Oct 17, 2008

Students And Their Career Choices

Daphne Maia sees a problem with the Singapore education system. She thinks that our students lack career guidance and therefore often end up choosing courses for which they neither have aptitude nor interest.

While it's a good idea to have some kind of formal career guidance, I can see one difficulty. Teachers in Singapore are precisely that - teachers - and the majority of them don't know the working world, outside of the school environment. Thus they don't come with a wealth of career experience to share with their students (apart from a career in teaching).

My (mildly radical) suggestion is that schools heavily beef up their CCA programmes, and offer (1) a wider range of activities, and (2) more support and resources for each activity. The idea is to give students more room to explore their individual interests over a number of years.

This exploration is experiential - the student will actually do things, develop skills and have fun along the way. Through this process, the student gains some self-knowledge on the type of activities and environments (and by extension, the type of future career) that might appeal to him. Such self-knowledge, I believe, would go much deeper than what a student would most likely get out of a 30-minute, one-off session with a career counselor.

Many CCAs would not have a direct viable equivalent in the working world. Nevertheless the personal insights may be valuable. For example, as a student, my friend Adrian Tan joined the debating team and took part in many competitions. This eventually led him to choose a career as a litigation lawyer, where he makes a living by making arguments in court.

Another friend of mine (who shall not be named, because her current job is hush-hush) was the chairman / president type in school. She led various student committees in her secondary school, JC and university days. Now she holds a policy-making job within a certain government ministry, where she no doubt continues to lead her committees in her usual firm, no-nonsense style.

Some other examples. Joining a science club may help a student see whether R&D work would interest him. Joining the National Cadet Corps may help him to see whether a military career is a plausible option at all. Writing for a school publication may spark off an interest in journalism.

An art club may provide opportunities for students to test their interest in design-related jobs. Students involved in fund-raising projects may try their hand at marketing. The IT club allows students to see whether information technology appeals so much to them that they might one day pursue a career in it. And so on.

All of the above assumes that the student participates earnestly enough in his chosen CCAs, to gain such insights. It also assumes that the school allocates enough resources for the CCA activities to be carried out with some depth.

I end this post, by showing you an interesting student project - here it is. As NTU is not providing any financial support for this CCA, you might wish to make a donation to the students who are running it.


CK said...

But, but, but students already have career choices!

Score 66.6 As and then sign on to be a scholar!


Anthony said...

Mr Wang,

I think your examples are illustrative of Daphene's point more than your own.

The question is: What drove Adrian Tan and your policy-making friend to join the clubs they did in the first place?

It is likely that they probably had a clear idea of what they want to do ALREADY, and merely pursued whatever objectives they needed to realise their dreams. Alternatively, they enjoyed one thing so much that they built their career around it. Either way, these self-driven, self-starting people are not the people that need career counselling.

The people that need career counselling would be the majority of the educated in Singapore, the ones that kinda sorta have a feeling, are average at several things, have no direction etc.

Career counselling, in this respect, can give them a framework by which they can consider their career options as it applies to their interests, hobbies etc.

Lastly, IF career counselling is implemented in schools, I hope they have more cow-sense than to have a teacher act as a career counseller. I think they should get a trained career counseller at the very least, and not a teacher, to do this job.

KF said...

The main problem of CCAs in schools at the secondary and below level is that CCAs have performance rating as well. And school's financial and logistical support for any CCAs are always pegged to that. While it is relatively easier for a uniform CCA like NCC to achieve some good performance over the year, how is a a school publication team going to achieve any awards if they only concentrate on publication?

In most schools, there is an allowance for service orientated CCAs like library. However usually these CCAs are small because the CCAs are unable to hand out many A CCA grades because of the nature of their activities.

Quan said...

Schools nowadays want the CCAs to be result oriented. Only the performing CCAs are kept. The CCAs which are non-performing gets quickly dropped by the school. Students have pretty limited choices of CCAs to choose from generally.

An alternative will be to group schools together by location. A student can choose a CCA in any of these other schools if its not provided by their own school. The student can study in his/her own school in the day and go to another neighbouring school for CCA once or twice a week. This helps to maximise resource efficiency but will need a high level of collaboration between schools.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Well, before you join the CCA, you probably have at least some inkling that you could like it. After you join it, you then discover how much you do like it.

