The exam-oriented education system has long been criticized for jeopardizing the development of student’s critical thinking and career knowledge. Students who graduated from secondary schools lack the skills and knowledge for entering the job market and what they possess is the knowledge needed for university studies rather than for the workplace.
In the 2003/04 school year, the Hong Kong SAR Government piloted 12 COC courses in senior secondary school (SSS). 17 classes are covering 382 students coming from 57 different schools. In the 2004/05 school year, the courses increased to 32, offering 69 classes to 1427 students coming from 132 schools. As its name implies, the COC contains courses designed to meet the needs of specific professions. Currently, there are nine areas of studies including business, arts, and media, design, services, performing arts, information technology, engineering, food production and management, and leisure, tourism, and hospitality. All of these courses are designed to meet the demands of the new Hong Kong economic structure.
The COC is designed for students with interest and inclination in areas other than those provided by the existing examination subjects. It aims at providing students with the opportunities to explore their orientation for life-long learning and career aspirations in specific areas. Through the COC, the Hong Kong SAR Government expects students can develop a better understanding of their career orientation and competency. This can also help students decide on life objectives. Many students also understand the importance of studying hard and become more motivated in learning other subjects. Through the study of career-oriented courses, students would also develop their generic skills, values, and attitude, acquire knowledge and skills as well as understand the workplace requirement of a particular career. Students would also be able to obtain one certificate and multiple diplomas for further studies, work, or both at the senior secondary level through the study of the COC.
New Choices and Chances for Students
Some of the COC courses (e.g. food production, tourism, or performing arts) not only require knowledge but also require skills, values, and attitudes which are largely ignored or underdeveloped in the traditional curriculum design. Students who experience failure or unsatisfactory performance during their primary or junior secondary school studies can have a new chance and choices to experience success and develop some of their talents, they can bring out some of their skills that have long been buried and make unnoticed during earlier studies.
With COC studies, students not only learn more knowledge about their chosen professions but also expose themselves to the professions earlier through various kinds of practices or visits. With earlier career exposure through COC, students can come to identify their abilities, and then, in light of such recognition, the choices become obvious and also increase their motivation to learn.
COC and Self-Concept Development
According to Berk (2004), vocational development moves through three phases: a fantasy period (early and middle childhood), in which children explore career options through play; young children gain insight into career options by fantasizing about them. However, their preferences are largely guided by family, glamour, and excitement and usually bear little relationship to the decisions they will eventually make.
The second stage is the tentative period (early ad middle adolescence). Between ages 11 and 16, adolescents think about careers in more complex ways. At first, they evaluate vocational options in terms of their interests. Later, as they become more aware of personal and educational requirements for different vocations, they take into account their abilities and values.
The third stage is the realistic period (late adolescence and emerging adulthood). By the late teens and early twenties, the economic and practical realities of adulthood are just around the corner, and young people narrow their options. At first, many do so through further exploration, gathering more information about a set of possibilities that blends with their personal characteristics. Then they enter a final phase of crystallization, in which they focus on a general vocational category. Within it, they experiment for a time before settling on a single occupation.
If students can accumulate knowledge of their preferred vocation, of the education requirements to enter it, and of the future demand for it, students could benefit from it. But high-ambition/ low-knowledge young people are at risk for becoming ‘drifting dreamers’ since they fail to make strategic choices about how to invest their efforts wisely. COC programs can do a better job of helping young people learn more about the work that interested them and evaluates its fit with their personal attributes since the COC teachers (most of them are field professionals) can introduce students to people in those jobs, explaining up-to-date entry requirements, encouraging participation or organizing relevant extra curriculum activities, and offering internships or practices that provide first-hand experiences. Students with a clear picture about the professions they would like to join can develop a much realistic goal, with a much realistic goal; students can take concrete steps to achieve the goal.
COC teachers play another significant role in motivating and developing students’ interests as well. They can act as the mentor who provides a role model for students to learn. COC teachers can also provide practical feedback for students to develop skills and attitudes, at the same time; students can see the skills accumulated are strongly relevant to the job required and increase their motivation.
A school is a place where students spend most of their prime time, it is understandable some development may strongly relate to the school environment. As I am an education practitioner working in one of the senior secondary schools which provides COC, I notice many new entrants enrolled into our Form 4 classes are with negative self-concept and low self-esteem, especially beliefs hold about their academic ability. It not only hampers their potential to excel in certain areas that require particular skills or personalities rather than their memorizing ability (kind of skills in traditional examination) but also denies success they can experience. After a period of studies, most of the Form 5 students can acuminate a certain level of sense of success throughout their studies and develop a better self-concept, some even want to further their studies after graduation.
It is not an easy job to say what causes their negative self-concept development in the past time, but I can point out a fact that most of the students are ‘underachievers’ during their junior secondary school studies. With some personal conversations, they let me know how they feel about studies, how bad their school experience can be and it leads me to decide to investigate how their psychological state develops in the new kind of learning environment.