Careers guidance for students adds to the teacher's burden

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 6:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 6:10am

The term "career planning", or "life planning" is a buzzword these days, at least within the education sector. Teachers have been asked to help guide students in choosing a path of study leading to the career that is right for them.

Most 16-year-olds don't have a concrete idea of what career they should aim for, yet they are being asked to choose elective courses in senior secondary school years. The responsibility has fallen on teachers to help them chart their future courses.

Starting this academic year, the Education Bureau is providing a HK$500,000 annual subsidy to each school to incorporate career planning into school life, so students have more counselling support and exposure to different types of jobs through talks, workshops or company visits.

Schools have been asked to revamp their traditional practice of simply disseminating basic career information. Bureau guidelines are highlighting teachers as significant adults who can help the youngsters develop better self-understanding and, as a result, become better able to realise their own potential and set off on the path of self-actualisation.

Effective life-planning education, as the bureau calls it, is considered vital to students' holistic development. One key learning goal, as identified in the bureau guidelines, is to enable students to "understand their own career/academic aspirations and develop positive attitudes towards work and learning".

The laudable goal, however, involves a host of learning elements-cum-activities for junior and senior secondary students, such as conducting self-assessments, understanding stereotyping in various professions, and identifying employment trends.

One can imagine the additional administrative workload schools have to shoulder. No wonder schools have opted to partner with non-governmental organisations to organise talks or workshops. The Hok Yau Club, for example, is running intensive programmes at 13 schools to help students find out about their personality traits and study options for various career paths while organising visits to tertiary institutes and companies led by university student volunteers or social workers.

Twelve per cent of students said they were facing unbearable pressure to get into a top school

However, another part of the preparation can involve a change in mindset. Hong Kong students (and their parents) tend to follow a "pecking order" of universities, vying to enter those with a perceived higher social standing. If they know better where their abilities and interests lie, and have better knowledge about various study/career options, they might choose lesser known institutions that nonetheless excel in the areas that appeal to them.

Going for the top universities means increased pressure and a strong sense of failure should a student fail to get in. A recent survey by the Hok Yau Club of 3,000 candidates in this year's Diploma of Secondary Education examination shows that the level of pressure they felt averaged 6.83, on a scale of 10, but 12 per cent said they were facing an unbearable amount of pressure (which they rated 10).

Parents cannot be left out of the equation. Educating parents on the value of giving their children the freedom of choice is desirable, and it's already happening. Parents are increasingly becoming more open-minded, and less inclined to foist their dreams on their children.

The downside to all of this is it adds to teachers' workloads. A group of student teachers from the Hong Kong Prospective Teachers Association have just voiced their concerns about their future work pressure, and have called for more support for life-planning education from the Education Bureau.

Also key is developing independent thinking among students, which is a prime goal of education anyway. It certainly helps tremendously if they learn to think for themselves - rather than relying on what the adults around them say - and evaluate their strengths and interests on their own. A right balance can be struck without placing any additional burden on students and teachers.