Decisions that shape life
The Metro Forum was launched in December 2001 with a heterogeneous group of students and professionals airing their views on alternative career choices. The Forum will meet every month where different members of the public will thrash out issues of common concern.
Participants (Clockwise from top centre) Vijayalaksmi Srivatsan, C.R.L.Narasimhan, N.Manikandan, Neetha Jayanth, D.Pravin, Dakshinamoorthy.
ASK A child who is under ten years old what he would like to become when he grows up and you will hear all kinds of responses from `pilot' to `engine driver' and from `teacher' to doctor' to `fire fighter'!
Try the same with a student who is above fifteen years old and chances are you will hear little else other than Software Professional or an executive with an MBA degree. Then you begin to wonder if a lot of other career avenues have any takers at all, given the fact that most students today want to tread the same path. That was precisely what the first Metro Forum decided to address Alternative Careers and the attitude towards such career options.
The panel for the forum ensured all stakeholders were represented from the teaching community Vijayalakshmi Srivatsan, Principal, P.S. Senior Secondary School and Grace Gideon, Principal and Secretary of the Institute of Hotel Management and Catering, Chennai, Neetha Jayanth, a twelfth standard Humanities student and Pravin D., a third-year Engineering student, represented the student community.
C.R.L. Narasimhan was the voice of the parents. The panel also featured N. Manikandan, an Assistant Director, who possesses a Diploma in Film Technology and renowned sculptor Dakshinamoorthy, two individuals who have attained success by opting for the road not taken by the majority! The first issue the panel deliberated on was also the least obvious. What is an alternative career?
Neetha's response was the most simple "Conventional careers are what the majority chooses and unconventional careers are what the minority chooses. People never stop asking me why I chose humanities over science but I believe it is not about what one can do but it really is about what one likes to do." Manikandan went through the motions of a commerce degree to satisfy his parents but finally did what he `liked.' He feels the risk and return theory applies to careers too. Alternative careers are high risk but high return and it is `the fear of failure' factor that forces most unconventional career aspirants to choose the safer option. Pravin echoes the same philosophy - "Conventional careers are a safer bet at least you know where the potholes are. This probably explains the ever-increasing number of engineering colleges in the city."
"As parents our biggest concern is what if our children do not succeed and that weights heavily on our minds when children choose a career that is not a sure shot passport to success," says Narasimhan.
Like Vijayalakshmi Srivatsan puts it "Quite often I meet parents who ask me to talk their child out of an off-beat career and choose a more secure option. Even when we try to introduce a subject at this level, which is out of the ordinary, there are no takers. This is despite the fact that there is a great emphasis on career counselling in our school."
That added an entirely new dimension to the discussion Who really decides on the career option? Is it the student or do parents and teachers have a bigger role?
Vijayalakshmi Srivatsan believes that although children are quite assertive they still like their parents to decide and seek their approval on a career decision. "I keep meeting students who have been pushed into making career decisions not because they wanted to but because their parents wanted them to," adds Grace Gideon. Narasimhan refuted this rather speedily "I would not stand in my child's way but the question is does he really know what he wants?"
That took the discussion to new territory How should success be measured? Dakshinamoorthy took what most of his friends and well-wishers thought was and unnecessary risk years ago. Today he has no regrets.
He feels he has emerged successful both in a monetary sense and more important he feels a great sense of satisfaction about doing what he really wanted to and making an impact on society he lives in. He feels there may be a lot more engineers but he is not sure how many of them experience the same sense of satisfaction that he has.
Pravin agrees with Dakshinamoorthy on the one hand but says that his parents would be happier knowing that he had a safe and secure job which kept him smiling all the way to the bank! Like Manikandan puts it, most parents gauge success on the basis of societal pressures. "This is certainly not the case abroad where there is no stigma on alternative careers," adds Grace Gideon.
This highlighted the need for career counselling, which is still a pipe dream in most schools. Narasimhan feels this is absolutely imperative and believes the role of the school is vital. Neetha can count herself among the luckier few; not only has she been through aptitude tests and career counselling programmes, she has also spent time at a couple of organisations as part of industrial exposure organised by her school.
Neetha also believes that students need more information at an earlier stage in their education about various options. "A tenth standard student who opts for the commerce stream has very little idea about what accountancy or economics is all about." She sums up by saying that awareness levels and the system of education need to come together.
Vijayalakshmi Srivatsan is convinced that the three As of Aptitude, Awareness and Attitude are critical for success in any career.
Narasimhan is of the opinion that alternative careers are no longer a complete no-no but still require a lot more luck and resilience than a conventional career option. Pravin believes that parents' attitudes need to change. Career counselling for parents? That may not be a very distant possibility.
The final word Market forces seem to decide what is an alternative career.
If fashion designing or a career in the media or entertainment industry is no longer considered unconventional, it is because a lot of people have tasted success in these spheres. Awareness is certainly going to be the key tool to bridge the ever-shrinking gap between alternative and conventional careers and everybody, be it students, parents or teachers has a role to play.
Letters on this topic are welcome.
(Compiled by Ashwin Rajagopalan)
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