I’d Like To Learn Some Life Skills Now….

We have all been there, sitting in a classroom surrounded by 25 other students and thinking,

When am I ever going to use this?

Whether it’s a math formula that involves more letters then an English essay, or a sentence in one of Shakespeare’s plays that you just can’t figure out, you are often left feeling like your time could have been spent on something a little more useful. Learning how to do your taxes maybe? Cooking a decent meal? Possibly even learning the names of the politicians who are running your country? If you have ever felt like this, believe me, you are not alone.There are more people then ever speaking up about how they believe schools are not training children appropriately for the real world, leaving them under qualified for the most important gig they’ll ever have: their life. This however is not to say that school is a waste of time, because no matter what way you stretch it education is important, but what schools do need to do is reconsider the way in which they are teaching, what they are teaching, and if it is really all benefiting the children in the long term.

Prince Charles recently attacked British schools for “…failing to install ‘character’ in pupils and making them virtually unemployable. The Prince said the education system is leaving children bereft of vital life skills and unable to develop the confidence needed to develop into successful adults.” This thought has also carried over in Australia with schools in Western Australia raising concern that children are not being taught basic social and practical skills at home prompting them to not only ask parents to help them make sure students have the life skills to cope with high school, but give them a checklist of skills many teachers have found they are lacking.

One skill I recently found myself, and many others my age, to be lacking, was basic political knowledge about our own government. The recent federal election made this alarmingly obvious when some (or many) young adults expected to be voting did not understand the voting system, the main political parties, or in some very rare cases they did not even know what politician was representing what party. Anna North stated that, “with no compulsory politics component in any Australian public school curriculum, young Australians are largely responsible for their own political education” and in my personal experiences, many take no responsibility at all and no one is taking it for them.  After questioning a group of young 20 something’s about their political education experience, not one said that there was a class in high school that taught them the basic knowledge of the political system and the must know skill of how to vote, and the ones who have been taught, it was because they proactively approached the teacher because they wanted to learn about it. So what does this say about our schooling system? Is this pointing out a giant hole in what children are being taught, considering we live in a country were voting is compulsory, or are we simply relying on schools to teach and give children the skills and encouragement that should really begin in their home life?

It is however not just the lack of basic life skill teaching people are worried about in schools, it is also the over and under valuing of certain skills and subjects in the classroom. In 2006 Ken Robinson presented a Ted Talk displaying his ideas of ‘How schools kill creativity’ with a fascinating notion that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” He makes the point that our current education system is essentially just a prolonged university exam, and in his words,

“The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance, and the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.”

This can be relevant to someone wanting to study a skill considered a creative art, or anyone who wants to think outside of the box and forge their own path, away from the – high school to university to full time work – path laid out by society.  It is a very interesting time when we are “now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make,” children are being taught to fundamentally think with one side of their brains, and all their effort is put into memorizing facts they will forget the minute an exam is over rather then teaching them skills they need to get on with their lives or giving them the confidence to pursue a craft that may not be looked upon as highly in society.

Ken Robinson: How Schools Kill Creativity

Now this is in no way a suggestion that schools suddenly need to teach children how to iron or do the laundry, but when a university professor stops in the middle of giving a lecture to teach a group of third year university students how to vote in a federal election because ¾’s of the class have no idea how to, some alarm bells do tend to go off. School is in no way the enemy, but a broad education needs to be of key importance. Schools need to ensure they are catering to all skills and abilities and teaching units in the fundamental skills needed as an adult.

So as we move forward into the ever changing world, with new children to educate and new skills to teach, I believe we need to remember that, “education is not just about regurgitating facts from a book, or someone else’s opinion on a subject to pass an exam“. Education is about expanding one’s mind, and school should be about helping that ability to do so. School should be helping young adults gain the knowledge about how their country is run, and what they need to do to get by in this world away from a textbook. Of course we need math and literacy, but let us give these students more, lets give them an environment to build upon their character, creativity and common sense, and not just their IQ score.

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