Should Our Schools Be Teaching Life Skills?
6 April 2017
Death and taxes. They are often said to be two of life’s inevitabilities that will hit all of us, and neither of them are much fun.
But a third, more enjoyable concept I would add to this list is childhood, or for the purposes of this blog – school time. The vast majority of adults spent their formative years in the schooling system – if you didn’t then you were either home schooled or you’d gone AWOL and somebody should have been tipping off social services.
As a system that impacts pretty much everyone, just how effective are our schools at teaching essential life skills and employability?
Not so long ago, I was invited to speak at a school just outside Glasgow. Because I’m involved with The Princes Trust through HR Consultancy, I was only too happy to deliver some pearls of wisdom (allegedly) to a group of fifth and sixth year students.
I was tasked with talking to them about preparing for the world of work; how to weld a series of half- truths and blatant lies into the emergence of a CV, and approaching all interviews with respect and a positive attitude.
What was interesting about this particular group of students was the real mix of career plans. Some had their hearts set on university and academia, others had planned to go to vocational courses at college and some were leaving school for an apprenticeship.
As expected, a small group of students had no plans at all. Or at least none that they wanted to articulate in front of a teacher.
Much to my surprise, almost all of the students were keen to learn how to put together a CV. If anything, they would most likely find them useful to secure some part-time work during the summer or whilst in further study.
It got me thinking. Shouldn’t these fundamental life skills, such as writing a CV and preparing for an interview, be taught in schools? Shouldn’t our schools be more geared towards preparing young people for life beyond school rather than how to pass an exam. Why spend months studying the imagery of a poem waxing about butterflies or fleas when that time could be spent teaching children how to write a cover letter for a job or a letter to your factor or landlord.
Not to mention all the fundamental skills such as how to rent or buy a property, how to manage a budget and how to buy, or even better cook healthy meals.
Or as it could also be known – Living, for Beginners.
There is too much focus on streamlining our young people in to passing certain exams to go to university and not enough attention is paid to the actual life skills that will serve them well as adults.
Our schools need to realise that not everyone is destined to go to Oxford and study medicine. But, everyone does have a talent or passion in life that could be turned in to a potential career. They need to think of a different way of recognising and cultivating potential from a young age.
The major obstacle in the way of treating each child as an individual learner is, of course, the league tables. Our schools (and the system that lies behind it) are obsessed with getting as many passes and A-grades as possible and maxing out the number of their alumni who scoot off to university. This means that, not only are our children not learning properly (they are merely being taught how to pass exams) but that those who are not academic are simply left behind.
Working with the amazing young people at the Princes Trust and, having visited this school (which, is an excellent one, run by a dynamic headmaster) has planted the idea in my head that our education system is if not broken, at the very best inherently flawed. And I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person either thinking this, or indeed articulating it.
We are so obsessed with making sure our kids get in the top class and an envelope full of straight A’s that we are totally losing sight of essential life skills and treating every child as an individual.
A good idea would be for more businesses to make connections with schools in their vicinity and arrange to visit and chat with the young people. It would give pupils the chance to see what it’s like to be out in the working world – and perhaps realise that there are alternative routes into certain career paths besides academia. The school system won’t be able to do this alone – it needs a community approach, and businesses have a responsibility to play their part.
Our young people already face a challenging world. They face being a generation who are saddled with debt and unable to get on the housing ladder. There are the pressures of social media. There is the uncertain political agenda which could make the jobs market even more difficult.
It is important the schools do all they can to prepare them for adulthood. Academic achievements – such being able to recite poetry at length or find the volume of quadrilateral – won’t actually take you too far in the real world.
If we are to start treating students as individuals, then we need to equip these individuals with life skills. And we as a society need to acknowledge, appreciate and measure the schools when they do this.
Written By Steve Anderson