronger desire and willingness of the student and incentives that can be an added value to students’ college application are weighted considerably.
2) Decreased School Violence
Equipping schools with proactive “monitoring” mechanism, the consistent communication and involvement among students, is the primary success factor in reducing the rate of school violence. With the increased number of peer counselors, the school violence rate has been declining. Since the nationwide expansion of Peer Counseling in 2012, the school violence rate declined from 18.3 percent in 2011 to 12.0 percent in 2012, and then to 6.1 percent in 2013.
3) Increased Socials Skills of Youth
Peer counseling is based on the person’s ability to listen and empathize using basic counselling skills that can be learned through training and experience. Therefore, peer counseling experience contributed to increasing social skills of the students in general. After participating in the program, peer counselors’ ability to empathize, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and leadership skills rose on average from 3.60 to 3.70, 3.51 to 3.65, 3.74 to 3.86, and from 3.74 to 3.85 points, respectively.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family conducts field monitoring and consulting via making visits to schools that participate and to local youth counseling centers. Observant attention to the outcomes, difficulties, and opinions for improvement that schools and centers offer ensured improved quality of the program in the following years.
The peer counseling database system is also used to keep records of the activity outcomes and difficulties. The database is available to the counseling teachers and is searchable for references. Especially for critical problems, more prompt and insightful response can be drawn, if it is used in conjunction with other means, such as the experts at Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers. Plus, the Peer Counseling program outcomes are managed in one place this way, enabling consolidation of data and simplification of referencing.
Other monitoring mechanisms such as mentoring by college students and workshops by the regional associations were put into place as well.
Evaluation of peer counseling activities takes place at each school as well as through regional association meetings. The evaluation of the Peer Counseling program reflects on three aspects: internal change experienced by the peer counselor, changes observed in a classroom and the school, and actual operation of the program by the school.
For evaluating the impact on peer counselors, they are asked to complete questionnaires on empathy, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and leadership skills, each comprised of 24-50 questions.
For evaluating the impact on members of the classrooms, questionnaires assess school life satisfaction, cohesion of the classmates, attitudes toward school violence, and general atmosphere and impression of the class and the school.
On the whole, responses to the Peer Counseling program from students and schools were enthusiastic, but better and multifaceted monitoring and evaluation systems for counselee students and follow up activities after evaluations would increase the effectiveness of the program.
For the evaluation of the program management by the school, case contest, case sharing conference, evaluation meetings, and pre and post program evaluation meetings are used. At the end of each year, outstanding student counselors and schools are awarded and best practices are collected from the Peer Counseling Best Practice Contest through the Peer Counseling website. Awarding prizes to outstanding peer counselors, teachers, and organizations provide motivation to current and new participants, representing role models the youth.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Lack of precise understanding of Peer Counseling at schools and in families posed initial difficulties for the implementation. The most challenging task was to gain support and reasonable appreciation from the “adults” namely the parents and the teachers; they tended to be biased against students’ capability of “counseling” and often be afraid that counselor students will have to sacrifice too much time away from their studies.
This was overcome by sharing success stories through case contests and interviews of both counselor and counselee students. Efforts to promote the positive impacts Peer Counseling could bring started to help the adults understand better. Promotional efforts through media coverage, especially during the special week of Peer Counseling (September), increased audience’s recognition of the need for such peer program. Additionally, teenage TV stars were appointed as goodwill ambassadors in order to expand the support of the students.
Backed by the consistent messages from the youth, schools, and the media, people’s attitude changed, more accepting about the idea of Peer Counseling. As the program became widely known for fostering positive school cultures, more principals and teachers are showing greater enthusiasm and willingness to run the program in their schools.
Another obstacle was training peer counselors. Schools that newly adopted the program reported difficulties in training counselor students and appropriately organizing and managing their activities.
This was overcome by creating thorough manuals for teacher and student counselors, getting expert help and consulting from the counseling centers, and sharing knowhow between classes and between schools through the regional association activities; local Youth Counseling and Welfare Centers provide consulting services throughout the year for schools within the same district to increase efficiency of the program. Meanwhile, best practices and practical know-hows are shared by various events such as the Best Practice Contest and the Peer Counseling UCC Contest.