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Do parents take over a career counselor’s role?

December 10, 2006

While the importance of professional career counseling in a school environment is being recognised, few parents are willing to let a third person decide which career their children should take. They want to be able to take this decision themselves, or least influence their child every which way they can. It is not as if they always force their child to take up certain subjects…just that the children themselves opt for careers their parents (and society) approve of and respect. As a result, they land up in careers they feel uncomfortable with. This happens because both parents and children are not aware of the plethora of career options available today.
And this has an effect on the schools too. As neither parents nor students clamour for career counseling in schools, the schools are indifferent as well.

Parents have more influence
P.K. Bannerjee, Head of the ‘Plus Two’ section of La Martiniere for Boys (Calcutta) says, ‘Boys don’t show much interest in guest lectures about careers as often they have already decided upon their future careers.’ Parental and societal pressure he feels, play a big role in this. ‘Finally ofcourse, it’s up to the student and his parents. We cannot force students to listen to us, as parents have a stronger influence,’ he says.

Student speak
Here is what a student says: ‘We had a few guest lectures. But few were interested. There were three groups of students. Those who wanted to do Medical or Engineering, and a small minority who wanted to do BMM (Bachelor of Mass Media). No one wanted to go for the career counseling lectures.’
Wrong choices can lead to much heartburn however. Take the case of Rahul. He was pressurised to study engineering by his parents, who he says were not aware of the career options available in other streams. And nor was he, he admits. He failed his first year engineering exams and now wants to change streams…but cannot convince his parents to let him do it. Then there’s Jitesh. The son of two doctors, he is an artist at heart. But he admits that he was ‘glad’ when he didn’t get through his NID (National Institute of Design) entrance tests. ‘If I had got through, I would have been torn in two…’ he says. Now he is studying in a medical college for which his parents willingly shelled out lakhs. And sometimes low academic scores can make a student feel that he or she is useless. Shalini, a student of class XII student who is fares poorly in school badly wants to be a career girl but feels disheartened because of her low scores. ‘Isn’t there anything I’m good at?’ she asks.

What’s the solution?
There are hundreds of boys and girls like these – confused and uncertain, and that too at the vital crossroads in their lives. Only professional career counseling services in schools can help them. They need to find out not just their aptitude but also the career options available. Devi Kar, Head of the ‘Plus Two’ section of La Martiniere for Girls (Calcutta), believes that career counseling should begin from class VIII itself. ‘A child’s ideas about the future starts talking shape from that time onwards,’ she says. ‘If students are informed about career choices from that class and guided about their aptitudes, by the time they reach the senior classes the right career choices will naturally evolve.’
P.K. Bannerjee feels that ‘regular and reliable aptitude tests from an early age’ will go a long way in helping students in making the right choices. ‘Regular tests will convince parents that their child does not have an aptitude for a subject like say science,’ he says.

Can teachers do the job of career conselors?
Some schools feel that career counselors are not essential. ‘Senior teachers speak to the boys about career options,’ says I. V. Sarma, the principal of Hindi High school, Calcutta. ‘We also arrange career sessions sometimes to give them adequate exposure,’ he adds. He is not alone. Many schools, even the reputed ones, do not feel the need to hire a career counselor, not even on a part-time basis. Senior teachers are often given the responsibility and at times the counselors who are there to help children with their emotional problems fill this need.
But Devi Kar feels that this does not work. ‘This is not sufficient. Career counseling means getting to know each student and his/her capabilities. This takes a lot of time and involvement, often over several years. Moreover, teachers are not always career counseling experts.’ Gaurango Chattopadhyay, who often counsels disturbed teenagers, says, ‘Only a full-time trained career counselor can do justice to the job as teachers may not even be aware of all of the options available in colleges and professional institutions.’

