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Education Decisions – A Global Perspective ‹‹‹ Go Back

Choosing a career

Educating the children is in the mind of every parent with young children. For most children getting a place in a government university is reminiscent of a desert wonderer running after a mirage. Every year some 250000 students sit the GCE A/L examination. Of this number only about 20,000 get places in the universities. The situation appears even more hopeless when one consider that nearly 500,000 sat the GCE O/L and of this number only 20,000 will make it to a university in Sri Lanka. It is the dream of every parent to see their children being successful in life. In Asian cultures there is a deep rooted belief that a good education is the gateway to a stable future career and good lifestyle. This belief deserves much merit especially in the current competitive environment where people even in most isolated communities cannot escape the powerful undercurrents of globalization. In the Sri Lankan context the problem encountered by a parent of a child aspiring to pursue higher education is daunting in that it is a multi faceted problem.

The standard approach of a typical Sri Lankan parent faced with this problem is to source information from friends and seek solutions based on hearsay. An analogy can be drawn between this behaviour and seeing a devil dancer Kattadiya or a faith healer for a heart ailment. A decision taken at this juncture will lay the foundation for a future career and the wellbeing of a young person’s life. This foundation need to be a rock solid foundation that could weather any storm and protect the future structure of the individual’s career and wellbeing.

What is best for my Child

It is perceived in Asian cultures that parents know what is best for their children and a solid argument can be built to validate this perception. This argument can be validated only if the basis for such knowledge of the parent is being acquired through critical observation and rational analyzes of the child’s behaviour. This perceived knowledge should not be based, on parent’s beliefs and wishes. The ultimate aim should be to find a course of study that will lead to a career generating sufficient income and yielding satisfaction in employment. What the parents like or dislike and their socio economic standing in society should not be a factor. If the wrong course of study is chosen by parents for their child, he/she will be going to work hating their job and enduring this pain of dissatisfaction for the next 45 years of their lives unless a career change is effected later in life. This is not a healthy situation for the child, parents his/her employer and the child’s future family. It is unlikely that under such circumstances a child can build a successful career. There are a number of factors to be considered in choosing the right course of study for an individual. First and foremost to be considered is what are a child’s likes and dislikes. Then his/her abilities and whether such profession can generate sufficient income for a decent lifestyle. The solution to this formula needs to be well thought out and as a rule of thumb, give greater weight to fact than feelings. At this point it is important to factor in one’s life aspirations in addition to likes and dislikes. For an instance in certain professions work is not at regular times and such facts peculiar to certain professions needs to be given lot of thought before choosing that profession. Certain salient features of a profession needs to be taken note of and measured against the lifestyle aspirations of the student before qualifying in that profession.

To this end the first step should be to decide on the subject area to be pursed at post secondary level. At this point it is important to think outside the box. Traditionally most parents aspired their children to be Doctors, Engineers, Accountants, Lawyers and Civil Servants, possibly in that order of preference. Today there are very diverse and varied career choices available to the children. It is important to invest time in the study of the various subject areas on offer and the ensuing career opportunities locally and globally. The internet Wikeidia is a good source of information on the subject area. Speaking to practicing professionals would also give a firsthand account of the pros and cons of pursuing a particular career. Websites of foreign universities is another very valuable sources of information on courses being offered and these provide information on potential career prospects relating these courses.

In choosing a subject area to pursue, a general rule of thumb is not to specialize at undergraduate level. Try to select a subject area that has broad application unless the student has a great passion for a particular specialization. If a particular specialization is chosen at an early stage and if the student is unable to secure employment in that particular field he/she might find that they have wasted valuable time in their prime years. For an example if a student thinks he wants to pursue a career in Aeronautical Engineering, a serious study of circumstances surrounding this decision needs to be undertaken. The simple reason is that while it is a very interesting area of study, on completion of studies the employment opportunities are few. Where as if a student does a degree in Electronic Engineering there may be opportunities in Aeronautical or allied disciplines. This is simply because Electronic Engineers are required by Aircraft manufacturing companies and Airlines. For a graduate in Electronics if he / she is interested in the aircraft engineering field can look for employment in an Airline or an Aircraft manufacturing company and proceed to build career in a field like Avionics. In the event that the student does not secure employment in an Aircraft company or an allied industry there are opportunities in commercial organizations, hospitals, industrial organizations etc etc.

