Promoting Career Education in Secondary Schools
Authors: Richard Lau (Assistant Researcher) and Liam Lo (Intern) of Our Hong Kong Foundation
The impact of the current pandemic on Hong Kong’s economic activities and labour market is unprecedented. In the first quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate of young people aged 20 to 24 reached 9.8%. As the economy moves toward a recession, new graduates face tougher competition in the job market than ever before. It is understandable that they may experience anxiety and uncertainties about their career prospects. However, the Coronavirus crisis will hopefully come to an end, and Hong Kong will eventually return to normal. Confronted with a technology-driven transformation in the global economy and the need to prepare young people for the future workplace, the Hong Kong government should further strengthen the role of career education in the secondary school curriculum, and encourage young people to plan for their future.
Under the new secondary school system, the government focused on expanding the capacity of life planning education. Starting from the 2014/2015 school year, besides providing an additional recurrent grant of approximately HK$500,000 to schools, the Education Bureau strengthened the training of teachers to provide advice on university applications and career choices. Moreover, it organises career exploration activities for students through the Business-School Partnership Programme (BSPP), introducing them to different professions. A Life Planning Information website has also been launched recently to provide relevant education and career information for schools, students and parents.
The government’s vision and its existing measures are commendable, but Hong Kong schools are still far from achieving the targets. In recent years, studies have found that life planning education in secondary schools cannot effectively help students discover their aspirations and plan their careers or further studies. Apart from insufficient classroom hours, the problem can be attributed to the lack of teachers’ participation, contrary to the ‘whole school approach’ that the government has been advocating. Across the world, many countries have already implemented relevant measures to help young people understand various professions and industries, keep abreast of market developments and learn to adapt to social life and engage in lifelong learning. However, under Hong Kong’s examination-oriented education system, students are fixated on getting a university degree and lack the means to explore their aspirations.
Making career education a compulsory subject
To meet international standards, Hong Kong’s education model must adapt to modern times, in which schools should encourage students to go out of the classroom and broaden their horizons. The government can revamp the curriculum by removing the obsolete contents, then adding career education to the list of mandatory subjects and stipulating the required teaching hours. In Austria, career education is compulsory for students in grade 7 and 8 (age 12 to 14), totalling 32 hours each year. In the United Kingdom, although career education is not mandatory, students have been involved in relevant programmes since primary school.
Hong Kong secondary schools may also consider reducing student’s workload and leave them more space to foster self-understanding, explore their wider interests and take advantage of future opportunities. For example, in South Korea, students in junior secondary level have an exam-free semester since 2016. During that semester, students have classes in the morning, and participate in career exploration activities in the afternoon.
Increasing access to information and keeping in tune with industry trends
The current results of Hong Kong’s life planning education can also be attributed to teachers and parents’ lack of understanding of industry developments. Parents play an important role in the personal growth and career development of students. The government should involve parents in their children’s career development process through career counsellors. Countries like Germany have set up career guidance centres to provide students and parents with relevant information on academic progression and labour market demands, whilst offering psychological counselling services, in order to facilitate parents’ understanding of their children’s options in the future.
As for teachers, because they spend most of their time in schools, it is difficult for them to have access to knowledge on the latest landscape and industry developments. The government should strengthen the communication between teachers (including current or prospective teachers such as education-major students) and the industries to improve career education for students. The British organisation STEM Learning has launched “Project ENTHUSE”, a placement programme providing STEM secondary school teachers placement opportunities at universities and/or industries. After gaining first-hand experience of new technologies and insights into the labour market, teachers can give students up-to-date information and in-depth knowledge of the industries.
When it comes to career education, Hong Kong still has a long way to go. It is hoped that the government will do more to prepare young people for the social transformation and help them fully realise their potential. The coverage on career education is the last article of the ‘Applied Education Initiatives’ series. In the past, we have put forward many policy recommendations under the six strategic themes across different stages of education. Our Hong Kong Foundation is glad to witness the first steps taken by the Education Bureau to promote Applied education, and wish that the government will continue to work with different sectors to deliver quality education for our next generation!