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Case Analysis: The Power Of Choice

Choosing a subject does not limit you to only one career choice; choosing a career does not limit you to only one subject, writes Pranita Lele

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In the poem The Road Not Taken, robert Frost conveys his theme that the choices a person makes in life are ultimately responsible for his future. The choices we make today, whether big or small, will forever affect our future. Once a choice has been made, the actions play out, and the consequence is delivered; we have to live with those consequences. The question is if we have a choice to make, should it not be the right choice? But it is not always so easy to make the right choices as this case illustrates.

Young minds do not really know where a road will lead them until they take the road. There are no guarantees. Wrong decisions are always at hindsight. Had you known that you were making a wrong decision, would you have gone along with it? Perhaps not, why would you choose a certain path when you know it would get you lost? Just like any road, there are corners, detours, and crossroads in life. Perhaps the most perplexing road that you would encounter is a crossroad. With four roads to choose from and with limited knowledge on where you should go, which road will you take? What is the guarantee that you would choose the right road?

Students come across such a crossroads when they have to select courses to study. They are given the power to choose what they want to study. It’s time for them to make some decisions. Many questions and concerns run through their heads. It feels daunting to many.

Life is like a multiple choice question. Sometimes the choices confuse you, not the question. You are free to make whatever choice you want, but you are not free from the consequences of the choice.

It is important to choose subjects carefully as the decisions may affect not only the types of careers that students can follow later, but also their success and feelings about school. Even though there are many factors to consider, choosing the course of study can be made easier if students go about the task logically. There is this elusive balance everyone looks out for. That is the age-old question of whether you should follow your head or your heart while choosing a subject.

What do students think of when they select a subject? I have heard students say that they have opted for a subject as they can score marks in that subject! It is important for the students to “know themselves” — not in the sense of knowing how much they are capable of scoring in an exam. They should know their own strengths and weaknesses. Students should realise that years after choosing the subject, marks will appear insignificant to them. A person is not defined just by the marks. There are many attributes that are needed for future success — attributes like hard work, persistence, determination, passion, drive, creative thinking and risk-taking. Employability is very different from being good grades and employers look for skills not just marks.

I have also heard students say that they do not love their subject. All they care about is job prospects. It would enable them to get a “good job”. We are asking students to make a choice at the age of 14 or 15 when they are in the 10th grade. At this age how likely are you to know that for the next 60 years this is all you want to do? The reason why this becomes a throttle is because this ends up being the only road you can walk on and the colleges you choose to study at are also only those that this road allows! You are forced to take those colleges and you can only study what they offer. After having studied that you can only work at what those subjects teach you, no other and if after doing your engineering you decide to sell soap, you are called a wastrel.

Choices in Class 10 should only be a choice you make for school education. For college, you should be allowed to choose as you wish. What is the big deal? Critical decisions are thus forced, in many cases prematurely by the educational system despite the fact that many students have not made a firm decision about their post-school careers. They select a subject not ‘for the love of it’ but keeping in mind career prospects. For example, students tend to choose Mathematics and Science subjects in terms of their usefulness for a future job. On the other hand, in subjects such as Psychology, Music, History, reasons relating to interest and enjoyment outnumber those relating to usefulness for the future.

Why do we forget that every individual has a mind and an intellect? The mind is where he emotes and emotion leads to certain softer pursuits like art, craft, embroidery, photography, music and poetry. Why should these not be encouraged into finesse? Every man and woman should have an emotional journey too through their finer pursuit, for it is these that make life bearable. Women usually have the home and the children alongside their work to express their inner natures. Men don’t. Men should too. Softer pursuits help build character and bring out an individual’s finer nature.

While many career counselors caution against making early decisions in relation to careers, institutional and societal constraints often require that a choice be made by students when they are still relatively young. When students talk about choosing a subject, they often mean choosing a career and vice versa. Although these two choices can go hand-in-hand, choosing one does not automatically mean you have chosen the other. Some people assume that students who major in Humanities, Arts or Social Sciences are either not qualified for any jobs or qualified only for careers in those specific areas. But reality is that these students find jobs in business, research, human resources, teaching, etc. Many students who decide on a career in Architecture automatically assume that they should select Sciences. The reality is that a student can choose Humanities with Mathematics and still be accepted into an Architecture school. A student studying Business may get admission in Law school and become a corporate lawyer.

Choosing a subject does not limit you to only one career choice; choosing a career does not limit you to only one subject. Studies have shown that after course completion, most people are working in careers that are not directly connected to the subjects they studied. People change their minds about their careers. There are engineers, for example, who decide to become bankers. People change; careers change. The connection between the subjects selected for studying and the career chosen in future is likely to be very thin. Therefore it is always suggested to allow the students to choose whatever they want, irrespective of the combinations of subjects. But factors such as traditional attitudes, teacher availability, school building, the size of classes, the size of the school, teacher/pupil ratios limit the freedom in designing school timetable for such varied combinations.

Jobs also change over time. New types of jobs are emerging every year, and most of us have no way of knowing what those jobs will be or what type of education will be needed in order to qualify for them. The current emphasis in schools is on the development of general, transferrable skills like writing, speaking, computer literacy, problem-solving, team-building, etc. that employers want and that students will need in order to adjust to rapidly changing careers.
As adolescents are invariably impressionable, their decisions regarding subject selection can be very much influenced by their friends. Just because friends take a certain course does not mean they have to take it. Having friends to sit next to in class is nice, but youngsters need to be their own persons. They should not break under peer pressure and should choose what is best for them.

What is the guidance that needs to be given to these youngsters when they choose their subjects? Parents play an important role in this planning process as a ‘guide on the side’. By working with their teen, they can help ensure that the choices they make now are the right ones for them.

Before choosing the subjects, it is important for the students to think about their track record in a subject, their preferred learning style, and their skills. The hardest or the easiest subjects don’t always equal the best education. They should remember to pick subjects that are at the right level for them.

Young students should not spend years staring into textbooks that they have no interest in. Remember, it is all about passion and when students love what they are doing; it is pretty sure that they are going to succeed! They just need to select a pathway that suits them the best. Life is a continuous flow. Every choice should be owned and enjoyed, not suffered and regretted.

The aim of education should be to develop an environment, in Rabindranath Tagore’s words:‘Where the mind is without fear/ And the head is held high’.

Read Case Analysis: Weighed Down By A System | Rehmatullah Sheikh | G. Gautama

The writer is Supervisor (Senior Section), The Indian High School, Dubai

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