In the last six months my step-daughter (Grade 12) has been living with us, we have seen many of her school leaving friends been very disappointed that they are unable to fulfill thier dreams, simply because of poor subject choices. We asked Dr. Tracey Stewart (Expert in Developmental Psychology and ECD in Private Practice - Headwiseonline2u.co.za) to write an article for us that outlines the importance of subject choices and what we as parents can do to assist our children to reach their full potential.
"In our ancestors' day, when the average lifespan was 45 years or less and with limited options, people didn't change much. They farmed the land or learned a trade and stuck pretty much with the same occupation for the rest of their lives. There have been massive changes since then, particularly in the past century. Our lifespan has increased considerably and we have many more resources available to us and the freedom to reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. Yet in spite of the ever-widening range of life paths available to us, the greater majority of learners have absolutely no idea what they want to do when they leave High School and few are aware of their inherent qualities which comprise their overall potential. Those who do enter tertiary education often select subjects only to find they aren’t suitable and are forced to change, or they are unable to perform at a high enough level and drop out anyway.
Parents, of course, have their own aspirations for their children, sometimes unrealistic, and many do not know how to access their child’s natural talents.
There are an alarming number of South African children dropping out of school at around sixteen years-old with many citing a "hatred" for their academic subjects and blame their educators and the schooling system. Those who drop out of school, college and university must compete with better-educated people for jobs. Of those who started Grade 1 in 2000, less than half wrote their final matric exams in 2012 and currently, of those who do go on to tertiary education, an average of only 15% graduate! The emotional and financial costs of dropping out, changing majors at university or not graduating on time is very high and can last a lifetime. With the current rate of unemployment in our country at 24% these figures provide a daunting outlook for the future of South Africa.
It is generally accepted that as human beings we tend to achieve better results when we follow and do what interests us and where our values and abilities can be optimised. Thoughts, speech and action determine individual personality and personality is an extension of who we are in the world around us. Research has proven that when personality and academic subjects fit well together a learner achieves higher results, is far happier and adjusts with more stability, determination and positivity to the pressure of adolescence and the transition to adulthood and the workplace.
Is there a solution?
Great inventors like Thomas Edison who invented the telegraph which lead to the original telephone, received very little formal education but he was always a very curious child and taught himself by reading avidly. Edison’s belief in self-improvement remained throughout his life. Can you imagine your life without a cell phone let alone a telephone?
These days, easily accessible technology like the internet makes the learning process simpler and faster and this is largely thanks to Bill Gates founder of the software giant Microsoft and the wealthiest person in the world. Gates dropped out of Harvard University in his first year. His incredible rise to prominence in the computer industry is testimony to the fact that formal education is not necessarily synonymous with success but that interest in an area most definitely is.
Through these examples I am in no way diminishing the relevance of education. It is a fact that we are in need of more scholars graduating in the mathematical and scientific career pathways. What I am suggesting through these examples is that there is a place somewhere for every individual. Therefore, take heart if your child is not necessarily very strong in any particular academic subject area. Uncover as many of their interests as you can and encourage them to focus on these.
As a parent you know the affect you have on your child’s personal and academic development. You are also well aware that the career choice your child will make will affect where they will get to live, how much they will get to earn and who their friends will be.
What Is The Single Most Important Way You Can Contribute To Your Child’s Future?
It has to be by encouraging them to make the most of their education and training in spite of circumstances because the better their foundational skills the better their employment prospects and the better their jobs, the better their income and lifestyle. We live in a social system and that’s the way things work. Following this strategy, you will want to support and encourage your child’s success in school – taking time to listen and help, encourage, hold reasonably high, but realistic, expectations, work with educators and, where possible, set aside funding for further education.
The importance of making sure your child takes the academic subjects in which they show particular interest and in which they can gain mastery is paramount as they progress through school.
These choices beginning in Grade 7 at school will have a major impact on your child’s future. Learners at primary schools are encouraged to explore a large variety of foundational activities so they, their parents and their educators can get a clearer idea of what interests them and where their strengths lie as well as what they do not like to do and what they are not good at. By the time they reach Grade 7 they are expected to have their foundational skills sufficiently in place in order to choose a thread of subjects in Grade 8. These choices will prepare them for their final career path choices in Grade 9 in preparation for Grades 10, 11 and 12 the results of which will determine their prospects once they leave school.
Many career guidance counsellors and other professionals include the respected theory of Psychologist Dr. John Holland’s six identified personality types in their assessments. Dr. Holland’s theory proposes that each of us is dominant in at least one of these personality types which determine where we are likely to be the most successful in life. The identified personality types according to Dr. Holland are: Realistic / Artistic / Investigative / Social / Enterprising and Conventional. For example, learners showing a dominant Investigative personality type will do best in an Investigative career path like Engineering or Microbiology and not do well in an Enterprising career path such as Accounting.
It Is Important To Ask Yourself The Following:
- Do I know which career pathways match my child’s interests and which academic subjects do they need to take to match their interests?
- Does my child’s school encourage career-interest tests?
To Ensure Good Choices For Your Child you would want to choose subjects that fit your child’s unique qualities -- their abilities, talents, needs, values and interests -- and the life-style they would want to live. In doing this exercise you might be surprised at what you uncover about yourself!
You May Find Some Of These Strategies Helpful:
- Have your child assessed to measure their abilities, interests, values and personality-type. Write out your own reactions to the results.
- Look carefully at your child’s achievements in school to identify their abilities. Which subjects have they consistently done well in, or not so well in? What does this tell you about their abilities -- mechanical, verbal, numerical, artistic and people skills? Engage with your child and be careful not to overlook, or leave out, any of their abilities (whether or not you agree with what they tell you about themselves – this will encourage dialogue and deeper investigation and you can gently re-direct your child where necessary). For instance: your child may want to be a doctor because of a positive experience but they are not mathematically or scientifically inclined. You could re-direct your child away from medicine and into another career-path more suitable to their skills where they could still have a positive impact on others.
- Examine how they use their leisure time -- their hobbies, community projects, activities with social, political, or religious organisations. For each one, write down three headings: Abilities, Interests and Values. And, under each heading discuss their thoughts and ideas with them before writing them down.
In closing, the rapid progress made in our world has determined that the only constant now, is change! Jobs that were once relatively simple now require high-performance work processes and enhanced skills and these demands will only increase as technology is advanced. It is clear that ongoing education and training will be necessary but good choices right at the start will be of benefit to all in the future. We each have an obligation to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come by nurturing a stable, mature and responsible generation now who will carry us forward in the years to come.''
Dr. Tracey Stewart (Expert in Developmental Psychology and ECD in Private Practice - Headwiseonline2u.co.za)