Career guidance is not a one-time activity but rather includes a range of inter-connected activities, including provision of careers information, personalised guidance/counselling, skills assessment and aptitude testing as well as exposure to the world of work – everything that can enable people of any age but young people in particular, to make the educational, training and occupational choices that are right for them.
In recent times, there has been an emergence of many innovative ideas in schooling at both national and international level that express the need to take care of students and teachers. These initiatives such as Education for Values in School: A framework (NCERT), Socio-Emotional and Ethical Learning (Daniel Goleman & H.H. the Dalai Lama), Libre Curriculum - An integrated approach to ‘Brain Education’ (UNESCO MGIEP), Happy Schools Framework Report (UNESCO), Happiness Curriculum (Government of NCT of Delhi), and Education for Peace (UNESCO) (NCERT) convey that there is much more to education than the traditional rote-learning. They all criticize the undue importance of rote learning and the unnecessary pressure that it puts on students.
Such interventions are inspired by the conceptualization of an ideal school where the varied developmental needs of the students are met; the child’s aspirations, the need for growth, the experience of freedom, and experimentation are valued; every student is free to study any subject he chooses at any given time; the teacher is a friend and a guide, who must not impose himself/ herself, but may intervene when necessary. However, such expectations are rendered utopian in the context of ground realities.
In the Indian context where wage employment is limited and dependent on the trajectory of the economy, career guidance assumes special importance. This is because if implemented correctly and in sync with the aptitude of the students, it has the potential to help improve the image of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) not only in the minds of young people but also their parents. In India, career aspirations are often narrow, unrealistic and distorted by social background. This can enable more students to opt for vocational subjects in school and follow up by enrolling in skill-oriented courses after completing school education for a range of careers opportunities. At the same time, career guidance can also highlight the importance of being self-employed and pursuing an entrepreneurial career – an aspect that is often ignored. The joy, flexibility and the economic freedom of being your own boss as an entrepreneur is something career guidance can help young adults to appreciate. This would help young adults to self-assess and reflect on their natural talent, ambitions, interests as well as existing skills and enable them to relate this knowledge of who they are to their future careers as they transition into the labour market.
There are numerous challenges that our schools are facing in terms of learning of students and other aspects as well. The 2007 study by the Government of India & Save the Children Foundation found a huge proportion of children being sexually abused. In terms of quality of life, about 42.5% of the employees in the private sector of corporate India suffer from depression or some form anxiety disorder; and even after 7.5% of the country being affected by mental disorder, there are less than 4,000 qualified experts available on record. India's 350 million students, which is the biggest student population in the world, need at least 1.4 million career counsellors to maintain a globally acceptable student -to- school-counsellor ratio. In the absence of these counsellors, there is hardly any way to address the increasing numbers of challenges faced by school students, such as exam stress, cases of drug and internet addiction, violence and bullying, and crimes against women.
Apart from the mental health concerns, the importance of these counsellors could also be in their contribution towards the general well-being and quality of life of our students since such professionals would also add value to the multiple choices available to our students in terms of careers and subject preferences. Interventions by professionals may also enhance the employability of our students by contributing to the skill-development programs. Nevertheless, there is a need to prepare professionals who would then be engaged by schools to aid and assist students, teachers and even parents in providing a holistic learning environment. The effects of the breaking of the joint-family support system by the changing family-structures can be countered by such trained professionals.
Such provisions and steps need to be taken pro-actively rather than retroactively after some political or media outrage, as was in the case of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas where a number of suicides took place, but the post of counsellor was sanctioned only when these suicides were reported in a newspaper (Indian Express, November 8, 2019). Moreover, such decisions have to be made with a sense of care and compassion for our students instead of some directive, as was the case when the Central Board of Secondary Education had to make hiring of special educators a necessary condition for affiliation (June 13, 2017) because students’ needs were not being addressed properly. However, there is a dearth of qualified professionals in cities other than metropolitans and there are many other challenges, such as unawareness or disinterest of the management, unavailability of trained counsellors, or lack of preparation and professional capacities of counsellors being prepared through short-term courses. Another difference between mental health professionals in clinics with those meant for schools is that largely, the approach of the mental health practitioners in clinics is curative, but students need preventive measures and interventions for the promotion of their mental health. Without the promotional and preventive approach to mental health, we cannot envision a qualitative growth of human potential in India. Moreover, these professionals need to have a broad-base because they will be the primary counsellors of students, especially, in contexts where parents are not well-educated or are not able to address the challenges faced by adolescents in the emerging technological context.
Towards this end, the NCTE is planning an independent, innovative, and interdisciplinary teacher education program of counselling and career guidance on the pattern of existing degree level programmes. The graduates of this course are intended to be competent mental health professionals in schools who are able to address the mental health concerns in a school holistically and integrally as also aid the students in making informed career choices. This program is being envisioned with a whole-school approach, in which, the attempt is to design the school ethos to develop life-skills and to support students and teachers to cope with the challenges of personal and professional lives. Along with the competencies 3 related to guidance, counselling, and mental health, the intent is also to prepare professionals who can guide our students towards suitable careers. Moreover, such professional would also be equipped with intellectual and methodological resources to address the varying needs of other stakeholders, such as nonteaching staff, parents, and community at large.
Similarly, UNESCO New Delhi strongly asserts the importance of TVET in forming a holistic approach towards education for career guidance. The upcoming flagship publication of UNESCO New Delhi titled the ‘State of the Education Report for India 2020’ would focus on career guidance from a TVET perspective and highlight its importance for future action by key stakeholders.
It is expected that through such professional and technical assistance some of the utopian sounding goals envisioned for school education may get fulfilled and “joyful learning” gets transformed from slogan to reality.