To mark World Education Support Personnel Day, on May 16th, we interviewed Orlando Guerrero Sandí about his experience during the pandemic. Orlando is a guidance counsellor in the San José de Río Sucio Primary School, located in Sarapiquí Canton (Heredia Province, Puerto Viejo District, Costa Rica). He has 19 years of service behind him and has been a member of the ANDE train union for 18 years.
Orlando, could you tell us about your experience working in education as a guidance counsellor during the pandemic?
The school where I work as a guidance counsellor is located in a rural area with many socioeconomic needs and a low level of education. We have a high proportion of students whose parents emigrated from their country of origin, Nicaragua.
Due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19 and in line with guidelines established by the country’s health and education authorities, a “Distance Learning” education strategy was adopted for the 2020 academic year in accordance with what each educational establishment and community was able to provide.
Distance learning could be provided through online classes using the virtual platform Teams. However, our school has very limited access to technology and the internet. There are also many families that do not have access to basic electricity services and others who do not have a phone or internet signal.
For that reason, the school organised its distance learning process by distributing hard copies of Self-Study Guides (GTA). The Guides were developed by the Ministry of Education and set out priority core subjects to be taught in all courses covered by the curriculum in schools.
Through me, the educational counselling services planned the Self-Study Guides in accordance with the curriculum for each level of primary education. I delivered a hard copy of the Guides to the parents of each student so that they could complete them at home over the course of a month. This process was carried out for every month of the academic year.
After a month, each student handed in their completed Self-Study Guides for me to check. Any student with access to a technological device would hand in their work by sending photos as proof.
During this period, my work also consisted of supporting the school’s teaching and administrative staff by providing technical advice so that they were better able to work in this new mode.
At the same time, I answered phone calls from parents with questions about distance learning and how to use the Self-Study Guides as well as about their children’s education. They also had questions about personal-social and vocational matters relating to the students.
As a guidance counsellor, I was a member of the UPRE Institutional Committee (Reintegration and Educational Attainment Unit). The Committee is part of the Early Warning Strategy to identify students at risk of dropping out of school, in other words, those students who find it difficult to stay in school and to be successful at school.
The UPRE team assesses the students who have been identified as being at risk, so as to offer them timely and relevant support, as well as developing relevant strategies, actions, and projects for the students. The UPRE Committee’s role was particularly important during the pandemic.
Would you say that the pandemic has changed other people’s perceptions of your role and function in the school?
Actually, because of my role in the school and how close I am to the students and their families, and because they trust me, I think they have believed in the work I have been doing for the last 19 years at the school. They know that they can count on me for support with the education process, even during a pandemic. Many of the parents were my students some years ago.
What does it mean to you to be part of the trade union, especially during these difficult times?
The ANDE trade union has provided vital support to all workers in the education sector, not only to teachers but to administrative and technical staff, as well as janitors, cooks, security personnel; to everyone who works in the education sector. This is because it has always fought for and defended that we should have the best working conditions, even during a pandemic. We have been offered training and workshops through the different digital and technological platforms. They have given us tools for our work as either teachers or counsellors as well as giving us tools to meet our personal and emotional needs so that we were able to deal with the pandemic.
Your interview will be published for World Education Support Personnel Day (ESP)! If you had to choose one message to convey to the world about Education Support Personnel, what would it be?
I am very happy and proud to be a guidance counsellor in primary education, to be a member of the ANDE trade union and, through my professional work, to contribute to improving the country’s education and that of the school where I work. But above all, I feel a great satisfaction because my work makes me a key component to transforming the lives of every boy and girl that I have the opportunity to work with. No matter what limits we might face in terms of health conditions, or the lack of economic resources communities in the country have, it will always be possible to do a good job at the service of others with the right attitude and dedication.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.