Dilemma of deciding a life-long career at the school level

Students are compelled to make career choices in school that are likely to stay with them for a significant part of their lives. But do they have adequate information to make such choices at that level?

 |  5-minute read |   27-12-2019
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One of the most worrying aspects of the education system that prevails in India is the manner in which high school students enrol for college degree programmes based on their choice of discipline in Grade 11 of high school. Over many years, I have come across innumerable cases where students find that they are misfits when they enter college because of the mismatch between what they had imagined in terms of subjects as taught in school and what they encounter at the college level.

School-going mindset

Additionally, when they encounter other disciplines not found at school, they are tempted to dabble a little in them as well but are unable to do so.

One such story, typical of the hundreds that I have personally encountered, relates to the time a very demoralised girl walked up to me seeking guidance. She had chosen to enrol in the mathematics degree programme at a well-known college of Delhi University. Within a month, she began to regret her choice deeply. It turned out that she had been quite good at mathematics she had encountered in school. This prompted her to merrily opt for a college degree in the subject. Unfortunately, college mathematics was far more abstract than what she had handled during her school years. She was also not clear as to what sort of careers would be open to her with the type of abstract mathematics that she was being exposed to at her college. She was quite peeved that no one had told her of the acute disconnect between her favourite school subject and its advanced version at college. Even more distressing for her was the realisation that she had no way out of the situation except to lose a year and then start all over again.

As things stand, in most schools, for several reasons, students are essentially compelled to make career choices that are likely to stay with them for a significant part of their lives, well beyond their high school years. The unfortunate part is that such choices are based on sketchy information about what could be the possible implications and pathways for the future. I also suspect that it involves a little bit of peer and parental pressure.

main_delhi-universit_122719123950.jpgUniversities place restrictions on the eligibility of a student to choose a specialization based on the stream of subjects chosen at school. (Representative photo: PTI)

And it seems that, for various reasons, schools are not free from blame as well. The school messes things up when it compels the student to choose from one of the following three broad streams of specialisation: the Humanities, Commerce and Science. This happens at the time when the student completes Grade 10. And this is true of most schools that subscribe to the curriculum and certification of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). It may well be true of the several other certifying boards.

The stream barrier

Actually, the portion of blame that should be accorded to a school is equal in measure to the blame that accrues to the universities in India. Most universities place restrictions on the eligibility of a student to choose a specialisation. This restriction is based on the kind of stream the student has chosen at school. Hence, if a student has chosen, say, the commerce stream she will not be able to engage with most science subjects let alone obtain a degree in a science discipline at the college level.

This is a very unfortunate occurrence for the simple reason that at a school-going age most students may not be in a position to decide on a life-long career path. I can certainly speak for myself in this context. All through my school years, I was certain that I wanted to be a physicist, but soon after entering college, I decided to become a mathematician. Fortunately for me, things worked out but in an accidental fashion. Most students are not that lucky.

There is no sociological study that looks at the harm and trouble that a student faces in such instances. One of the main reasons, schools are compelled to limit the subject choices they can offer to their students to the three broad streams is logistics. It becomes nightmarish if they accord freedom to students to pick and choose their subjects at will since the schools will not be able to assign classrooms to cater to these choices and their teaching time tables shall go haywire.

Dabbling in disciplines

However, a university can easily remedy such a situation. This is precisely what the Delhi University did in 2013 when it introduced the Four Year Undergraduate Programme or the FYUP as it came to be known. Of course, there were several other major advantages and benefits to students through the FYUP, but one of the major advantages it offered was the freedom to choose and combine disciplines as the student progressed through the years.

Thus, it started with a broad base and gave the student, over the succeeding semesters, a great deal of freedom to make subject choices in keeping with her inclinations and predilections. It even gave the student freedom to not necessarily specialise too much and instead acquire a broader base with limited specialisation. And to make sure that these decisions were made with care and thought, they had the advantage of mentors throughout their college life. Much all-round good could have come out of this had it been allowed to thrive.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Here's the real reason behind high cut-offs in Delhi University


Dinesh Singh Dinesh Singh @dineshsinghedu

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University and currently Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, USA

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