Saturday, 7 October 2017

Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. The Growing relevance of Psychometrics in Academics.

‘So you’re in high school now! Have you decided what you want to be?’ ‘Will you take Science or Commerce?’ How often have you heard this not only from folks at home but from your neighbours and even the Aunty down the street! With a mind-boggling range of careers available, one would think it is easier to arrive at career choices right? Not so. Add to this the rapidly changing work environment that we are witnessing.
In this age of the 4th Industrial revolution, careers are no longer linear in character, they have become fragmented, collaborative and more complex. The perception that with a degree in hand, everything else will fall into place is archaic. Today we see so many people making multiple career shifts before they touch 35 . My Dad for instance worked at the Brunei Shell Petroleum Company  for close to 40 years. My generation saw 4 to 5 career shifts before reaching 40 years of age and I now see the younger lot, shifting 2 to 3 times while still in the 20s . The challenge is not only to find a job that one enjoys but to be able to stay in it should you want to.

'The Times they are a changing’ Mr. Bob Dylan says. The World economic forum in their Future of Jobs publication talks about how todays in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 5 years ago. This pace of change is set to accelerate. 5 years is not a long time . The Dubai Govt  is already working on plans to be ready for this new ‘smart economy’ in all sectors. For those of us who have children entering high school, the work landscape that our children will step out to will be so different to what it is now. We must be able to anticipate future skill requirements and know where their strengths lie outside of academics. Schools must step up their game to ensure adequate career/academic counselling for every student irrespective of their academic progress. A comprehensive  guidance of mapping the students profile with the anticipated skill requirements of not only current careers but emerging ones as well  will go a long way in making informed choices.

Psychometric assessments is increasingly being regarded as an essential tool in  career guidance programs. They are effective in revealing aspects of a ones aptitude, interest or personality in a statistically valid and quantifiable manner. Self-evaluation using scientific methods . The  battery of tests will indicate areas of strengths and can point one to best fits in terms of career possibilities. In today’s times it is imperative to identify our potential to learn, our inherent skills and yes our challenges  also. Using only test scores to decide careers is not recommended.

Going back to the ‘great puzzle’, Let’s look at our typical teen in high school.
They are bombarded with tests, projects, homework (from school & tuitions) pressured to enroll in co- curricular activities, volunteer etc. The alternate world of SM(Social Media) urging one to connect, comment and critique takes up a lot of time.  Add to that the chemical transformation happening within themselves. Physically and mentally our teens have a lot on their plate.  To top things off we expect them to have the perfect answers to ‘Who am I? What would I like to do/be? Will I be successful?  Que Sera Sera I hear you say? It’s should never be what will be, will be. The more prepared we are, the ‘readier’ we will be to make intelligent choices among the myriad opportunities lying ahead. Let’s help prepare our children for this turbulent 21st century. Recognise that our children are very different from us and growing in different times.  Explore options together, listen to their opinions, learn some of their jargon and most important, continue asking them questions that encourages them to introspect. Please don’t judge them based on test scores at school. In the bigger scheme of things, they don’t matter. Encourage them to pursue co-curricular activities that they are interested in for the pure passion of it. Very often it leads to exciting new avenues.

With all the deadlines from school it is easy to let the conversation slip especially if both parents are also working.  But here’s an easy way to look at it and an approach that has worked for me with my 2 and for all the students that comes to us at Varsity Connections.  Come 9th or 10th grade depending on the curriculum, you will be faced with filling out the subject options slip which will indicate what subjects your child will be taking at high school. There are many things to consider here and the biggie is the fact that the school has a cut off score for STEM subjects. We cannot do anything about that policy.  Work backwards.  Use psychometrics and academic progress to help your child identify potential careers it can be 1 , 2 or even 3 potential areas.  Then look at the University programs that will facilitate progress to those potential career clusters. Understand what the prerequisite subjects (if any) that the student has to take at high school. It then becomes easy to tick those option boxes sent from the school.
For those children who have already decided (as early as the 9th grade) what they want to be either by themselves or with help from their parents, Psychometrics is a great tool to understand if their choice is a realistic one. For the majority who are confused, wont this be the perfect way to move forward? An unbiased scientific method to discover who you are.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

13 Reasons Why - It must be discussed.

As a big Netflix fan, I am continually being given suggestions as to what I should watch. The series,13 Reasons Why kept popping up on the screen.  It struck me as another teen angst program and I kept passing it up until my almost 30 year old daughter told me , ‘Ma , watch it,’  it’s different .  I always listen to her when it comes to movies, shows etc. 13 Reasons Why is based on a book of the same name, authored by Jay Asher under the genre of Young Adult.  It has generated a lot of  brouhaha world wide.
I have to be honest. I binge watched the whole thing.  The series is gripping and deals with multiple issues like peer pressure, bullying, the pressure to be in a relationship, sexual harassment which according to statistics is increasing at schools worldwide.

