An edited version of this commentary was first published in NVPC’s SALT, “A Better Approach to Career Guidance in Schools“.
The ubiquity of career guidance and counselling programmes in our local schools (especially in the universities) is an advantage. Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah, said as much, when she recently remarked that “guidance could help students and their parents view the vocational path more positively” (TODAY, Feb. 14).
But how should we square this against the belief that our academic institutions already foster an excessively pragmatic mentality, and that vocationally-oriented guidance programmes might exacerbate this?
In fact I would argue that students and parents should have ready access to such services, especially when they are choosing courses of subject combinations. Even more important is the need to not focus on career guidance per se (“What should you work as?”, “What are the positions, associated perks and remuneration?”) and risk pigeon-holing individuals, but guidance in general. To encourage them to consistently contemplate next steps (“What are you interested in, and what skills are needed?”, “Are there endeavours to be involved in?”).
That is, to regularly explore aspirations beyond the what-do-you-want-to-be essay assignment.
Ambitions are going to change over time, but students should be able to discuss them frankly: parents can provide advice and support, educators and returning seniors can share about their own experiences, and even employers – from the relevant industries – can share their expectations. Moreover what was striking about the commentary was a comment from Swiss career counsellor Liselotte Stricker Meuli, who revealed that students and their parents sometimes disagree on which route to pursue. “It takes time … sometimes having many counselling sessions, to match everyone’s interests and come to a compromise”, she said.
In other words, (career) guidance is an iterative and collaborative process.
The variety of diverse pathways and their value – besides the traditional scholastic ones – are not unique to Switzerland. The distinction between the academic and the vocational tracks features in Finland’s education system, where students can choose to enter universities or universities of applied sciences. There is little stigma attached to the choice of a university or a professional college in both countries, though in Singapore some might argue otherwise. The key nonetheless is to concentrate on prospects and valuable opportunities for the future.
Some might contend that the aforementioned arrangements on guidance might burden students with even more responsibilities. How can they enjoy their time in school, when they are constantly thinking about their plans and potential commitments?
Yet I suppose it is this very conception or perspective of the future that is sorely lacking at the moment. Even if it does exist it is unfortunately confined to mere discussions of careers and professions (and sometimes at the wrong timing), and not necessarily what the student might be passionate about. Such guidance helps to align what is learnt from the classroom and how it can be applied, pushes the student to participate in relevant extra-curricular initiatives, and drives individuals to do their best. This is the progress we need.