Applied Psychology

What you need to know about being an educational psychologist

Nov 06, 2019

Many of us take learning for granted, but not the educational psychologist, whose job it is to help the young achieve their full potential in life.

Going to school, college or university and being taught is something we just do. But, in fact, there are many conditions – biological and environmental – that contribute to learning. It is the job of the educational psychologist to explore these conditions in order to optimise the learning experience of children and young people, thereby helping them to achieve their full potential in life.

What is educational psychology?

In a nutshell, it’s a branch of psychology that is concerned with understanding and improving how students acquire a variety of capabilities through formal instruction in a classroom setting.

In Handbook of Educational Psychology, prominent American educational psychologist Professor David Berliner describes the discipline as “one that uses psychological concepts and research methods to understand how the various characteristics of students, teachers, learning tasks and educational settings interact to produce the everyday behaviours common in school settings.”

Berliner identifies certain factors that affect how teachers teach and students learn. These include the learner’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development; cultural, social, emotional, and intellectual differences; learning and problem-solving processes; self-esteem; motivation; and testing and measurement procedures.

What does an educational psychologist do?

Essentially, these trained professionals study how students of all ages learn. While investigating how students process emotional, social and cognitive stimuli, they make assessments based on the student’s reactions, using this analysis to identify learning, social and behavioural issues that impede his or her learning. Barriers to learning may include everything from learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, to bullying, anxiety, and low levels of confidence or poor self-esteem. Educational psychologists work with a wide range of people, including parents, teachers, social workers, counsellors, and speech and language therapists, to support these students.

Recently, educational psychology has expanded beyond the school classroom to assist adults in educational settings. However, although educational psychologists are able to help learners of all ages, they differ from general psychologists in that, where the latter has a broad overview of the study of psychology as it pertains to mental health and psychological functioning, educational psychology is a more specialised field dealing specifically with the psychology of education and learning.

Where does an educational psychologist work?

Educational psychologists typically work with schools or educational institutions, or as independent or private consultants. The work of an educational psychologist can either be directly with a child (assessing progress, providing counselling) or indirectly (through their work with parents, teachers and other professionals). Direct work involves some form of assessment to uncover a child’s learning difficulty through consultation with professional colleagues, observation, interviews or use of test materials. Recommendations are then made to determine the most appropriate educational provision for that child and interventions might include devising learning programmes as well as collaborative work with a teacher.

Educational psychologists are also often hired by schools or learning institutions to work with staff in developing and implementing successful educational programmes for students. They provide advice and training on how schools might help children to learn and develop and they recommend methods, or develop strategies in partnership with schools, to help children learn more effectively. Strategies may include teaching approaches, improvements to learning environments, advice on curriculum materials and behaviour support.

Thinking of a career in educational psychology?

This multi-dimensional job requires a number of core competencies, including various personality traits, from being a good listener and having a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others to being both a creative and critical thinker.

As far as professional qualifications are concerned, you will need five years’ full-time formal education in Psychology in order to register as an educational psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). This tuition should comprise the following:

  • A three-year Bachelor’s Degree majoring in Psychology or the equivalent thereof.
  • An Honours Degree in Psychology.
  • A Master’s Degree in Psychology approved by the HPCSA.

You will also need to have successfully completed an approved 12-month full-time internship as well as the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology in the Educational Psychology category.

SACAP’s Bachelor of Applied Social Science degree is a comprehensive undergraduate psychology degree programme that provides the perfect springboard for those wishing to progress to Honours and Masters in order to become an educational psychologist. To find out more, enquire now.

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