Difficult choices

Towards academic excellence for all

15 January 2015

This week not a blog about research, this will be continued next week. Yesterday we had an open day at our university. Possible future students, some with friends, some with parents, visited our school. We have students answering questions, give a guided tour and we give a lecture explaining the programme, career perspectives, etc. It was well attended and it always good to see people putting time and effort in making the right choice. It is not easy nowadays; there are too many choices and it is expensive to study, so it is a difficult choice with big consequences.

Of course we are in a luxury position here in The Netherlands. There are a lot of universities in our country and many teenagers decide to do so-called tertiary education. You can get a loan from the government and tuition fees are not very high compared to other countries. It might still be a struggle and it is definitely not cheap, so not everybody can afford it, but the majority can (even though you end up with big depth at a young age...).

Malawi has “17 million people, 70 per cent are youth. Access to quality tertiary education is still limited as there is inadequate capacity”, writes the director of Lilongwe University College (A. Chiumia, personal communication, 14 November 2014). In 2012 the estimate was that 52% of the population was below the age of 18 years with only 9% having Secondary/Tertiary education. There is a lack of young people with relevant qualifications.

At our university in The Netherlands, we are currently losing many first year students. They started in September and found out the study was not right for them. Government regulation states that if you quit before the 1st of February in year 1, you do not loose study time and can start again next year. Some universities even offer programmes starting in February. We try everything to help aspiring students making the right choice; we visit school, we organise open days and you can come to our school for a day to find out what it is like to study at our school. We also have a mandatory 'study check'; students fill in a survey and get a result whether the study fits the person. If the results are state it is not suitable, it doesn't mean the student is not allowed to start, but the study coaches might keep a close eye on the student in the 1st year to see if (s)he is happy at our school.

There are also commercial organisations popping up; you can do many tests online to find out what kind of education and what programme suits you best. It is good to that this problem is being targeted, as it is frustrating for the student, the parents and the teachers when someone is unhappy or quits because (s)he made the wrong choice.

In Malawi there is an organisation dedicated to encouraging and assisting secondary school students across the country to attain tertiary education and their future dream(s). This will be through career guidance, role modelling and coaching them as they prepare to write aptitude examination for different tertiary institutions. The Organization for Career Guidance is based in Lilongwe and set up by mr. Brian Chidampamba Katimba, a Law Lecturer at the Lilongwe University College of Law and Professional Studies. It is a fantastic initiative.

A great number of Malawian schools are in rural areas. Students in these places are far from appreciating their abilities and how they can use them in the real world of work. There is no specific organization in the country, which specifically deal with the issue of career guidance except ours. The government does not (yet) incorporate the issue of career guidance in its school curriculum. If students are made to explore, understand and master their abilities through guidance of some kind, then they can know how to make best choices of their career to avoid miss-match in the world of work. That would also help them realise that they could use their abilities even to become good entrepreneurs in the world of business.

If you live in Malawi and are interested in the Organization for Career Guidance, or if you are an organisation that would like to partner with the Organization for Career Guidance, please do not hesitate to contact them via bcjkatimba@gmail.com or on tel: + (265) 11 1 743 705. You can read more on the 'Artist' page