Whenever someone asks Reena Jha, 16, what she'd like to do after graduating from class 12 next summer, she tells them she'd like to be a company secretary.
During an accounts class last year at Reena's school, the Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Sangam Vihar, her teacher told her that passing a Company Secretary (CS) course could get her around Rs 50,000 to 75,000 a month in adulthood.
Reena, whose father earns only Rs 9,000 a month, is excited to make money. She's not really sure, however, what company secretaries do.
The teacher who gave Reena the idea had to rush away after class ended. "Whatever little information I have is from the internet," Reena said. She doesn't even know where, when, or how to apply for a CS course.
Her situation is typical in Delhi government schools. Each is supposed to have an Educational and Vocational Guidance Counsellor (EVGC), whose job it is to counsel students from classes 6 to 12 about personal issues as well as higher studies and careers.
In fact, there are only 222 EVGCs for over one lakh students in 1,029 schools entering class 11, the crucial year when kids select their streams and determine their career options for the future. Of those 222 EVGCs, only 50 have permanent positions. There is no EVGC at Reena's school.
"If you look at the system, everything exists on paper but nothing really happens on the ground," said a senior official in the Delhi department of education on the condition of anonymity. "Agreed there are not enough EVGCs, but are the existing ones doing their jobs?"
In the absence of good career counselling, Delhi students such as Reena must plan their futures on their own.
The pahadi school, as Reena's school is known locally, had a guest EVGC, Monica, from August 2016 until June this year, when Reena was already mid-way through class 11. Reena has had no guidance at all since entering class 12.
Monica left the pahadi school for a permanent position as a primary school teacher in Haryana. In an interview, she described the challenges of being an EVGC.
Before joining the school, Monica and other EVGCs were given training at the EVGC bureau of the department of education (DoE). In hindsight, she feels that the training was inadequate.
"They need to train us better so that we can deal with real-life situations," she said. "What we were told in training is very different than what we dealt with in schools." In March, for example, when a student threatened to commit suicide after test results were announced, Monica felt woefully unprepared.
The training given to Educational and Vocational Guidance Counsellors, who are brought on board to advise students, is inadequate to meet real-life situations.
Training is not the only problem she faced. "There is no infrastructure in most schools," she said. "Many EVGCs don't even get a room where they can meet students to counsel them privately. We are not provided with test modules such as intelligence tests and vocational interest inventories. These tests can be very useful in finding the real interest and talent of students."
Without detailed information, Monica found it difficult to give students specific advice about their future prospects.
The state DoE is aware of some of these concerns. This summer, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia announced that the government will conduct aptitude tests for students in classes 10, 11 and 12. The tests will be conducted in all schools starting Thursday, and EVGCs will be able to use the results.
Oficials from the EVGC bureau, however, listed numerous other problems with their own department. There is no way to check if individual EVGCs are actually doing their jobs, and there is no metric for determining what impact they are having on students.
"Whatever little number of EVGCs we have are not accountable to anyone and there is no monitoring of their work," said one member of the DoE who asked to remain anonymous.
The official said that many principals make the EVGC at their school teach regular classes instead of letting them be dedicated to counselling full-time. "You cannot really blame the principal because the prime focus is on completing the syllabus."
This emphasis is shared by administrators, the official added:
'We first need to fix the quality of education being given to students' — that's the attitude everyone has, but we also need to focus on counselling.
HT talked to three experts in school education, who all said that career counselling was among the most important aspects of a school education.
Ketan Deshpande, the founder of Friends Union for Energising Lives, an organisation that conducts career counselling in rural schools, said that the education system across the country is not preparing students to have a successful career.
"We have a system where after Class 11, it is difficult for students to change stream, so it defines where your career could go," said Deshpange. "Schools need to actively counsel students."
Without any expectation of help from an EVGC, Reena is doing all the research she can about company secretaries online. Unfortunately, her three-month mobile internet pack expires in the first week of September, and her family can't afford another one.
"I will cross the bridge when it comes," she said of applying to a CS programme. "It is not like I can do anything right now."
If completing a CS course proves impossible, Reena has an alternate plan — to enrol in Delhi University's school of open learning to get a B.Com while teaching in a small private school.
These options all entail their own regulations and requirements, but Reena has grown accustomed to the idea of depending on her own ingenuity and an element of chance. "I will manage something," she said.