Saturday, 14 September 2013

What I Went to School For

The education system in this country taught me how to memorise information briefly for tests and exams, and then to forget it again immediately as I'd never need it again. It taught me that teachers can be as cruel and vindictive as they want, because they have the ultimate power to trash your grades and ruin your educational life. My grammar school in particular taught me that no grade other than an A counted - and even when I got an A, they wanted to know why on earth I didn't get an A*.

School, sixth form college and university definitely did teach me useful stuff, of course - they taught me how to make friends, speak in public, work to a deadline, fear authority and to change my writing style to fit in with marking standards that changed completely from teacher to teacher. University in particular taught me that it didn't matter how much time and passion I put into a piece of work. If the lecturer marking it this week didn't like my sentence structures, all my hard work would be for nothing. It taught me that life isn't fair. If I sound bitter about this, it's because I am a little - but I know that it's actually a really important skill to be able to manipulate how you work to fit different people's criteria. It was just a bit of a nasty wake-up call.

I think that there should be so much more to school than memorising the contents of text books to regurgitate in exams. In 21 years of education, I was never taught any of the following:
  • How to do taxes
  • How mortgages work
  • How loans from banks and lending companies work
  • How to fix basic appliances
  • How to build anything
  • How to deal with conflict
  • Basic first aid
  • Sex education beyond the physical
  • Any history that reflected poorly on England (aka ... most of history)
  • How to write a CV
  • How to write a covering letter
  • How to prepare for a job interview
  • Basic legal skills and how contracts work
  • How to deal with bullying
  • How to deal with mental health issues
  • How to cook basic meals
  • How to manage money and budget
  • How to cope with family illness/bereavement 
  • Basic self defence
  • How to deal with sexism, racism, homophobia etc.
  • How to vote
  • Who the major political parties are and their policies 
  • How local councils work and where tax money goes
You might think that it's not up to schools to teach kids any of these things, but I think that they're so massively vital and the sorts of things that you really can't rely on all parents/guardians to teach their children, because they're clearly not doing it. The internet is obviously a huge help, but there's so much conflicting information out there that there are no definitive guides. I loved taking art, history and English classes and I don't want to do away with existing subjects - but I do think that we need to massively revamp the education system to include the sorts of life skills that almost everyone needs, but that nobody is guaranteed to be taught. 


  1. Well, we have the same exact problem over here in France. We are left alone in the wild and we don't know how to cope with life outside school. It scares me and makes me really anxious sometimes.

  2. Reading this made me realize that the Dutch school system might be a bit more useful for your "adult life". There are still a lot of points on this lists that I have not been educated on but I do have a fairly decent understanding of handling money, writing a CV and everything surrounding getting a job, politics (national and international) and we spent a year in history class examining how shitty our country has been and sometimes still is.
    I don't think I would have learned all this if it was up to my parents to decide, even though they're both educated, smart people. I hope that the education system in your country makes some change soon, because it's really helpful and often necessary.

  3. After 2 years, 4 exams and 24 SAC's of VCE Legal Studies, I still don't know any legal skills helpful to me unless I work for a multinational mining conglomerate.

  4. I feel the exact same way in Australia. The few things I have been taught on this list (resume, cover letter, job interview) are helpful, but being able to get a job is only going to go so far if I'm unable to manage my finances, do my taxes, and cook basic meals.
    I don't know if you've heard of The School of Life ( but they cover some of the things you mentioned.

    1. How can getting a job be important if you are not taught how to cook basic meals and how not to die from starvation :)

  5. THANK YOU! I'm in my final GCSE year at the moment and pretty anxious about life in general. I've no idea how to balance a checkbook, but I can describe my school uniform in French, which is as good as, right? (Ha.)

  6. THIS! This is exactly how I feel about the 'grown-up' stuff. At our school, we didn't have any of this stuff and basically threw us out into the open with no knowledge of how to pay taxes, loans from the bank, mortgages, etc. and, at 23, I still have no idea how it all works. The education system would benefit greatly from this sort of basic life skills, and while at the time it might have been boring to a 15 year old me, a 23 year old me would happily welcome these skills when they are needed.

  7. Hear, hear!
    I live in Germany and we have very similar issues over here. It seems you only learn for tests and exams but not for life and that really, really bothers me. Although we had to learn how to write a CV and covering letter and "how to behave on a job interview" (which was basically: dress as uncomfortably as you can just for the sake of looking smart and act like a totally different person... become a marionette! -.-) I still don't have any clue about taxes and any financial stuff really. :/

    Thanks for the very honest post! :)

  8. I think this is very different from school to school, for example at Rosebery they taught us how to act in interviews and we did mock interviews that would give us feedback. At university we did an entire module on CV writing and cover letter writing (even if I can't remember half of it - we did it).

