Academics are important, but so is knowing how to navigate the real world.
Think about the skills you use on a daily basis. Likely, you have a set of highly specialized skills, according to the career path you’ve chosen, but in other ways you’re like everyone else – living in a house that requires cleaning, managing finances, cooking food, and navigating relationships with friends, families, lovers, and strangers.
Unfortunately, the skills required for these everyday encounters are usually not taught formally, unless one’s parents have excellent foresight and dedication to providing a well-rounded education (a.k.a. adulting school). Some think that schools should step in to provide instruction, to minimize the painful learning curve that many young adults undergo when struggling to make sense of the world on their own. So if schools actually did this, what would it look like?
British media site The Independent recently asked a panel of successful professionals what life skills they would like to see taught in schools. The answers vary from mental health to practical skills, and I sifted out my favorites to share with you below, along with a few thoughts of my own.
1. Cooking & nutrition
Michelin-star-winning chef Adam Simmonds told The Independent that food tech (once known as home economics) does not focus enough on nutrition. He helped a class to bake zucchini muffins, and the kids were baffled that these delicious muffins contained a food that they normally hated at home.
“If food tech classes included cooking things like this then perhaps it would encourage them to choose nutritionally balanced meals in the future and enjoy cooking them for their friends and family.”
I’d add that, when kids do have classes about nutrition (which, here in Canada, usually occurs during physical education or health class), the lessons are too far removed from cooking and grocery shopping to translate into real life. Nutrition should be taught at the store, in the cafeteria, in front of a stove or refrigerator.
2. Balancing a budget
It’s shocking how financially illiterate most people are, including many parents who cannot pass on smart money decisions to their kids because they don’t understand it themselves. Basic concepts like saving, investing, borrowing, mortgaging, and budgeting should absolutely be a major part of education, so that teens can go out in the world ruled by money with confidence. Richard Stonier, partner at Tally Accounts, agrees:
“While much of our financial learning is acquired through our parents, school lessons on budgeting and finances provides the opportunity for children and adolescents to develop financial responsibility and an appreciation of being a mindful consumer, investor and saver.”
3. Healthy sexual values
This statement, from Cindy Gallop, founder of If I Ran the World, made a big impression on me. It’s true that we talk about the mechanics of sex to kids all the time, including the importance of consent, but how often do we talk about sexual values?
“Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, a sense of accountability; nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed. They should, because.. when we openly teach and promote good sexual values and good sexual behaviour, we inculcate them as a universal standard in society, and we end rape culture.”
4. Critical thinking
Children need to be taught not what to think, but how to think. This can be encouraged through debating classes and lively discussions where “each individual learns how to appreciate and evaluate the best arguments for and against any given proposition.” This, in the words of one commenter, “is the best defence against raising a new generation of echo-chamber snowflakes.” Particularly in this age of social media addiction, where young people are fed steady streams of information that conform to their own interests, debates over controversial issues can be eye-opening game-changers.
5. How to spend time offline
This is my own addition to the list. I am increasingly worried about young people’s inability to put away their devices. This is worrisome because a generation of people without any connection to the outdoors will be a generation unaware of what needs to protected and fought for. Not only do I think that schools should take a stronger stance on not allowing personal devices in schools and reducing the amount of technology used in classrooms, but there should be a push toward nature-based learning.
What life lessons would you like to see taught in schools?