13 reasons why, follows the life of Hannah Baker, a high school student who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 cassettes which reaches the doorstep of her friend, Clay Jenson who has a crush on her. Through the cassettes, we hear her tell her listeners why she holds 13 of her peers responsible in some way, for her decision to end her life. Each episode sees the narrative weave back and forth in time and also back and forth between Hannahs and Clays thoughts. It really has been brilliantly produced and directed.  
We get to see the various experiences that Hannah has as a newbie in town and at school, trying to ‘fit in’. In the final episode, Hannah takes the drastic step to end her life in a very deliberate manner that is very disturbing to watch, even for an adult.  Many times leading up to the finale, we are tempted to shout out encouragement and advise to her and that there are recourses that she can take.
There have been numerous debates and deliberations on whether the series should be banned, and schools have stepped in with cautionary messages to dissuade students from watching it.
A recent newspaper article in the Gulf News reiterates that it could trigger copycat actions amongst teenagers.

There is a real opportunity to use this show to start a discussion on the various struggles that teenagers appear to go through in today’s turbulent times. Banning it is a sure fire way of ensuring that young ones will surely watch it, at a friend’s place or secretly at night. So there isn’t a point in that, in my opinion. So, watch it with your children. Many teens find it awkward and uncomfortable to watch anything with parents but in this case since there is SO much of interest in this show, we can and should persuade them to watch it together, with us.
I asked a few young adults (14 to 17 years of age) what they thought about the series and is high school really that traumatic. Here are some takeaways from my conversation with them.

The children feel that in the UAE, schools are different and isn’t the toxic environment portrayed in the show. They were unanimous in saying that everyone should be able to watch the show, maybe not for the very young though. (14 years and below according to them) B, who has a very young sister(11 years) was clear that he did not want her to watch the show as he felt it did not depict an accurate picture of high school  and could  influence her perception of it. The visuals being very graphic could also have a negative impact.

I broached on the whole Slut shaming thing with them (this was the main trigger for the  character’s downward spiral in the series).  The older lot seem to feel that in most cases the girls kind of brought it on themselves as they are rather careless on social media when they post pics or insert comments. They felt that bullying decreased in the final years of high school. Interestingly the boys, didn’t seem to think that slut shaming happened at their school but qualified that statement by saying that a certain bunch  of their classmates had left the school the previous year and that’s probably why there werent instances of it.(!) L indicated that in her school slut shaming occured but felt  that the girls had themselves to blame. Those girls were very aware of the ‘reputations’ that they had and were ok with it. In fact some looked upon it as a compliment.
The Younger lot in the group had a slightly different take on the show. For them it wasn’t just a TV show, as felt by the older ones. They felt that the show made them think about consequences of being mean and rude to others. They could relate to the feel of the fictional high school and that ‘kind’ of bullying. According to these mature 14 year olds, 7th or 8th grades was when they started to notice that kids were getting teased or bullied. That’s when the groups and friendship became more defined. So there were the popular girls group(these were the ones that went for parties etc), the Nerd group( I really dislike the connotation to this one) the studious lot, the athletes  and so on..

All in my little group knew of someone at school who was being bullied. We talked about coping mechanisms and what the character Hannah could have done differently.  They felt that if she had more friends to confide in, talk things through her choices would have been different.  If she had interests and activities outside of school with a different group of people that would have been a good outlet for her. They related to her reluctance to confide in her parents. It was really surprising and disheartening (for me as the only adult there) to know that the children felt adults/parents/guidance counselors are usually the last option.  According to them, adult intervention would result in worse consequences and the embarrassment that they would have to go through, would be paramount and traumatic. All of them felt that they could cope and manage any problems. Only when they have exhausted all avenues, would they approach an adult. These young ones had no answer when I asked them when, according to them, would be the right time to ask for help to avoid trauma or even personal injury. The brilliant silver lining to all of this was that all of my young friends were unanimous in their opinion that suicide should never be an option and that there are so many other choices that can be made.

Needless to say after this informal meet, I was rather upset. Upset because as parents we are the safety nets for our children, always. They should know that, right? Where have we gone wrong that our teens view us as the last resort. What are we not saying to them, assuming that they are intelligent enough to make right choices? Why should seeking parental help be viewed as a teasing point among teens as in  ‘You are so lame , you went crying to mummy’. Of course you know I am generalizing but it is what these children had to say. How can we recognize signs that our children might be going through some rough stuff? 

In the series, social media played a big role in the way photographs and comments were being shared. Bullying has evolved and with the availability of privacy settings on various social media platforms ,we will never know the kind of messages exchanged nor the level of participation our children may have in what might be  perceived as ‘harmless banter’. Look at the recent case of students who had had admission offers from Harvard withdrawn due to offensive posts in a FB messaging group. The anonymity of social media creates cyber monsters who under the blanket of   namelessness prey on the vulnerable. Who among us are the most vulnerable? For me its our children, our impressionable children who desperately want to fit in, at school, at home , in their communities and so on. In this melting pot that is the UAE, many of our young global nomads are seeking to find their own identity amidst this internationalism, while trying to understand their roots and why this seems so important to their parents. Add to this the pressure of academics and securing a high grade.  
13 reasons why tackles a lot of relevant issues. View it as an opportunity to bond with your children. You know they are going to watch it sooner or later.  Do use it as an opening for honest conversation, to offer unconditional love and hugs and an ever ready shoulder , to listen without judgment , to not dismiss their trivial fears , to suggest , advice and above all to promise to always be there , as the very FIRST RESORT.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The changing workplace – The conversations we need to be having with our children.