However as already stated if the student has a real passion for Aeronautical Engineering then he/she should not be dissuaded from choosing that field of study. Aeronautical engineering was chosen just as an example this applies right across all areas of study.

There are various tests that may be undertaken by the student when selecting an appropriate area of study. One such test that is freely available is Stamford Test in the UCAS website.

Completing Secondary Education

Professor Dayantha Wijesekera, the former Vice Chancelor of the Moratuwa University, writing in the Daily News of the 6th May 2010, opined that all those who are confident to enter the conventional University system to pursue their studies in the traditional path should be encouraged to do so conscientiously. For those who are not and especially those with other aptitudes, economic reasons, lack of confidence to secure the required GCE A-Level results for a conventional university, should be encouraged to consider recognized foundation programme.

This is an indication that for the first time there is recognition for foundation programmes offered by various private institutes are gaining the recognition at the highest level of academia in Sri Lanka as a viable alternative to GCE A-Levels. However a word of caution: It is imperative that the source of accreditation of such studies need to be checked before embarking on such a course.

At this stage a parent deciding to send their child to study a course in Foundation Studies has taken a conscience decision that their child will not be entering the conventional university system in Sri Lanka. The difficulty with foundation programmes offered in Sri Lanka or anywhere else is universal acceptability cannot be guaranteed. These courses are generally country specific and sometimes institute specific. So before deciding on a foundation course be certain that there is a guaranteed pathway to university to complete the desired degree course.

The other alternative to sitting the local GCE A-Level is to sit the London or Cambridge GCE A-Level. Once a conscious decision is made that the child is not entering a university in Sri Lanka, then it is recommended that the student is withdrawn from the local stream. The local Advanced Level stream is highly regimented, where students thinking of a particular area of study need to take specified subjects. For instance a student in the local mathematics stream has to proceed to read for a degree in either Engineering or Physical Science faculty. For a student doing the London Advanced Level the options in choice of subjects are very flexible. As such a student can pick and choose subjects the he / she likes. The ability to pick and choose subject the student likes will greatly enhance his / her chances of getting a good aggregate score. The structure of the London Advanced examination is such that it takes modular form where by a subject is made of up six modules and the student need not sit all modules pertaining to a subject at one sitting. Usually the students complete six modules in two sittings.

Another ensuing advantage of the London Examinations is that they do not require a very high retention capacity to succeed but more focused on problem solving. AL Statistics??

Selecting a Study Destination

The next step is to see how best would the study of this course is to be pursued. In certain instances with regard to the location or destination it may be that the decision is already made, either because the financial circumstances are such that studying overseas is not an option or due to other personal circumstances they have to remain Sri Lanka. Fortunately, now it is possible to find a course to suit the palate of most people forced to face such circumstances.

Sadly this is not an ideal situation and cannot be recommended to everybody. The education authorities in Sri Lanka are yet to come up with a mechanism to regulate the private providers of overseas vocational and higher education courses in Sri Lanka. As such there are no minimum standards imposed nor are there any security provided to ensure that stated courses will be delivered as per a legal contract between the student and the provider. While it must be emphasized that there are some very genuine providers there are also some rogue providers. Therefore before deciding to enrol on a course it is import to do some firsthand research. One should not be mislead by the perceived reputation of the intended provider but speak to current students and check the track record. This is a universal principle and a commonsense approach. Even when enrolling at a foreign private education institute always check the track record of the Institute and try to get firsthand information from current and past students of the institute. Don’t go by what the representatives tell.

