Schools need lessons in counselling

Schools need lessons in counselling

Do you want to be an engineer or a basketball player? A doctor or a radio jockey? Do you like to sing and go on mountain treks? No, these are not questions being asked of a beauty pageant contestant but are part of a series of test questions asked after an aptitude counselling course.

These are sample questions from an aptitude test conducted by an aptitude counsellor based in Delhi.

One might assume that with the board examinations over, such aptitude counselling centres, in every nook and corner of the country, would be the order of the day. Sadly this is far from true.

In fact, there is a crying need for counsellors who can guide students and help them decide which would be the best academic stream for them.

Chance or choice?

Most of the counsellors, teachers and students interviewed by this reporter felt that the government has still not sat up and paid heed to the serious issue of aptitude testing and counselling for school students.

It is just taken for granted that a student will veer towards the academic stream of his choice naturally and will have no difficulty in choosing his subjects. Some very bright students pointed out that they were absolutely stumped when it came to deciding which course to take.

They were not aware of the professional avenues open to them after certain courses. They need guidance to help them decide the right set of subjects, according to their talent and aptitude.

Kusha, a Class XII student of Somerville School, Delhi, says she and some of her classmates were terribly confused when they finished their Class X board examination. For they were  faced with the vexed question,  “After this, what?” And, it was a question that even parents and teachers were at a loss to answer.

There must be a proper panel of trained counsellors who can help the students select the right stream, Kusha asserts.

She observes that she was fortunate enough to get access to an aptitude counsellor, who put her through a well-designed aptitude test. At the end of it she discovered that she was cut out to pursue humanities. Immensely relieved she opted for humanities and is very happy that she is in the right stream. But not everybody is as fortunate as Kusha.

Trash the stereotypes

Trinu Jain, a teacher of history in the same school, observes that people generally have a very hackneyed perception of a counsellor.

What one generally understood of a counsellor is a psychologist who would help students with their family- and behavioural problems. They hardly ever address issues like the student’s capabilities and aptitude for various subjects. Trinu adds that schools need to address this issue more seriously.

When leaving Class X, taking up science is the natural choice owing to the status perception that if you take up science then you can take up any stream in the future.
Many students also opt for commerce because of the lure of fat MBA salaries.

Another horrifying myth is that humanities  is only for the ‘rejects,’ those who don’t get good enough marks to get into science or commerce.  There is the common prejudice, even among some teachers, that students who opt for the arts stream are not really interested in a career.

Trinu says, “With the Class X boards becoming optional, there is a need for professional people to conduct counselling and put students through aptitude tests.  Schools should conduct proper career counselling workshops, and the process of gauging the aptitude of each student should be conducted under expert guidance.”

Trinu, who has been teaching for the past 15 years, believes that if schools take up the task of organising workshops and ensure the participation of the parents as well, a lot of disasters can be avoided. Students will be better equipped to make the right choices.

Talent mapping

Based on the plus two choice of subjects, they can choose the profession of their choice, aptitude and skills.

From experience, counsellors argue that it is really very hard to convince parents. Then, there is peer group pressure to battle with. Often, parents themselves are unaware of what the best choice for their children would be. Trinu confesses that her son had just given his Class X exams and she as a parent is just as confused as any other!

According to Dr Pearl Drego, psychotherapist, “Students do not have easy access to guidance for testing their aptitude and skills. We too need to train our counsellors.
Most counsellors nowadays are trained in using psychometric tests which are not culture-free. They are geared to the needs of corporates and big organisations. They are not geared towards mapping the talent of children.”

Many present-day counsellors tend to advise students to take up information technology or engineering because of social and mainstream pressures.

Alternatives to IT

But there are exciting and rewarding careers that students can be guided on. For instance, working with special children, environment and water issues, etc.

Counsellors need to understand the needs of  children. Stress should be on giving students practical guidance.

Careers in human rights and environmental issues could also be offered as options, Dr Drego says.

Kiran Sharma, who teaches at a government school in Delhi, says, “Professionally well-qualified counsellors are urgently needed to address various problems of students, especially with regard to aptitude counselling. Some schools have counsellors but by and large this is an area which needs to be worked upon.”

Her school has two counsellors. After finishing their Class XII examination, students are invited to attend a guidance programme called, Pahal, in which they are given training in woodwork, beautician skills and so on. They are made aware of alternative streams, where they can pursue their talent and take up vocational courses. Kiran adds that the programme, which started two years ago, is working out rather well.

Several children in her school belong to the Gujjar community and child marriage is prevalent. Through guidance and counselling they try to stop these children from marrying early and encourage them to study or take up a suitable vocational course, she explains.

Her school also has a Vidyalaya Kalyan Samiti, which has representatives from parents, an NGO and a municipal councillor. The  Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is also actively involved in the activities of the students and teachers. After the board examinations, the students are given individual attention and guided on which course to take up.

With the Class X board examination becoming optional, there is much scope for making teaching innovative and learning fun. The immense burden of syllabii has lessened and teachers can give more  attention to their students.

Shikhar Gupta, a student of Class XI, Cambridge School, Delhi, says, “I am very clear as
to what I want to do. I want to be a doctor. I have joined the science stream with biology.” Of course, not all students are as clear and focused as Shikhar, and schools have a serious responsibility towards them.

Everyone needs help

Counselling for students mostly centres around family and behavioural problems and schools do not lay stress to guiding ‘normal’ children.

A child need not be a problem child in order to deserve a counselling session. Just taking the right decision at the right time can often be a Herculean task for a child. This is where the aptitude counsellor steps in. Without being judgmental, the counsellor needs to guide and examine the student and gauge his skills, weaknesses and strengths.

If such guidance is readily available it can prevent a lot of trouble and frustration later on. In the zeal to keep up with peer groups, a bright child with an artistic bent of mind could end up learning theorems and chemical equations while all he ever wanted to do was read poetry or learn classical music.

Timely and expert action in the form of aptitude testing by trained and professionally qualified counsellors can avert many a suicide or a failed career.

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