Career choice: Parents, counsellors should guide not dictate

Choosing the right career is a strong determinant in how fulfilled and successful a child turns out later in life. Some key people in a child’s life, especially the parents, teachers and counsellor have a role to play. They all have a firm bearing and can make an indelible mark on the child. So, what fundamental role(s) should these people play in the child’s career choice?

Explaining that parents certainly have a serious role to play in their children’s lives, a professor of guidance and counselling and head of Department, Educational Foundations, University of Lagos, Ngozi Osarenren, said imposing their ideas on or forcing a child to go for a particular career is not included. In such matters, the child’s ability and interest should be taken into consideration.

She said: “You have to ask the question: Does the child have interest in what I want him or her to do? And even if the child has interest, he may not have the ability. When parents insist on their children going into certain careers, they are only trying to massage their ego and fulfil their own shortcomings through their children. On the long run, it is not in the interest of the child. It is not psychologically healthy.”

She believes that in an ideal situation, the counsellor is expected to guide students aright, when choosing a career, by providing the right information to enable them determine their interest and ability, which will determine what the child’s career path would be.

“The Nigerian society still believes that the parents know it all and the counsellor is regarded as a stranger. I know of cases, where counsellors told parents or guardians that their children didn’t have the ability for the course they wanted them to pursue and the parents or guardians still insisted that the children should do it,” she said. “But the counsellor was giving that suggestion based on an assessment and analysis of the child. Oftentimes, most of those children end up not doing well like they would have done, if they had gone ahead to do what they wanted to do.”

Osarenren, who was also a former commissioner for Education in Edo State, advised that the best way is to expose the child to the right information to enable him/her make a choice.

“In our schools, we have career guidance and counsellors, who conduct the career week, where children are taken to different career areas and go to see and learn about them first-hand. They also do it in schools, where experts in different fields come and talk on different professions. If a child wants to study a particular course, parents or guardians should give him or her the go ahead. They should not dictate a child’s decision, but only guide him or her. When they select a career you want them to do and they fail, they hold you responsible because it is not what they wanted to do.

“There was this case of somebody, who ended up in the College of Medicine because his father wanted him to study medicine. For four years, the child was flunking his courses. Expectedly, the boy was given a warning, after which he would be advised to withdraw. Do you know what? That same child who was already at 400-level had to change to psychology and he passed out with a first class because that was where his passion is. The parents wanted him to be a doctor. So, parents should motivate their children to pursue their passion and avoid driving them into doing wrong careers.”

The administrator, Mater Ecclesiae College, Epe, Reverend Father John Njorteah, said it is important that teachers foster students’ interest in certain career paths, when they observe that they exude passion and confidence in pertinent subjects. Such disposition, he explained, will encourage students to follow the desired path.

“Teachers also play a vital role in the career selection of young students, as they constitute a major force, as children grow in knowledge through their school days. In many instances, talents may seem latent and not readily recognisable.

“As is well known, various professions require certain subject combinations that are often known to the children. It is teachers’ duty to prepare the students well for the academic demands of their career choices, eliminating the false sense of fear for certain subjects. Teachers are also meant to guide and direct their students in order to help them make right choices. Working with them through the years, they should have recognised their individual uniqueness and channel them in the areas where they exhibit greater preference and strength.

“As much as teachers ordinarily desire the best for their students, it is also important to mention that in matters relating to career choices and selection, children should be given some opportunity to make those choices. Mandating children to toe a certain career path can be a form of negative interference. Such interference from teachers could make children become “career-hypocrites” – acting out in order to please their teachers and not fulfil their personal ambition. As such, teachers must be cautious of the extent of career-interference.”

Njorteah suggested that for teachers to effectively help in students’ career development in today’s world, it is important that they are well versed in available career options. “The information age in which we live has opened countless career opportunities, moving beyond the traditional “I want to be a doctor; I want to be a lawyer” era. In this wise, teachers must be up-to-date and abreast of all options. They must flow with the trends, so as to be better placed in meeting students’ expectations, as they look up to them for guidance.”

He also urged parents to give their children some opportunity to choose careers based on passion and interest.

“We all have our individual uniqueness and no two persons can have exactly the same likes and preferences. Hence, parents must also not force their own wishes and desires on their children in this regard. Parents have their own idea of success and what the ideal career is. Oftentimes, they tend to shield their children from mistakes.

“Providing children with the tool to make informed decisions will go a long way in making them independent and self-reliant. Parents should have it at the back of their mind that mistakes will occur, but these hitches will guide children through their life journeys and make them better individuals. Therefore, providing an enabling atmosphere that will motivate them to express themselves better is paramount,” he said.

Mrs. Omowunmi Balogun, principal, Elibel College, Lagos, noted that it is very common to find parents dictating the choice of career for their children.

She said: “They believe if you are good in English language, then you go for the arts, and if good in mathematics, then you belong to the sciences, forgetting that there is something called passion, which should help these kids determine where to go and what to do.

“A child may not be good in physics, chemistry and biology initially to aspire to study medicine as a career choice, but if the passion is there, then they will work towards it. That is why you see students telling you they want to go to commercial class in their SS3 because they want to study accountancy with no account or commerce background from the beginning and you now wonder where to start from. And then you hear them say because my mum thought I would be good at calculations, even though they have been in arts all the while.”

She advised parents to limit their authority to encouraging them to study well and not to career choices.

“There are times that these children will graduate from secondary school in the science department and end up studying law at the university. Parents should only encourage their children to read and provide them with resources they need to enhance their interests in their career choice path.”

But a psychologist, Dr. Raphael James, said it matters not who makes the choice. Rather, what is important is whether or not the child is interested in the choice of career.

“We have had cases, where parents made choices for the children and it came out fine and there have been other cases where it did not work. Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu sent his son, Emeka Ojukwu to Oxford University, which was among the best universities in the world then. The idea was for the son to take over his business empire in Nigeria after his studies. Emeka went there, studied history and returned to Nigeria only to join the Nigerian civil service as Assistant District Officer in the town of Udi, and later join the Army.

“For two and a half years, the father stayed away from him, but Emeka went ahead to become the first Nigerian quartermaster-general in the Nigerian Army and later, Head of State of Biafra.

“Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti, first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers sent his son, Fela Ransome Kuti to London in 1958 to study medicine. But Fela went to Trinity College of Music and studied music and he made the best of his career in music.

“Parents should encourage their children to go for the career of their choice, as this will determine a better part of their life story in the future. Many parents want their children’s happiness, which is dependent on their career choice. So, parents should just find out what their children’s interests are and give support and guidance. They can also help their children seek for more professional advice and they should be patient and always offer a listening ear to them.”

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