    What needs to happen is a standardised skill set that is taught through all schools across the country. Each school can add their own spin to it but there should definitely be a basic module/class taught.

    I've only learnt the other things because of going through university and learning from mistakes and learning about rent agreements and contracts - especially the ones that didn't work out! But some people don't get these issues so when they do crop up can be totally baffled by them.
    Schools spend too much time teaching kids things they think they should know - algebra, atoms forming molecules etc. Instead of teaching them things they should know about politics and how you decide upon the party you wish to vote. Key history about England (I learnt about China, America and Vietnam. Yes big events but not my own country!) and definitely about how taxes work!

    Put me in charge, I'll fix this shit we call education.

  9. "How to build anything" is especially interesting. It's not very reasonable to expect from education system to babysit you and most definitely it should not tell you "how to vote".

    1. "babysit you" = teach you any basic survival skills for post-education life? and when I said "how to vote" I meant the actual process of voting, not who to vote for. obviously.

    2. I think it's demanding attitude, teaching you how to cook basic meal and sexually educating you beyond physical would actually be at the expense of the whole society, the economy is struggling even without having to caress you.

    3. Educating people about sexuality beyond the physical, could be about consent, emotions, being ready etc... I think it's very important we are taught these skills. A lot of people have very educated parents, but still don't know basic life skills. A simple 1 hour lesson every week could cover all sorts of issues and be extremely valuable. I don't think it is demanding at all to ask schools to teach children the skills they need for life, alongside their academic subjects. I can see why you think it would put pressure on schools, but most schools in England have "PSE" in which you are supposed to learn about life (but you mainly learn about STDs and nothing else). This lesson could be used to cover a range of topics :)

    4. Okay, you are right, educating about emotional aspects of sexuality is important, probably even more then about physical as most can figure that bit out on their own :), but my point was that defining long lists of demands while completely ignoring the fact that there is also the other side of the equation is unfair, also I don't feel it's okay to expect from education system to cover every single aspect of life that can at some point be problematic and from anyone to solve all their real and imaginary problems throughout life.

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  11. Same issues here in America. I only learnt that America wasn't always great/the winner because I had a renegade history teacher near the end of high school. That same history teacher did a basic lesson about credit cards and how loans work. Most of this was not brought up in high school or in university. I just got thrown into the deep end and have really been struggling with most of the things you mentioned since graduating from university. I really wish there was class called "How to be an adult 101."

  12. I think my school seems better about this, firstly we've always had an anti-bullying things with options for what to do etc.
    We have classes on CV writing, we had mock interviews with feedback (both in year 10 for a general based interview and year 12 for a specific interview, uni/job related and based on subjects you studied and the uni course you were planning on applying to)
    We got taught some of the stuff about politics and political parties and how to vote in our (compulsory) general studies class
    Similarly in year 7, all students are given food cookery lessons (that's new, when I started it was just the girls, this has now been corrected to all pupils, and to be fair we are two single sex schools)
    We even had a few self-defence classes back in year 9 or 10!
    There's things I'd change for example, we had a class for about 4 weeks on investing in regards to the stock exchange - if we'd had simpler classes about budgeting, managing money etc. I think it'd make a lot more sense.

    So in conclusion, yes there are still things I didn't learn from my school but my list seems a lot shorter than yours and it's never seemed overwhelming - I know school couldn't teach me everything but they've done a pretty damn good job trying to!

  13. Maybe I was really lucky but in year 3 I was taught how to cook basic meals, I was also taught about discrimination and how to deal with it is RE. I was taught about politics and how to vote in assembly in 6th Form and also in A level politics. Basic First Aid in 2/3 schools I attended, both of which made it compulsory. Loans, lending, and taxes etc were covered in A level economics, GCSE history, and Young Enterprise. Self defense was an optional *activity* in my sixth form, which I didn't take up, but my dad's a cop so I knew a fair bit anyway. Pastoral care, as far as I'm aware, exists for every student in every school and every school tells their kids that if they are struggling with bullying or mental health issues that they can get help there. Also we were made to do work experience in year 8 and options to do it again and again until school years finished, so I had a CV by the time I was 12 and everything else was made pretty clear to me.

