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Applied Life Skills

Like most people who are out of school for a few years, I despair for those kids coming through now. It seems that ever since I left all those years ago the level of education has been going downhill. Of course, when I think about it rationally I can see that this has been happening for a while and was happening while I was still in school. And the reasons for it are fairly reasonable when you consider the kind of adverts that used to feature in women’s magazines to sell kitchen appliances such as the one above.

With most girls doing some for of cooking and typing in school while boys did woodwork or machining, something had to give if we were ever to see equality and as a result most of these kinds of gender-stereotype subjects have simply been dropped. This has resulted in a generation of uselessness IMHO – but I think I might have a possible solution. That solution is a new subject for the curriculum, taught with the same level of classroom facing time as the traditional maths and english. I’m going to call it Applied Life Skills and this is what it will cover:

Spelling and Grammar – I remember having an English teacher in year 8 (when I was about 13) who told us that he thought the curriculum changes to English were appalling and as such he was going to teach us what he had to but also teach us what he thought we should know. Now most of it I did know as I was one of the rare kids in my area who read books for fun but what he covered was things like basic spelling and basic grammar – stuff like the you’re/your and their/there/they’re. The biggest lesson I learnt from him personally was that if you honestly believe you’re right, make it happen. I still think of him when I read CVs from people who cannot spell correctly. (no checking my spelling here now – that would be petty and rude!)

Filling in Forms – sounds odd, but the number of supposedly educated people I’ve come across who couldn’t fill in a form, it really makes you wonder.

Cooking – I was lucky enough to have access to a subject called Home Economics in my high schools. It was considered a soft subject because we would get to make cake and eat it. I baked at home so to me it really was just the fun part of the week but I’ve been shocked at the number of people who cannot cook basic things, and many of them complain that they can’t follow a recipe. If you can’t follow a recipe in a cook book, how can you be sure that you’ll follow a set of instructions given by a boss? If I could have things my way I’d make following a recipe part of a job interview!

Life Maths – the kind of maths that you encounter every day of your life and which many people can’t cope with because it was part of the bigger and often hated maths subjects – things like calculating interest off in a sale, understanding accumulated interest, understanding how odds work in betting, how to convert currencies and how to recognise that the deal being offered by the banks is gonna send you bankrupt.

Hand Craft – if everyone knew how to sew on a button would we perhaps get less wastage? What if everyone could darn? Yes it may be cheap to pop into Primark/Pennies and buy a sweatshop cardigan*, but surely it’s better for the world if you didn’t? And if everyone learnt how to knit or crochet sure they may not ever use the skill again, but they’d also learn that they CAN do these things, and they’d learn to read a pattern – which means learning to follow instructions which translates into being able to pick up new skills from instructions later on which in turn makes them more employable.

First Aid – every person should have a first aid certificate.

Nutrition – we should all have a basic idea of simple nutrition and how that can change – for example when a woman is pregnant, or for children or even for vegetarians.

Basic Computer Use – everyone should be able to install and uninstall programs, know how to search for things online, effectively use word/excel. Not necessarily to macro level but they should be able to at least not panic when they are resented with a screen and perhaps even understand that things like macros and mail merges exist.

Hygiene – wouldn’t it be wonderful if every person left school with a certificate in basic food hygiene? Add to that a basic understanding of how disease is spread and perhaps we can reduce our reliance on antibiotics and also reduce the number of productivity days lost to avoidable illnesses.

World Culture – we all tend to live in our own worlds, we see the same kind of people who, because they live in our worlds too, have the same experiences. If we had a subject where we learnt about different cultures and their views of the world – both secular and religious, perhaps we would have a greater understanding and tolerance for them. Kind of the bonus of learning a language without trying to memorise conjugation tables.

History – I know, history is already a subject and many find it dull, but if you permeate all of the above with a light smattering of history related to it you may be surprised to find that it ain’t so dull after all. For example, learning how to cook a recipe from a 200 year old cook book would be quite fascinating, as would understanding just how bad things were before doctors discovered that washing their hands was a good idea. History gives context to the why we do things this way now and context means greater understanding.

So, that’s my idea of things that should/could be taught in school – what would you add to the list?

*I suspect that, being such a large chain, Primark actually doesn’t use sweatshops but the clothes are so cheap that this is the impression that they give.

8 thoughts on “Applied Life Skills”

  1. I would say that nutrition/hygiene should also include: How to tell if your food hates you.
    There should also be a module on how to read your body and what warning signs need to be watched/brought to a doctor.
    How to talk to your health professional/specialist
    When to walk away from a health professional and when to run and find someone new.

  2. Very good point – and a lot of people with intolerances as opposed to allergies don’t realise that this can change – kids who overreact to something may be perfectly fine with it 6 months later or conversely you can develop intolerances/allergies as you get older (common with lactose).

  3. Hi Kersti,

    Two things I might add would be basic human hygiene along with food hygiene, and knowledge of what public libraries have and what staff there can find for people.

  4. I’m old-fashioned, when it comes to education, and unashamedly so: so many of the skills you have mentioned, to my mind, should be absorbed at home – cooking, sewing, etc.History is as necessary as basic mathematics because you have to understand what has gone before, and you need to be able to put your own life into perspective. I realise the days of chalk and talk are long gone, but seeing how much time is wasted on “touchy-feely” assignments and subjects at my grandchildren’s schools makes me see red. My eldest granddaughter, this year has taken up a hard-won place in a State Academy here in Brisbane which offers the IB, and although she is not “quite” getting the pure, classical education I would have chosen for her – and which is still available in selected grammar schools – the standard of learning, and the philosophy behind the teaching is affirming to me, and to her.
    Oh dear, you should not have written something which triggered such a passionate response!
    Choose wisely when it comes to educating your own child.

  5. ….and a necessary PS: perhaps if the study of grammar hadn’t been abandoned all those years ago, we would have been spared the universal proliferation of the greengrocer’s apostrophe………. but I won’t continue.

  6. Ahh Maureen, that’s the problem – a lot of these skills have been dropped by schools with the idea that they would be taught at home, but with so many kids living with one or two parents that have to work so long in order to pay stupid levels of mortgage and a lot of those parents without these skills themselves, we’ve now a generation who simply do not have a hope of learning these things. I think we need to acknowledge that the learn the skills at home experiment has largely failed and look at what we honestly expect our kids to derive out of an education.

    It also extends to universities – I remember when I was a kid that you’d see adverts for positions that required year 10 or year 12 as a qualification. Most of those jobs now require a degree – and most of the kids in university aren’t interested in a classic university education, they just want their piece of paper so that they can move on and get that job. BY the time I got to uni every student had to do an English test as the quality of what was coming out of high school was so poor!

  7. Oh I see – yes, I suppose society,and demographics have altered. When my youngest son – the one who is sick and has just become a father for the first time – was at school, all the boys had to do a semester of Home Economics, and the girls all did woodwork and metalwork – the idea being that they would know how to put up shelves in their first homes, and to have alternatives to two-minute noodles
    My son took his lessons well on board, and with a little help from his friends and his father, is currently renovationg the space underneath his house.
    His stint in the Army Reserve taught him how to sew on a button, and how to iron with great precision.

Tell me what you think