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air  Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember  -  Galadriel

Those opening lines of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is now, more relevant than ever. The world as we know it is changing exponentially powered by technology. Change is imminent. From the sultry Alexa, who can tell you when your washing is done or what song is playing , to a voice controlled home that you can command from your sofa( ‘draw the curtains’, ‘lock all doors’) In the recently concluded International Electronics Consumer Fair in Vegas, the star of the show, hands down, were the robots and their incredible utility in almost every sphere of work ,from baristas  to  the medical industry . It may seem very far-fetched, but  I kid you not, the futuristic Jetsons lifestyle(remember the cartoon back in the day with the Robots and the AIs in the 60s) is  coming and it is coming very very quickly.    Of course, there were other incredible stuff being displayed there including the wafer thin TV sets and the gen next battery operated cars and so on. Now, please don’t think I’m a tech buff. I am not. Just having to change my phone to another smarter one brings on a certain amount of trepidation. But having said that, I have had to change my mindset and be very futuristic in my outlook because in my line of work that is very essential. When talking to students and young adults about their career choices, I need to describe this bold NEW world to them so they can prepare themselves to confidently step into this workspace. More importantly I need for all parents to understand the opportunities that this disruption will bring about and to know that it WILL impact their children NO MATTER what career they eventually get into. All of us need to help them to be prepared and this is now more important than ever before.

We need to ask our schools if they are preparing our children to be 21st century ready.  To be global citizens, to be curious, to lead, to problem solve, to innovate and create. The value of factual information is decreasing and memorization is as good as dead!  And yet, both of these are still rampant at many schools and as a result at home too. Just today(10th Jan2017) there is a report on how Finnish Schools are planning to remove school subjects from their curriculum(by 2020)  as they feel  that the way the subjects are taught are no longer relevant and beneficial to the modern way of learning . And therefore, teaching has to adapt to match this new way of thinking. So now, individual subject study will cease. Instead events, (current ,past and relevant) and phenomenons will be studied and looked at from the perspectives of Math  History Physics etc. So once the base subjects are given the grounding in the lower grades, from age 15 ,the students move on to this curriculum. Finland’s education system is regarded as one of the best in the world and their Teachers among the most highly paid. 

Being an IB mom, I am really happy with the way the International Baccalaureate program prepares children for not only University but beyond. The non-linearity of the way interdisciplinary subjects are taught, using World events, fosters critical thinking, problem solving, the understanding of Bias and so on. Discussions at my home are always very lively and I am continually amazed at the way my son expresses his opinions and thoughts on diverse topics. They are always so well processed with a remarkable ability to think on his feet. I attribute it to the IB system. (patting myself on the back for having spent so much time researching before deciding on this curriculum for my boy and making the switch)

Going back to what the topic of this piece is all about . What can we, as parents, do to prepare our children. Let’ s look at what todays Employers want.  Self-motivated/self- directed individuals, people who can problem solve or can easily be trained, folk who know their core skills, can easily ADAPT ,able to collaborate , current & thorough in their knowledge of  their area of specialization AND the World. They are really not looking at individuals who can recall facts from text books or with the best test scores, to put it bluntly.

So when we talk to our children, perhaps our conversations with them need to change a bit. Instead of asking them whether they have finished studying, done their homework, what marks they got for the recent tests , when the next tests will be and so on, start a conversation about a relevant event in the world. No need to make this discussion formal or  an ‘event’ by itself.  Discuss it over dinner ,  maybe bring in your own experiences,give them an idea of what the world of work is all about and where it may be headed, maybe even link it back to subjects . Talk to them that it’s the norm to undergo a number of career changes and that ITS OK .  Talk to them about valuing cultural identity and celebrating diversity, encourage them to discuss personal identity ,try and  understand how they identify themselves and what problems, local or global they might want to solve. There is just so many many things to get it going. Start with gaming, Start with Singing, start with Youtubers( A couple of years ago I had NO idea what that was, I am now enlightened (but not necessarily convinced,though!)

Encourage them to get as much education as possible, as much work experience as possible, as much travel as possible, as much social work as possible.  But Never ever bring up your own academic life and give an impression that it was ideal. It may have been, for YOU at THAT time. Our children have been born in a different time and space and we need to give them as much of the BOLD new experiences that we can no matter that it takes us out of our comfortable,  safe and very often slender mindsets.

For those parents and educators who still think that traditional careers will not change or shift, it’s time to look ahead and smell the flowers. Please please do your research.
Hint: Start with Artificial intelligence and its impending applications/impact on all careers.

We are their care givers for such a short time. Lets make every second count.