Career guidance can keep disabled kids from slipping through the cracks

Career guidance can help prevent disabled children from slipping between the cracks of education and employment. From www.shutterstock.com

More than two million South African children who are disabled risk slipping between the cracks of education and employment without real guidance and support.

People living with mental or physical disabilities worldwide are targets of either outright abuse or more subtle discrimination and social exclusion. Disabled South Africans struggle to find jobs and are often vulnerable to being unceremoniously sacked or badly treated.

Career development could be used to bolster disabled youngsters’ confidence and show them what jobs are available after school. It is also a valuable tool to teach disabled learners about their rights as a prospective employee. Sadly, though, it is not an area that South Africa’s education system takes very seriously.

Career guidance: crucial for all

Employment and education are two interlinked systems that are fundamental to human growth and development. Career development is the nexus between these systems.

Career development at South African schools is taught as part of life orientation. It is treated only as “the world of work” within this subject’s curriculum. But research shows us that for people to forge successful, fulfilling career paths, career development can’t just be an afterthought.

There have been calls for life orientation to be scrapped as an examinable subject. It has also been criticised for being too easy and some learners say it’s a waste of time.

This antipathy means that the little career guidance offered at school is probably largely ignored – a terrible waste. At its best, career guidance gives learners a platform to make meaning of their existence by constructing careers that will help them carve out worthwhile livelihoods.

How to make it happen

So what needs to be done if career development is to become a priority in South Africa’s schools? For starters, teachers need ongoing professional training to understand the importance of career development for their disabled learners.

At the same time, school guidance counsellors need to be trained – partly to relieve pressure on already overburdened teachers who can’t be expected to put their other work on the backburner and focus solely on career development.

School management and governing bodies would have tremendous support from these counsellors, who can not only offer specialised support to disabled learners but can develop career management programmes.

Some of the work will need to be done beyond school grounds. Millions of young South Africans are unemployed. Why not train them as guidance officers to provide career information within communities to both their age peers and adults? This could provide employment for the youth, motivate a push for further education and, critically, provide the career guidance that so many learners simply aren’t getting in class.

Finally, the business world can benefit by identifying early career interns through school programmes. That’s a smart, proactive way to address South Africa’s skills shortage and, pragmatically, for businesses to fulfil their legal obligation to employ disabled people.

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