|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1988 (Issue 68) - Vocational and Educational Guidance I: Situation, Methods, Techniques (UNESCO, 1988, 166 p.)|
A certain contrast characterizes the content of this issue considered as a whole: namely, the constraints of the economy face to face with the demands of the individual, each meeting and confronting the other on the field of education.
The demands of the individual are clearly outlined in the articles by Ralph Miller, Kenneth Roberts, Robert Verhine and A. M. Pita de Melo, and J.-F. Brisson; economic constraints (evident or implicit) form the texture of the other contributions. We might consider this distinction to be artificial, and suppose that this confrontation is inherent in any schooling experience, which progressively moulds the personality of both children and adolescents, while leading them towards entry into working life. Indeed, it is precisely young peoples transition from school to work that constitutes the problem, one which society is tempted to think resolved by the creation of guidance counselling. This is the entire focus of our Open File.
The massive democratization of educational access that has been observed both in the industrialized states, and more recently in the developing countries, has not been slow, in these times of economic crisis, to show its negative effects. On the one hand, there is school failure, which is no less massive and, on the other, at the end of schooling, a surplus of unemployed graduates. The responsibility for this double phenomenon falls on guidance counselling, a system introduced in the 1930s and 1940s in the industrialized countries and in the 1950s and 1960s in most Third World countries.
Whenever we speak of guidance counselling we necessarily speak of elimination, because, as is widely known, selection in and by the school takes place over the years by: teachers evaluations, streaming of pupils; tests and competitive examinations; failure; and drop-out at a more or less advanced age. Furthermore, all these elements are intimately interdependent, since such and such a degree of success corresponds to one or another type of counselling. It is also known that in nearly every part of the world excellent educational institutions have developed alongside mediocre or manifestly disadvantaged ones. The former lead to the more prestigious streams with a full general education and ultimately to higher-paid jobs, while the latter lead most students to drop out, or to technical and vocational schools which in turn are perceived as a kind of punishment, rarely as a real choice, and ultimately as a total failure in life. There is a well-known hierarchy of knowledge: pure and theoretical for a few; applied, technical and manual for the rest.
There is something more serious, however. Deliberately or otherwise, counselling, as it is practised, can be discriminatory. Thus, in spite of equal scholastic achievement, in many countries pupils are streamed differently according to their social background. Certain systematic analyses of teachers grading on report cards have revealed that with identical results, pupils from different social backgrounds are evaluated, then streamed, differently.
Whether they are flattering or negative, the grades on report cards are addressed to parents, who frequently take them at their face value. Pupils internalize this view of themselves as presented by the school and their families, especially the ones experiencing the most difficulty. The final result is all too frequently the destruction of their self-esteem and self-confidence. This evaluation has been defined by scholastic criteria and considerably less by scientific evidence.
We should also mention sexual discrimination. In quite a few countries in the world, the repetition rate for girls is less than for boys; girls are in the majority at the theoretical official age in each class; in secondary-school leaving examinations, their success rate is higher than that of boys; yet, on the whole, girls continue to study for a shorter time than boys. It would be interesting to determine what, in their school experience, discourages them from pursuing their studies as long as those of boys.
The problem is that guidance counselling - in so far as it is practised today - pursues two contradictory objectives. Theoretically, it is intended to serve both students and the economic system. While it directs the flow of students as much as possible towards courses corresponding to their aptitudes and choices, it must also respond to the training needs of the economy. These two requirements are rarely compatible.
None the less, guidance counselling can only take place at school. Given compulsory schooling up to adolescence, with the organization of differentiated training curricula for vocational training, the school is the place where essential choices are made by young people, and counselling is, whether we like it or not, a major function of the education system. But it is time to redirect counselling, which means, in a word, to turn it from a negative into a positive process. Instead of an instrument for selection, for disqualification and, in the long run, for social and psychological failure, counselling should first of all better and systematically inform pupils by strengthening information services using modern techniques. Is there any point, for example, in handing out outdated brochures for obsolete training that is likely to disappear in the more or less immediate future? Conversely, during this period of rapid change, it is certain that a number of professions are appearing on the horizon for which little or no information is currently available. In other words, it is not only a matter of providing information about that which exists or is on the verge of disappearing, but also about emerging career patterns and prospects.
Providing information is not enough. Each pupil should be helped to find his or her way, based on more objective self-knowledge and external realities, in order to construct future career goals without the constraints of an inherited socio-cultural background. We can only succeed if counselling is a continual process and not a one-off decision. In other words, it should be integrated into the timetable of the general school curriculum.
It is also necessary to increase meetings between professionals, visit to enterprises to allow young people, over a relatively long period of time, to take an early interest in their future, their career and give them a practical basis for an informed choice. After all, there are countries where the choice of a technological course is made confidently and dispassionately and is in no way felt to be a dead end or a life-sentence. Let us not comfort ourselves with illusions. Although what has just been proposed - and the contributors to our Open File all have their own suggestions - is not an insurmountable problem for the developed countries, it is hardly feasible in the immediate future in the Third World, given the weight of the economic and employment crisis, and the primacy of the state and the economic system over the individual. Furthermore, a reform of the existing counselling system presupposes a number of changes in curricula and school structures, in economic and social planning, in employment policy, even in peoples minds. Who is ready for such a change?
But it is possible to dream. Success for some, for example, can no longer be built on the necessary failure of others; counselling ought to be focused on the young person and not on the obligation to fill different streams, some of which are already dead ends. Political authorities, school principals, teachers, counsellors, psychometricians, psychologists, heads of industry could all take advantage of the crisis to try, along with parents, teachers unions and (why not?) the pupils themselves, to reform that which could reasonably be a key function of the school today - guidance counselling. It is never too late to rethink and, above all, to act when the shape of the future social being is at stake and is decided upon too often as an irrevocable sentence.