The need for career counseling is felt too late
Parents often realise the need for aptitude tests and career counseling when their child passes the board exams. Umpteen professional career counseling centres have sprung up to fill this need. But often, they see a student just once, or at best, twice, and evaluate him on the basis of one interview and a few tests. Worse, by the time the parents approach these career counseling services, the student is already well into his teens and might have lost out on opportunities.

Schools cannot afford it
However, full-time or even part-time career counseling in Indian schools is unlikely to become a part and parcel of the school curriculum in the near future. The main reason being financial considerations. ‘Schools will naturally look at career counseling from the material standpoint,’ says Chattopadhyay, ‘but the amount and effort spent on it could be more than compensated for by a reduced number of failures, better grades as well as a higher morale of the students.’
As we hurtle further into the 21st century and a new economic order, teachers and parents will be find it more and more difficult to keep up with the mind-boggling career options available. Only a professional career counselor on the school’s roll will be able to do the job. True, the poorer schools will not be able to afford it, but the better off schools surely can? Ofcourse, they have to first believe that career counselors serve a useful purpose. Otherwise they are not going to bother to invest in one.

(A revised version of the article published in The Telegraph, Calcutta.)

Related Reading: Choosing the right school – research
The correlation between school grades and professional success
The problem with our education system
The terrible inequalities in the Indian education system

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2006 1:59 pm

    There are very few and rare schools in India which will be offering genuine career counseling services. Even in a city like Mumbai, I have hardly noticed it. In fact, leave alone career counseling, the schools are not able to even properly teach the subjects they are supposed to teach, because of which a very large number of students go in for the extra tution or coaching classes. Can we trust a school for career counseling when they are not able to do justice with their main job of teaching?

    As I understand it, career selection is a natural phenonmenon. It is hidden somewhere deep down in the personality. The children might have been used to a particular environment (including their parents’ profession and their likings) for years together, which directly or indirectly sets into their mental makeup.

    But, what I think is that they must have the information about all possible avenues at the right time, which means in standard X and standard XII, when they have to take the most difficult decisions about their future careers. Because knowledge is power. Once they have full information (and may be some guidence from the right minded person), they will be in a position to take a better career decision at that tender age. May be some professional services outside the schools also may help.

    Nonetheless, as apparently suggested by you indirectly, the fact remains that most of the students are persuaded to try engineering, medicine, commerce, etc., in the name of profession at standard XII, may be because they are the mainstream / well-established choices which can have large number of student intake. Management etc. come later on. Other career options also come later on.

    Thanks for your response. – Nita

  2. February 8, 2008 1:19 pm

    Thanks Nita for forwarding me to this post. It certainly was a good read.

    One thing comes to mind when you talk about how schools look at hiring a counselor from a financial POV. The fact that they are unwilling to put in that little bit of extra effort is exactly the reason why Indians don’t help their schools financially when they eventually have spending potential. Sure, some of them do, and they get their names carved in stone, but there are a lot more people that ought to. That is how most of the biggest schools in the west run, don’t they?

    (Sorry about the typos and any non-linearity of thought, I seem to have got myself a migraine and I wonder why…)

  3. February 8, 2008 1:31 pm

    I think a lot of our schools are really bad, even the so-called good ones. I can rave and rant about what I hated in my school, but I prefer not to! 🙂

  4. Raj permalink
    February 8, 2008 6:20 pm


    Thanks for linking this post to the other one.

    You have touched my heart with this one . . . you can as well put me in the place of Rahul . . . the only difference would be the sub-stream rather than the stream itself . . . but I have managed to put it behind me . . . one must get on with life . . . life can teach one several truths . . . I am only the better for it . . . it has made me look at life from a philosophical point of view . . .

    And I too hated some things about my school,but the absolutely wonderful experience and fun I had as a schoolkid makes me forget all that and makes me wish I had never grown up 😐 but I guess that it does not matter since I am still a child at heart 😉

  5. February 8, 2008 10:56 pm

    Sorry to hear about your experience Raj but human beings are so adaptable! It looks like you have adjusted, and if there is passion for something, well, you can always turn that into a hobby.


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