Dilemma of choosing a career after high school

Some parents try to live their unfulfilled ambitions through their children

In Summary

• Students face tough choices on their futures as KCSE draws to a conclusion

Students at one of Kenya's secondary schools.
Students at one of Kenya's secondary schools.
Image: FILE

Aeronautical engineering or medicine? Agriculture or nursing? Bachelor of Commerce or Bachelor in Journalism? Law or theology? These are the questions more than 750,000 high school leavers in Kenya face as they complete their final examination this month.

It's not just school leavers who are pondering these dilemmas. Parents and guardians are wondering what courses their children should take, courses that will help them get well-paying jobs when graduating a few years from now. Financial considerations also come to mind because prestigious courses such as law and medicine generally cost more compared to commonly offered courses, such as marketing and accounting.

Ideally, the purpose of education is to prepare students for the future by expanding their knowledge of the world. In circumstances where most families are struggling to raise money for basic needs, higher education has the practical objective of putting young people on the path towards financial prosperity. For most families, education is an investment in their young ones.

With such high expectations, does the opinion of the student matter? What happens when the young person is interested in engineering but the parents want law? Whose choice should take precedence? The choice of the parents or that of the student?

Mombasa resident Mihr Thakar believes parents must play a key role in helping their children identify a career. Thakar argues that young persons fresh out of high school have neither the knowledge nor the experience to make an informed decision on career paths. Letting teenagers make such an important decision without parental input would be the equivalent of gambling with their future.

"Your child cannot choose a career for themselves. You must guide them, silently but actively. Have a vision. Then make them meet people in the field, books, videos and media over years to mould their minds in that direction," Thakar says.

The danger of parents directing the career choices of their teenagers is that the parent’s preference might clash with their children's aptitude, personality and ambition. Some parents are accused of trying to live their unfulfilled ambitions through their children. For example, a parent who aspired to become a doctor but did not succeed might insist on the child studying medicine.

In the current times when tertiary education is no guarantee of securing a job, it makes sense to let individual students to make their own choice on what courses to pursue after high school. Regardless of which academic or technical course they take, all students must sweat it out looking for job opportunities. There are unemployed pilots just as there are unemployed accountants. There are jobless doctors just as there are jobless mechanics.

Each student must make the effort to find and keep a job, or get into self-employment. Parents, guardians and teachers should help by providing high school leavers with the information they need to make appropriate choices. Tough but it's better than not making a decision. "Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today," said black civil rights leader Malcolm X.

Students, on the other hand, should keep in mind the financial limitations of their parents or guardians. This calls for open communication among family members to discuss and agree on a course the student would like to pursue but which would be affordable to the family.

Once the student and the family have settled on an academic or technical course, the next step is to find a training institution where the course is offered. Quite a large chunk of students end up in government-sponsored courses in public universities and polytechnics. However, for those who have to find a training institution by themselves, there are some important tips to remember.

1. Make sure the college is accredited and recognised: Before enrolling into any kind of training institution, whether a vocational college, a teacher training college, a medical training college, an engineering school or university, it is vital to check whether that institution is registered with the Ministry of Education and recognised by the relevant professional body.

The Commission for University Education licenses all universities and university courses in Kenya. The list of recognised universities and academic courses can be found on their website. Technical and vocational training institutions are regulated by the Technical, Vocational Education and Training Authority. The National Industrial Training Authority regulates industrial training, while the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority authorises institutions that offer courses in the aviation industry.

Similar regulations exist for institutions that have courses in law, medicine, architecture, pharmacy, human resources, insurance and computer science.

2. Choose quality over price: Education is a lifetime investment. Better to choose a quality training institution over a cheaper one offering the same course. There will be a huge difference in the quality of classrooms, availability of lecturers and provision of practical training equipment, such as tools, computers, workshops and laboratories. Sanitation facilities are likely to be of the required standard. Such colleges have well-stocked libraries with recent publications. Cheap colleges lack adequate physical facilities, lack training equipment and have demoralised lecturers due to delayed salaries.

3. Talk to those who have studied in that institution: Conduct a background check. Among the best ways to find out the state of an educational institution is by talking with current or former students. Go to the Internet and search for any relevant information on that particular institution with regards to complaints and achievements. It is better to invest time into finding out more about a training institution instead of rushing into a college that you will later regret joining.

Career development is a lifetime journey whose direction can change at any point. Though some high school leavers might be forced by circumstances to take courses they may not have intended to take, there's always room in the future for a student to pursue his or her dream course.

Students who get their desired courses after high school will also be required to continuously update their skills because of technological changes and the shifting requirements of employers.