Taking about the importance of career counseling during the pandemic, Ganesh Kohli, Founder of the IC3 Movement and the Chair of Board of Trustees at the IC3 Institute, says
1. How does career counseling help in choosing the right career when it comes to overseas education?
The decision and process to study abroad is not an easy one. Choosing the right course and college, application requirements, visa procedures, basic documentation needed for the admission procedure - students have hundreds of questions in their mind. There is a sea of information and opportunities available, and a career counselor can help narrow down the most ideal options based on student interest and the available family resources. Whether it is for international education or colleges in the home country, school-based career counselors who work with a student for years are able to guide them with knowledge of careers, helping them pick courses and colleges that align with their interest, help in consistent profile building over several years for university application, the application process itself, prepare them for standardized tests, help with their documentation, and even help prepare them for life at university.
2. What are the key challenges you’ve faced when it comes to career counseling in India?
The challenges have been very fundamental and all of them are born out of ignorance, even with some of the better-known schools in India. The biggest challenge is the lack of understanding of career counseling as a critical function in school. It is often confused with social-emotional counseling. There is also a misconception that only students who are applying to universities abroad or grade 12 students need counselling. We have focused most of our energy in educating school leaders and teachers about the need for counseling for every student - whether they go to college in their hometown, are among the top 5% or bottom 5% in class, or whether they are in grade 9, 10, 11 or 12. Finally, most people believe that counseling is about college admission and that it does not affect the school life of students. This is completely untrue. Career counseling has an impact on every aspect of school education - it alters learning outcomes for students, improves parent-school relationships, brings down absenteeism, increases attention span in classrooms, etc.
3. How does IC3 help in training teachers to be counselors and becoming active advocates for their students?
At the IC3 Institute, we provide support to high schools around the world through guidance and training for high school administrators, teachers, and counselors to help establish and maintain robust career and college counselling departments. We aim to build the capacity of high schools by training human resources and providing access to a repository of remote training, mentoring, and professional development resources. Our one-year certificate program in career and college counseling is designed for full-time school counselors and teachers and offered free of cost. Through our trademarked Counseling LaboratoryTM pedagogy, we aim that every teacher becomes a 10% career counselor, able to excite and inspire students in the classroom. Other initiatives of the IC3 Movement, like the Annual IC3 Conference and IC3 Live, provide sustained learning and connection-building opportunities to counselors for continued professional development focused on student success by bringing them together with higher education representatives and industry leaders from around the globe.
4. What’s the major hurdle you have faced with respect to virtual career counseling?
From conversations with hundreds of school counselors in the IC3 volunteer network, we have learned that counselors and students are both experiencing the challenges of virtual counseling. Counselors are missing being accessible to students for small queries because only a few students make the effort to reach out virtually. Students are experiencing virtual fatigue from academic sessions. Getting them to attend career counseling sessions is the first hurdle, and keeping them engaged during these sessions is harder. Effective counseling needs two-way communication, and getting students to speak up during sessions is becoming increasingly difficult. Counseling activities like workshops, group activities etc. that work very well in an in-person setting are not as effective virtually, especially with exhausted students. It is becoming more difficult to create and maintain a personal bond with students, which is the hallmark of effective and sustained career counseling in schools, there is no denying that people are now itching to get back to being able to connect in-person. Also, constantly changing exam dates, application schedules and requirements, and uncertainty about travel are deeply impacting students’ abilities to make informed higher education choices, especially the ones who were planning to apply to international universities.
5. COVID-19 has limited the choice of colleges for students who completed class 12 and hence proper career guidance is required for them to make informed decisions. Do you agree?
The geopolitical changes brought on by COVID-19 have definitely restricted higher education decisions for students. Constantly shifting board examination dates, recurrent lockdowns and closures of academic facilities, shifting requirements for applications based on exam schedules and travel restrictions, virtual fatigue – all of these are impacting immediate decision-making. The class of 2020 still had some hope when it graduated high school last year, but the way the pandemic has played out has made it harder for the class of 2021 to make any long-term decisions. While some universities are still offering a remote semester, others are considering opening their campuses with health and safety precautions in place. There are concerns among students about the value of online college education and missing out on the full experience of campus life. There are also students who are viewing taking a gap year as a solution. This is where career counseling can play a vital role, providing students with information on the navigating the changing landscape of university education, expanding their career options, as well as direction on how to use this time well to build their profiles.
6. Would you like to highlight any major differences between the career counseling scenario in India and abroad?
It is impossible to compare counseling in India with the rest of the world because each country and region is at different levels of evolution. In fact, even within a city, there is a huge divide between schools - with some offering significant counseling support to their students and others offering none at all. I have seen that even in some of the most developed countries, career and college counseling does not get the kind of attention it deserves. There are many public schools with 800 students and one counselor. In most regions of the world, there is either no counselor or the ratio of students to counselors is skewed so much that there is no possibility of the student getting any meaningful guidance.
7. Has IC3 come up with any COVID-specific initiative to address the struggles of the post-pandemic world?
The COVID-19 surge in India has brought many challenges, one of which is the loss of the earning member in many families, pushing them to the brink of imminent poverty. While there has been a lot of international and domestic support for immediate relief measures, as the pandemic wears on, these families need sustenance support beyond having their immediate relief needs met. The IC3 Institute is helping women from such families by empowering them with training and employment opportunities as career counselors within IC3's global network of schools. Our hope is that this initiative will provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to the affected families and will help them overcome the many challenges of the post-pandemic world, while helping serve under-resourced schools, enabling access to career and college counseling for underprivileged children, developing a skilled workforce to address the skill gap, increasing youth employability, and promoting social inclusion.