For example, Adrian might have joined debating in Secondary One; discovered that in fact he didn't like it very much; and moved away from jobs related to a lot of public speaking.

Ser Ming said...

In life, one should always have a backup plan.

I joined the National Cadet Corp and did want to have a career with the military. In reality, I was rejected in application. I did not have a backup plan then and was lost in direction.

And given our education system, everything would soon be tagged to a tangible measurement to differentiate the participants. Ain't sure is that really good.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Ahahaha, but now you do not need to have a back-up plan, Yamizi. Because you already know [ ].

Shhhhh ....... ;)

Santosh.B.R :) said...

How are the management programmes(MASTER LEVEL)in singapore?

A little bird atop the canopy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A little bird atop the canopy said...

Mr Wang,

Unfortunately, secondary students in Singapore may NOT necessarily have a say in which CCA they can join.

Due to the policy of Total Defence, 33.3% of all the students in secondary schools have to be in the uniformed groups organizations like the NPCC and NCC. CCA Policy Guidelines #7-8

In fact, in many secondary schools, students posted to certain uniformed groups are not allowed to change their CCAs.

In addition, students could switch CCAs as well as their points if they went from non-uniformed group CCAs to NPCC or NCC, but if they leave either NPCC or NCC, they would lose all their CCA points (and risk failing to get into the pre-university course of their choice). Ibid reference #1 Chapter 14.

Under these conditions, I don't think your suggestion will work unless the draconian 1/3 rule is abolished.

Rachel said...

I think our students need more leeway and encouragement to THINK on their own. It's been quite enough of the government being a nanny state - resulting in generations of students who don't know how to think for themselves and are dependent on external factors.

Moreover, the current guidance infrastructure at MOE and at school level is quite sufficient.

Open internships at companies would also be a better gauge of interest and suitability.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Little Bird:

Yes, some things would have to change ....


I don't think open internships at companies work for younger students.

Unknown said...

How about introducing work experience in schools?

In Australia, students from Year 10 - 12, i.e 16 - 18 year-olds, typically spend 1-2 weeks of term time performing unpaid work experience. They can do that in any setting of their choice, e.g retail, childcare, business, administration, as long as the employer is willing to provide supervision.

Nothing beats experience in a real workplace. Unfortunately not many kids in Singapore engage in any form of part-time work. In fact, I think many are discouraged from doing so to focus on their studies.

young-pap said...

how about NOT having any career counseling, and NOT trying to figure out a career choice, till the final year of undergrad?

Education right up to the bachelor level should be for developing/training the mind to think/learn, not for vocational training! Vocational training should begin only *after* bachelor!

That's why in practically all first world countries, university education is accessible to a very large proportion of each cohort - under UK system for eg, 2 A and 2 AO level pass should suffice in getting one into a (not-so-gd) university. Were it for job-training, they would have planned the number of admits strictly by projecting the economy, as per what PAP has been doing.

And while in university, many people majored in the humanities - Eg. PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at Oxford. And eg. the literally hundreds (thousands?) of liberal art colleges in USA. It doesn't matter what you major in, as far as your future career is concerned because...

After Bachelor, that's when the vocation training begins. Eg. in USA, medicine/law etc are postgrad courses undertaken by those with a bachelor degree. And Eg in UK/Europe (and USA too), many banks take in the top brain regardless of their undergrad major (some do require a quantitative/scientific major though eg. chemistry, math), and then conduct in-house financial training that last for several months for the new recruits. Yet another eg, CFA (chartered finacial analyst) is a certificate that can be taken by anyone with any type of bachelor degree *and* CFA is regarded as the gold-standard, not a bachelor in biz admin. All these examples show that in 1st world countries, bachelor and below are education for education sake - to broaded the mind, the learn how to learn etc.

To be obsessed with vocational training any time before getting a bachelor is to be falling into the PAP education-serves-economy mentality. It's a perversion of education.

So yes, join wide range of cca - for fun, for a broad-base holistic education, to be a jack-of-all-trade (which is good), for future retirement sake where one has lots of interest instead of sitting at the void deck etc etc. Let the career-choice part be a BY PRODUCT of the cca participation, rather than the goal of the participation!

