DR RICHARD EVANS HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR A CLEAR GUIDANCE STRATEGY WHEN IT COMES TO DECIDING ON EDUCATIONAL AND TRAINING PATHS.
At this time of unprecedented change in the nature of the world of work and the transformations that are occurring in the profile of employment, guidance for people to decide on their education, training and employment is even more critical than ever.
Educational and training institutions must develop comprehensive and effective guidance systems to open up access, increase and widen participation, improve retention and produce individuals who will match the employment needs of Malta and Gozo.
People, whether preparing to enter employment or those already in work who may be considering a career change, require support to make the correct decisions and as a result be more effective employees.
Unfortunately, guidance has long been treated as optional, but it must now be fully integrated into the mainstream curriculum offered by education and training providers. It must become central at entry, on-programme and exit stages of provision in schools, colleges and training providers. If resources permit, providers should establish a central guidance unit, or for small scale institutions guidance resources of the education department should be used.
Guidance and careers guidance is a complex process and both require a clear definition and must include these important elements and be:
- Impartial and student/client centred
- Unbiased and without pressure from employers and education and training providers.
- Take full account of factors affecting and impacting on existing and future labour market information.
- Equally accessible to all students and people in general seeking advice.
- Promote equality of opportunity for all seeking advice and guidance.
- Developed and delivered by skilled and experienced staff who follow an agreed code of practice.
A multitude of activities are involved in such guidance including advising, advocating, assessing, counselling, enabling, feedback, informing, innovating/systems change, managing, networking and teaching.
OPEN, CONTINUOUS GUIDANCE.
Guidance must be operated on an honest brokership basis. It is essential that it is unbiased and objective, based on the real needs of the individual, not the institutions. These elements are becoming even more important as colleges, training providers and adult education/life- long centres increase the numbers of mature students who will require guidance especially at the diagnostic/entry stage.
With the continuing problems of functional illiteracy and innumeracy across the islands initial diagnostic techniques and the guidance process must be sympathetic and understanding of the needs of the learners. The education and training providers must establish an on-going guidance service throughout the learners’ programmes. Quite often learners realise that they are on the wrong course or begin to struggle with their studies and therefore require addition learning support and continuing guidance. This will require that the initial guidance is complemented by more specialised guidance provision either from the institution or from outside guidance agencies. Therefore, it is essential that the institutional central guidance services, if they exist, establish an effective wide ranging network including subject teachers, employers and other guidance professionals.
This model will make certain that the learners continually receive objective guidance that will provide the necessary checks and balances in the system e.g. if the learner is struggling with their studies or is unhappy with the provision.
The need for open and unbiased guidance is a result of a number of complex and interrelated factors. These include: non-existent, ineffective or ill-informed guidance in schools, colleges, universities or other guidance services; parental pressure which is often determined by the false perception that ‘Á levels and ‘O’ levels are superior to other technical and vocational qualifications; peer influences and sadly often ill-informed advice from teachers who have limited direct experience of working in industry, commerce or employment areas outside the rather narrow academic world.
Guidance is a profession and vocation in its own right and requires specialised training and the role of guidance staff is to complement teachers to provide a high quality holistic service to all learners. After all there is no point in increasing and widening participation if as a result of poor guidance retention rates decline and failure rates increase.
Surveys over many years conducted across Europe have shown that up to 10 per cent of students feel they are on the wrong course. Unfortunately many students who feel they are on the wrong course often cannot transfer, either because of the lack of an appropriate alternative or the rigid time constraints of the course scheduling or even more worrying the pressure put on them by the teacher/lecturer. The need to maintain class viability often means that students are made to remain on the course with the resultant low retention rates or failure.
Malta is well underway to introducing a comprehensive guidance system into its education and training institutions overseen by a central government department. Effective systems are developing in schools, MCAST, ETC, ITS and other training providers. The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry is also a key player because of its essential links and partnership with employers. The Malta Chamber has already stressed the urgent need for an effective guidance system in Malta and Gozo.
Dr Evans is a Council Member of City & Guilds.