Parents’ role in career choices

Tracey Wairimu wanted to become a dancer even as she enrolled for a diploma course in film production at Nairobi Institute of Performing Arts.

She had discussed her interest with her mother who insisted that she needed a ‘real’ career. The two later agreed on Tracey taking a short course in dancing as she waited for a calling letter into a journalism class.

“My mother used to tell me that dancing is only a hobby and that I needed a real course to back it up. So, she was comfortable with me becoming a journalist,” says Wairimu.

But after finding herself alone in the dance class at the Institute of Performing Arts School, Wairimu instead opted to study film production.

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However, she did not ditch her dream of becoming a dancer. Today, the 20-year-old is a successful dancer at East African Dance Empire and her mother fully supports of her decision.

“All I ever wanted was to become a dancer and I am glad that I became one even after all the hiccups. I am also happy that my mother has been supportive and that I don’t have to pursue journalism anymore,” she says.

Wairimu isn’t the only one who has been tossed about in her course selection. Secondary school students and those in higher learning institutions who attended the one-day career fair that was organised by Standard Group PLC on Saturday attested to their parents “meddling” in their course selection. The objective of the career fair, themed ‘Booked for Life’, was to guide students on career choices possible universities, middle-level colleges or technical institutions.

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Benson Mwangi, a form four student at Kiambere School Complex who wants to become a comedian, says his mother has been trying to talk him out of comedy. “When I tell my mother that I want to be a comedian, she never says anything. Other times, she asks me to consider being a gym instructor instead. But I have no interest in physical education,” says Mwangi.

Philip Gitahi, Mwangi’s classmate, on the other hand, has been active in the school’s journalism club where he is the chair. Gitahi believes his role at the club has been shaping him for a career in the newsroom. Nevertheless, if his mother has her way, the 18-year-old will become a doctor and if his father wins, Gitahi will become an actor.

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Darya Susan, Director at Ma’Taji Career Solutions that offers consultancy services on courses and careers advises parents against imposing certain careers on their children.

“As parents, we shouldn’t try to correct the mistakes we made in our lives by dictating our preferred careers to our children. It is not uncommon to find parents who, because they wanted to be doctors and failed, forced their children to be one,” says Darya.

She blames rising cases of school dropouts, job dissatisfaction and depression among young people on being forced into doing courses they have no interest in. “I have seen parents who come to attend graduation ceremonies only to find that the student dropped out of school a long time ago after losing interest in the course they were forcefully enrolled in,” says Darya.

According to Darya and other education experts who attended Standard Group PLC’s career fair, there are many ways that parents can guide their children into picking courses without imposing their opinions on them.

Provide your life as an example

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Martin Terry, a form four student at Tarang’anya High School hopes to become a quantity surveyor after secondary school.

He has grown up looking up to his father who he says has excelled in balancing between his job and his family.

“I don’t know a lot about his job apart from the fact that my father works construction sites. What makes me like his job is that it is flexible and it allows him to be with us most of the time,” he says.

However, one thing that Martin is sure of now is that he has to ensure that he passes his exams and posts even better grades in mathematics, geography and English.

“My father tells me that during their time, one only needed to pass math and geography. But these days, English is also important and he encourages me to work hard in all these subjects,” he says.

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Nicholas Maiyo, Kenya National Parents Association chairman, urges parents to be role models to their children.

“The parent is the first teacher to the child even before the child goes to any formal learning set-up.  Our role is to direct, instruct and teach our young ones the intrinsic values in life that make them succeed in any career they later choose,” says Maiyo.

“I know of a girl who became an environmentalist because her grandmother was very passionate about the environment and paid attention to medicinal plants. And growing up, she wanted to become a doctor because her mother was a medic and she sometimes allowed her to watch her attend to her patients when they came for treatment in their house,” says Darya

Children whose parents are teachers, doctors, nurses and other professions grow up admiring how their parents impact other people’s lives.

“If your child expresses an interest in your job, take time and involve them in what you do. Answer all the questions they have and guide them on what they need to succeed in those careers,” says Darya.

Discuss with your children about their career choices

In instances where children have power to make their own choices in life, some of these choices may not entirely work.

Maiyo says parents can help their children choose courses to pursue in higher learning institutions without being imposing.

Though his son wanted to be a musician in school, Maiyo says he helped him to make a choice they both agreed on.

“I have a son in university who told me he wanted to become a musician in college. When his results came out, I had a talk with him and we both agreed that he could first do a business course then later pursue music. Today he majors in procurement and takes music during part time classes,” says Maiyo.

He encourages parents to openly discuss with their children all life’s decisions, including the career choices they make.

Know emerging careers

Darya says parents tend to favour traditional professions such as doctors, lawyers and engineers for their children.

“Parents have held courses such as medicine, law and engineering highly because of the prestige that comes with these courses. But parents ought to understand that these professions are now saturated and that they need to explore emerging options,” says Darya.

She says many young people are now making a living from completing online projects for their clients, regardless of their courses.

Martin Kinoti who wrote Exploring Career Options, a career guide for high school students says emerging careers within traditional professions fields are employing many graduates.

“Within the highly esteemed engineering courses, we now have students who choose to pursue mechatronics and robotics. In Information Technology (IT), students are exploring courses that lead to careers in IT security, bitcoin technology and even big data. None of these was heard of years ago,” says Kinoti.

He says emerging careers, though not popular with some parents, are highly rewarding as they are created from needs of organisations that seek to have an edge in the changing digital space.

Tools to identify child’s potential

Darya says a huge knowledge gap exists between completion of high school and joining of tertiary institutions. “Many students are left to the mercy of nature when it comes to joining university, especially children in rural areas. Urban grown children have the advantage of access to institutions of higher learning where they can have their questions answered. But even so they are limited in the variety of programmes as not a single institution offers all programmes,” she says.

Darya says that today, career choices in school-going children are influenced by peer pressure, parental influence, a family’s socio-economic status, the availability of opportunities, knowledge on opportunities available and the individual student’s gifts and talents.

At Ma’Taji, high school students are offered individualised programs that analyse clients on need, basis and give them the best fit for their individual situation.

“Unfortunately, our education system has, for the longest time, been dependent upon results obtained by students after they sit their exams.

“We use their academic strengths right from their subject choices, to advice and link students to the best suited programmes in relation to their post KCSE qualification, their interests and passion, and the marketability of a programme. We also open them up to several career opportunities available in the market for them,” says the academic who is based at the University of Nairobi.

High school students are advised on the various programmes offered in public institutions where most students prefer to go after high school to get subsidised education.

Kinoti’s guide that has been approved by the Ministry of Education to provide guidance to high school students, on the other hand, provides information on a wide range of available careers.

It outlines a specific job, provides the job description in terms of the day-to-day roles in the particular career and the desired academic qualifications for the particular job.

The textbook also outlines the university and college entry requirements for each career for high school children.

It explains competitiveness of the careers on the job market, outlines related careers and the expected salary from entry-level positions through other levels at the job.

Kinoti says career awareness is not taken seriously in Kenyan schools. “Few students are guided early enough on the careers to explore before they join universities and colleges. In high schools, form two students should already be aware of what they want to pursue in university even before they drop some subjects in school,” he says.

He says universities don’t offer much in terms of career guidance.

“Even during open days and in career fairs, no university talks about careers. All universities talk about is the courses they offer and stop at that. But within one courses, there may be different careers that students don’t know about,” says Kinoti.

At the moment, Exploring Career Options, which was approved by the Ministry of Education is stocked in libraries in different schools in Kenya. Kinoti says the book is invaluable to primary and secondary school graduates keen on exploring career options.

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