For many years students have been enticed with falls information to enrol at substandard institutes in foreign countries by unscrupulous agents. Again, nothing is being done by the authorities to check this practice. What makes matters even worse is that it is the poor who becomes easy prey to these rouge agents. These rouge agents will entice those who could hardly afford study overseas by relating fairy tales about living abroad and this is what the unsuspecting student likes to hear. They will in fact provide funding required for visa purposes at a very high interest rate. They will provide whatever it takes to get the student across. What happens when the student get to the foreign country is not their concern. Therefore it is imperative that you do a proper “health check” of the agent you choose to take advice from.

There is also another perception about going to a “good” university. All government universities in countries like Australia, UK and New Zealand are accredited by the governments of those countries. There is greater demand to study in some universities than in others. As a result entry requirements and fees are much higher in these universities than other universities. However no degree is inferior to another degree because there is standardization and external moderation of the degree awarded. Therefore one should not be overly concerned about the university attended. What is more important is the level of the degree achieved. For example no job specifies that a candidate should have a degree from a specific university to get a job. What is generally specified is a good degree from a recognized university. Emphasis is on a good degree rather than the university that the degree was awarded by. Therefore studying at a “good” university and getting a lower class degree will not help the quest to get a good job.

Another point to remember is that in a “good” university the cohort will be of higher standard and study lectures will be pitched at a higher level. Thinking logically, it is always better to get into a university where there is less demand because you are likely to get a better degree than struggle to get admitted to university where the demand is high. When you get a good degree then you stand a better chance of getting a scholarship to a “good” university to read for a postgraduate degree.

It is common for students to select study destinations for factors other than quality of the education gained. This is not the correct approach. Students select courses and countries to pursue their further and higher education for reasons such as the possibility of getting Permanent Residency (PR) or simply because they have friends in that particular destination. It is an undeniable fact that every prudent investor would without doubt look for best return on his or her investment. This principle applies to the vast majority of investors in education as well. However there is a very high risk associated with this approach. Therefore the focus should be on who gives value for money and all other factors should only supporting factors in coming to your decision. The issue of Permanent Residency is a hot issue. Education is big business for most host countries providing education facilities for foreign students. To attract foreign students these countries dangle various incentives from time to time. By far the most attractive incentive to foreign students is the offer of PR. However whether the circumstances prevailing at the time of starting a course and completing a course may be different. As such the conditions for the granting of PR could be different between starting a course and finishing a course. This fact has clearly been demonstrated recently in Australia. As a result thousands of students who went to Australia with the hope of getting PR on completion of a course in Skills Occupation List have been devastated. Their hopes and plans have been dashed.

While it is good to know of the potential opportunities in different countries the dangers of basing decisions on supporting factors such as friends and PR cannot be emphasized enough.

The decision to study in a particular overseas destination needs to be a rational decision based on sound facts. In the list of factors to base your decision priority should be given to affordability. In most developed countries students can work part time while studying fulltime. Many go overseas with hope of working part time and pay their way completely with the money from this part time work they do. Usually if one sticks to the legal limits of part time work allowed then this is not possible. It may be possible sometimes to cover living expenses but having money to pay for school fees is essential. Some students do work over the limit and are able to meet the cost of their studies but this is not recommended. However in the event the student is unable secure employment or is unable to meet the work pressure and demand on studies then parents should be in a position shoulder this financial burden. Otherwise there is a good likely hood that the child may fall foul with the authorities in the host country as well as the authorities of the education institute.

The other important factor to take note of is the student’s personality. For most students this could possibly be their first overseas visit. Also for most students this will be the first time that they will be experiencing unrestricted freedom and having the occasion to manage large sums of money. The parents have a responsibility to assess their child’s personality and determine whether their child possesses the right character to weather any adverse peer pressure and focus on the task at hand. It is recommended that parents give serious consideration to all relevant factors before making the final decision.

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