Many who do not finish high school leave to pursue careers in the army or police force
In a move designed to prepare a future Emirati workforce and to stem the school dropout rate, the Ministry of Education plans to assign a career counsellor to every government high school
All public schools have social workers who double up as career counsellors, but they may not have the necessary experience to do so.
Starting with 20 schools this year, the ministry aims to place specialist advisers in all schools across Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
"Pupils need someone to guide them on to the right career path," said Kaneez Al Abdolli, the director of the ministry's student counselling department. "They should know how to choose according to their ability."
In line with the government's aim of becoming a knowledge-based economy, advanced industries - including semiconductor technology and nuclear energy - need to be heavily staffed with Emirati employees.
But achieving this will require a great effort to encourage pupils into science and engineering subjects at the school level, rather than the arts stream. About 75 per cent of pupils in government high schools opt for literary subjects.
"They are unaware of the different options and the importance of specialising in sectors that are important to the country's economy," said Ms Al Abdolli.
"We want them to think seven or eight years ahead and see what is good for them and how they can move up in their careers."
It is also hoped that introducing career counsellors will help to lower the high school dropout rate by keeping pupils engaged in their studies through personalised course loads.
One in five pupils at government high schools drop out by Grade 12.
A study on the issue released earlier this year, co-authored by Mike Helal, Mena director at Parkville Global Advisory, blamed the rate on an uninspiring school environment and the absence of counselling.
Many who do not finish high school leave to pursue careers in the army or police force. Dr Howard Reed, the director of the Dubai Women’s College, said it was essential to lower the rate of attrition and that guidance could be of help.
“They drop out because they get bored of the subjects and find it difficult to continue,” said Dr Reed.
“That should be addressed. What needs to happen is that students need to be taught to be better students. The best way to help them is to focus on the learning.”
Dr Nabil Ibrahim, the chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, praised the move. “This will allow them to focus and will help them understand the prerequisites for the disciplines and careers they can pursue,” he said. “It helps them see new careers in science and technology which are in high demand.”
Ghassan Nimer, a teacher at the Al Shaba’a Public School in Sharjah, was pleased, too. “Young people have no idea about the different professions at the moment,” he said. “We do our best to provide them with information but they also need someone who they can go to, discuss their problems and options and then decide on their future path.”
Michelle Lilley, a teacher adviser at the Al Mualla Public School in Umm Al Qaiwain, said it did not have a career counsellor but that social workers had helped organise industry visits.
“We also have universities come in to talk to the pupils about their courses, which helps them decide and they are excited about continuing in tertiary education,” she said. “But having a career counsellor in school to provide the added guidance will boost their efforts.”
Nadeem Ahmad, managing director of Career Solutions International in Dubai, said he hoped the new counsellors would be trained to give objective and holistic guidance, using the appropriate techniques such as psychometric testing.
Too often, he said, untrained counsellors offer children wrong advice.
“These advisers do not provide a comprehensive analysis based on the child’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “So, for example, if a pupil says they like drawing and painting then the counsellor will say you should be an artist, which is hardly an advisory message.”
But, Dr Ibrahim warned that counselling alone might not be effective. “In addition to counselling, students should be recruited to different careers while they are still in high school and get involved in programmes and internships that will allow for a seamless transition to higher education.”
Dr Ibrahim said schools should make an effort to link with higher education institutions to expose pupils to a practical work environment. Combining counselling with real-life experience in a pupil’s area of interest has been a successful motivator in countries such as the US, he added.
“It reduces the attrition rate and enhances the retention of students,” he said. “It also improves their scholastic achievement and they become more successful in their careers.”