6 things that schools must teach

I think you will agree with me if I say, “Our education system is in bad shape.”

I am not saying it’s the schools that are messed up, but it’s the framework within which they operate that is.

The old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same” applies aptly to our education system.

I came across this 2013 Gallup study conducted by Gallup in conjunction with Microsoft and Pearson Foundation. It throws up some alarming results. One key finding was:

59% of the respondents attributed their current job skills to outside-of-school learning. Only 15% agreed that there was a strong correlation between what they learnt in school and their job skills. 

My point is that giving our kids a traditional education isn’t going to be enough. Helping them to learn the skills they need for the jobs of the future is going to be crucial. Even if it warrants going against the grain and taking counterintuitive measures.

Millennials are already getting a lot of stick from the experts. They are out there struggling because High School didn’t actually teach them anything about the pitfalls of the real world.

And, hey it’s not only about jobs. Schools, along with parents, share the responsibility of imparting good, values-based education to kids.

The curriculum is a small part of the overhaul, schools need to inculcate skills such as critical thinking, self-awareness and continuous learning in students.

Keeping that in mind, here are 6 things that schools must start teaching right now:

#1: Money Management

If my school had underlined the importance of investing in mutual funds and common stocks when I was 15, I could have been spending a mortgage-free life right now.

Not just the capital appreciation, but schools also need to teach a thing or two about managing monthly budgets and debt.

Teaching young kids good financial habits can go a long way in sowing the seeds of financial discipline.

6 things that schools must teachI fail to wrap my head around it. Why does our education system resist such essential changes? When everyone from the government to the CNBC pundits is clamoring about financial literacy from their rooftops, why aren’t the schools stepping in?

The seeds of ‘how to manage money‘ need to be sown at an early age. It does not need any emphasis. It’s the need of the hour.

#2: Critical Thinking

The central idea of education is to promote critical thinking and instill in students the ability to challenge preconceived notions and break orthodoxies.

Unfortunately, the school curricula still promote rote learning, thereby making kids reflect like a parrot.

In a world like today, when you are bombarded with information – real and fake – every waking minute of your lives, it’s important to teach kids to question everything.

The great philosopher Karl Popper said, “If we are uncritical, we shall always find what we want.

The truth, more times than not, lies hidden. A skeptical mind is more likely to peel layers after layers to unearth the truth than someone who blindly nods his head to everything written or said.

#3: Experiment, Fail, Experiment

The spirit of experimentation and the fabulous outcomes it can lead to, should be encouraged in every classroom.

Jeff Bezos says, “If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”

Nobody becomes an ace archer the first time they look through the bow’s crosshair. It takes many failed shots before you even start to spray around your target.

You may have to take different stances, try different angles and all that, but eventually, you find your feet.

The sad aspect is that we don’t carry the same heuristics from sports over to our life. And, this problem is more grave in Asian cultures where there is always a stigma attached to failure. Sadly, this seeps through to our schools, too.

#4. Encourage lifelong Self-learning

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the famous author and epistemologist says, “Only Autodidacts are free.”

An autodidact is someone who critically and willingly seeks out knowledge without ever relying on outside help. Some of the most intelligent people in history such as Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X and many more, were self-taught.

It’s counterintuitive, but it will be great if schools, especially high schools, could pave the path for continuous learning of students. Not just guide them but also help them on the path to gaining mastery in a particular subject.

It’s a long shot, something that works against what schools stand for today, but it can be done.

6 things that schools must teachSee, when the kids are limited to the school material and they get bored, they exhibit a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement.

With self-learning, they can be bored with a specific book, but not with the act of learning. So the number of pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise.

#5: Mental Health

Depression and anxiety are two real mental problems that school students tend to suffer from. Peer pressure and overwhelming expectations of parents are two major causes of this.

Most children are taught about the importance of things like exercise, a healthy diet and the risks of smoking in school. But they rarely learn about the impact of stress on their body, symptoms of anxiety and depression, or healthy mental habits.

They are not taught how to prevent anxiety and excessive negative stress, or how to work with these experiences if they arise.

The mental well-being of children should be a central part of everything that schools do.

#6. Respecting other people’s boundaries and beliefs

There is no doubt that the world has changed significantly over the years. But you can’t deny that social and cultural divides still exist and in many places, they are only widening.

Hence, schools need to pick up the baton to teach students about issues of diversity, abuse, emotions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Schools are the microcosm of society at large. At school, students have the opportunity to engage in community building and social interaction besides studying English and geometry.

The onus is on the education system to ensure that schools embrace an environment that encourages compassion, understanding, and acceptance of difference.

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It goes without doubt that teaching such a curriculum will require radical changes to the education system and teacher education itself.

Some may say it’s a lot to ask from an education system which is stretched as is, but, trust me it might be the best investment we can make as a society.


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