    I was probably really lucky,but it seems clear to me that all of the things you mentioned are available to those who WANT to know, (like taking up a culinary GCSE or reading a cook book)and a lot are down to parents. The rest comes with experience.

    The school systems's crap and produces robots, but some schools are better than others at teaching life skills and helping kids find their passion. Luckily mine were all really supportive.

  14. There is a major need for schools to improve the things that are taught, school is all about teaching the skills that students will need later on in life. And even though i agree with the point that some of the things mentioned are available if people ask for it, it should not be something that only people who ask get taught.

  15. While there are a lot of flaws in the Irish education system I do appreciate that our secondary schools teach and train us in these things. From your list above high school taught me about loans from banks and lending companies work, how to deal with conflict, basic first aid, sex education beyond the physical, how to write a CV ( we did this so much that my older relatives now ask me and my brother to help them when applying for jobs), how to write a covering letter,how to prepare for a job interview (we had mandatory mock interviews with feed back),how to deal with bullying, how to deal with mental health issues,how to cook basic meals, how to manage money and budget, how to cope with family illness/bereavement, basic self defence, how to deal with sexism, racism, homophobia etc, who the major political parties are and their policies
    and how local councils work and where tax money goes.

    While I don't know if every student in Ireland has had the same experience based on talking to my peers most schools are pretty good at providing their students with life skills. I went to non - fee paying secondary school and the staff there tried there best to have courses in important areas such as self defense as part of the weekly timetable. I'm grateful to have learned these skills young but it is still an area that definitely needs to be improved on.

    1. This sounds ideal- we certainly don't have most of that in Scotland (at least at my school). It's great they taught you first aid, we had to pay £52 to do a course, and it was optional with limited places, whereas I think that basic first aid and emergency response should be something everyone is taught.

  16. There is a great deal of truth to this in the United States as well. I think it is especially bad when school funding is derived from student test scores on standardized tests.
    Standardized tests force good teachers along with bad to plan their entire curriculum around preparing students for (as you mentioned, Lex) to get the marks they need on the test and forget the majority of the information.
    I took one Home ec class when I was in middle school and that taught me some great life skills like sewing and cooking, but this was only and elective class so most people missed out of it.
    I agree to that there should be a larger part of school based around teaching people how to members of society (what a novel concept!) teaching them about how to do taxes, what the tax money goes to, how the government works, how to vote, and not just for president people should be educated about all the levels of government and how to take part.
    There are a number of ways that the education system could be improved. People need to realize that when we criticize education it isn't because we hate it-it's the opposite! It's a passion and love for learning that leads us to want more from it!
    Thanks Lex!

  17. I totally agree with you! I finish my A levels in the summer and have NO idea about law/taxes, and I've had to learn about how to keep your mental health ok, simply because my mother is mentally ill and I grew more interested. It really is awful that everyone is so focused on grades instead of becoming a well-rounded human being, who knows how to keep themselves healthy (mentally and physically). My year 11 English teacher was brilliant and one day took the chance to spend a lesson telling us about how to voice your opinions and listen to others - she went completely off book because she wanted us to learn something valuable. She was amazing and everyone in our class got an A - shows you can be a good teacher, teaching the curriculum and basic life skills.

  18. I have similar annoyances but after your list I feel a little more grateful because I did learn a bunch of those things in high school (sex ed beyond the physical, how to write a CV, how to prepare for a job interview, how to deal with bullying [kind of] & basic self defence)

  19. I agree. I'm about to turn 16, and I feel like my school has suddenly turned into "Ok, do all these mega-important things like uni applications, find accommodation, write job applications etc" and offered us very little help on how to do that, when they've had plenty of time to teach us these things in weekly PSE lessons, in which we never seem to do anything of practical use but instead get shown gory slides of STDs. taxes would have been particularly helpful, as I have literally no idea what to do when they come up in my life. In addition to this, it would have been great if they'd given us some more advice on mortgages and 'grown up stuff' like that, instead of saying 'You'll all have to learn that soon'. Yes. Yes we will. So why can't you try to teach us?

  20. I agree, I would have wanted to learn those things as well, although I did learn about CVs and job interviews when I was in highschool.

  21. This is weird to me, I went to just a regular high school in England but we did nearly all of this stuff.

  22. I agree with part of what you're saying. We should cover things such as tax, loans, legal, sexism etc however, some things I think are important for you to learn for yourself. The school system is flawed, but it's never going to be perfect and to expect them to teach you how to deal with every problem you face in life is unrealistic. In a perfect would we would be taught all of that but there's always going to be something that isn't taught that someone thinks should be.