Trebuchet said...

I think that every school should have a plan that looks something like this:

1. By the time Sec 1/2 (i.e. Grade 7/8) is done, all students should be taught that there is something called 'the world of work' and that it's time to figure out the possibilities based on their natural talents and skills, their learning objectives, their aspirations, etc. This is called 'career awareness'.

2. By the time Sec 3/4 (i.e. Grade 9/10) is done, all students should be taught things like how to make presentations, how to answer interview-type questions, how to craft a simple CV, how to think about what a good/likely career is, how to work out positives and negatives concerning choices, how to be financially literate. This is called 'career guidance'.

3. By the time students have completed a pre-university or senior high school course, they should be able to decide what kind of further study trajectory and/or skill-based learning they need in order to pursue their dreams. They should have had some apprenticeship, interning or other work experience in several places. They should have at least a few hours at careers fairs, scholarship talks, chats with people in professions they are interested about. They should have had direct discussions with the officers responsible for their evaluations and who have known them in school during that period. This is called 'career counselling' and is ideally undertaken by a diverse group which should include but is not limited to: parents, teachers, professionals, university counsellors.

This is just a bare outline. I am sure there are many other useful activities, but schools in Singapore should at the very least provide these things. Some do.

Trebuchet said...

Apart from my own comments, I agree with Khayce on the need for professional career counsellors in schools. Some schools already have them here, which is good.

I remember meeting a career guidance counsellor in Virginia who spent all his time arranging internships and research placements for every one of his high-school students - in industry as well as in government. It was a full-time job, and he arranged for professional speakers, small group talks, seminars, briefings, parents-and-professionals sessions etc. Amazing.

Rachel said...

"open internships" as in helping out in areas of interest within the school or relevant ministries?

in times of globalisation, we need to think out of the box, not continue to babysit.

Norman said...

Simon said, "Unfortunately not many kids in Singapore engage in any form of part-time work".

A good proportion of students in the polytechnic do work part-time.

Anonymous said...

I think it's useful to invite industry volunteers to teach a class or two in their free time. I recalled enjoying my solid state physics lesson very much when it was taken by this very young engineer who actually applied said theories in the PCB industry. Likewise, lawyers teaching a class or two of literature might be able to lend some conviction and sense of purpose to Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

I played tennis in primary school and participated in competitions representing my school. I really did enjoy it but couldn't continue with it because my secondary school didn't offer tennis as a CCA. When I went to junior college, I thought of picking it up again but couldn't because they were only accepting people who could play for the school.

Also in secondary school, literature wasn't offered to upper secondary students. A few friends and I approached the literature HOD and, instead of encouraging our interest, we were told not to take literature up because we would probably not do well. She cited the results of previous students in discouraging us. I am currently a lit major in a local university now.

Besides literature, I was also discouraged from taking up music as an elective even though I had the necessary qualifications to do so. I went on to obtain my grade 8 certificate.

Aspects of the Singapore education system have definitely enabled my discovery of interests that haven't wavered over the years (such as for literature and tennis). For this I am immensely thankful. But my development in such areas have been truncated here and there. While I write personally , I believe many in Singapore have similar experiences to tell of.

Marquis_De_Sade said...

Perhaps, in a more conducive level, parents should start educating their children on the world beyond Singapore, a piece paper map and overseas tourist shopping sites.

Charity starts from home.

hojiber said...

Wang, this one, you miss out something.

Even if the school let them choose what they like and study, no use one.

Why? Look at the newspaper and the hiring websites. 1st Class and 2nd Upper can apply. Or 2nd Lower and 3rd Class lower pay for SAME JOB. And even, if you not overseas scholar with 1st class you advance slower in the Civil Service. SAF is prime example.

You see!

Like this, how to get people not become stupid nerd?

Unknown said...

"Perhaps, in a more conducive level, parents should start educating their children on the world beyond Singapore, a piece paper map and overseas tourist shopping sites."

I'd hardly think Singaporeans will bother to teach their kids about global affairs. If a subject like World Issues is incorporated into the school curriculum however, then it'll be another story.