Counseling services in higher education institutions of J&K

Dr. Kavita Suri &                Dr. Rewa Khajuria
With globalization and changing times in the past couple of decades, a good number of higher educational institutions in public as well as private sectors are providing opportunities to the students in various courses and streams. However as new educational institutions are opening up in India, there is also another issue of providing accurate guidance to the students to take up the courses which are of their interests and which can provide them good employment opportunities. There is a need to provide a platform for the students in the institution where they are studying, which can guide them about their futures and career planning. Thus in the past few years, the need of counseling services in higher education institutions has strongly been felt.
Career guidance and counseling is a process which enables individuals to acquire the skills required to make choices and decisions about their future. UNESCO (2002) views career guidance and counseling as a process that connects students to resources so that they become knowledgeable about jobs and occupations. The process also assists students to be active managers of their career paths. The first Career Counseling services appeared at the turn of the 20th century. Career Counseling helps students to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications and abilities. It also gives information about the job market and about easily accessible educational opportunities. Therefore, Career Counseling can be seen as a process that helps individuals not only make career related decisions but also effectively manage their careers over the life course and develop the emotional balance to cope with the challenges that arise as their working lives progress.
The University Grants Commission, the regulating authority for higher education institutions in India has also formulated a scheme namely “Career and Counseling Cell” to address the diverse socio-economic challenges and geographic backgrounds of the heterogeneous population of students coming to the colleges vis-à-vis equity of access and placement opportunities through availability of appropriate institutional support information.
In Jammu and Kashmir, there are very less or no career counseling centres/cells. There is also very less or almost nil career counseling support for students in their life and studying situations which could help them improve the general framework conditions of the higher education environment, thereby contributing to providing equal opportunities while studying.
The need of counseling is of paramount importance for promoting the well-being of the children. Effective Counseling improves the self-image of young people and facilitates achievement in life tasks. Counseling can empower girls and boys to participate fully in the economic and social development of the nation.
Effective counseling, especially in institutions of learning has now become important. Boys and girls, young men and women, need to be guided in the relationships between health and the environment, employability skills, knowledge, and attitudes that lead to success and failure in life. Counseling in institutions of higher education can orient the students about their careers and enhance the employability skills of the students.
In rural areas of J&K state, students are really lacking these skills. They even are not aware of the educational and employment opportunities/schemes provided by the government for their betterment. Thus, counseling services in these areas must fulfill the expectation of the people.
Challenges of career development programmes
There are many challenges in organizing career development programmes both at the school and college levels. When such programmes are organized by the schools, there is an unrealistic expectation by the students and staff of the schools which is a major problem. These programmes always raise expectations of participants. They often see providing job as their major outcome from such programs and, if there is no job, they become disappointed and frustrated.
Lack of realistic career opportunity information is also a major challenge. One negative side effect of many career programs is that students engaged in self-assessment, goal-setting and career planning while overlooking the realities and constraints of the jobs.
Career counseling has never been a high priority within our education system, at either the secondary or post-secondary level. Further, in times of budget restraint, it is often found on the list of items eligible for cutbacks. As a result, the services of resource persons who are experts in this field are hardly available which lowers the quality of such programmes. This needs to be upgraded for the benefit of students.
Another key challenge for this changing service is to move from helping students decide on a job or a course, to the broader development of career management skills. It means building career education into the curriculum and linking it to students’ overall development. A number of countries have integrated it into subjects. However, career education remains concentrated around the end of compulsory schooling. There is yet another challenge of making career counseling more widely available throughout adulthood.
The way forward
Many of the challenges that career counseling faces in the 21st century are related to meeting the needs of individuals following more diverse and flexible career patterns. It seems that careers are becoming different from the past, but we should not exaggerate the changes that are taking place. The challenge for secondary school career counselors and counselors in colleges and universities is to show their students how to succeed in the workplace with a different set of tools and strategies than has been used in the past. All educational institutions must continually upgrade their training, teaching and skill-development processes to better enable their members and graduates to acquire the necessary ever-changing skills needed for success in today’s workplace.
In Jammu, not much attention had been given to students’ Educational and Career Counseling in the past. This remained as a low priority for two evident reasons: firstly, there was lack of awareness amongst the teachers, students and parents about the significance of career counseling and secondly the scarcity of resources didn’t permit schools and policymakers to consider it as a priority. With increasing literacy rates and availability of more choices of educational Institutions as well as careers, people’s interest in understanding the role of educational and career counseling in shaping students future is also increasing. There is a need to provide a platform for the students in the institution where they are studying.
To provide ample opportunities to the students for upgrading their skills, there should be a “Career Guidance, Counseling and Placement Cell” in every college in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There should be a platform in every college to address the problems of the students for providing guidance about the career and counseling from time to time.
The “Career Guidance, Counseling and Placement Cell” shall be responsible to take stock of activities to be undertaken or proposed to be undertaken by the sub-committees in a phased manner from time to time. Before the starting of the admissions in the college, the Cell should provide pre-admission coaching/guidance & counseling to all the admission seekers to provide them their expert inputs regarding the choice of subjects/subject combinations keeping the interest of the students in view. Various sub-committees can be constituted under this Cell under which college teachers can provide Guidance and counseling to the students from time to time.
Counseling can be provided to the students in these areas-Pre-Admission Guidance & counseling , Self Assessment of students and raising the level of inherent capability,  Development of Communication Skills and Soft Skills, Guidance/ Awareness about opportunities for Higher Education/ Competitive Exams and Jobs etc. Career Counselors should be made available to assist students at any stage of their career. This is important keeping in view the fact that that educational and Career Counseling has assumed importance and in the days and years to come the demand for counseling is expected to rise.
(The authors are working as Director and Counsellor in the Department of               Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu.)


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