When was the last time you used trigonometry in life? Did anything ever come out of learning Hot Cross Buns on that annoying instrument they call a recorder? How about climbing that rope in gym class?
Seriously, though, were these lessons absolutely necessary to learn in school, or were they all just a waste of time? It’s pretty safe to say that not many people – if any at all – have been faced with a life-or-death situation that required them to recite Romeo and Juliet by memory on the spot.
As society continues to evolve and advance, older school curriculums become outdated. By updating these curriculums to better reflect the modern needs of society, it will only benefit current and future generations – and parenting expert Ann Douglas has a few suggestions on how to tweak it.
While the current general curriculum does do a good job at teaching certain life skills children need, it does need some work in how to teach children to apply them, Douglas says.
“I think it does a pretty good job and I’m really reassured by the recent emphasis [in curriculums] on social-emotional learning,” she says. “I think that is going to be key because it’s our humanness that allows us to solve problems, to innovate and to make progress as human beings.
However, Douglas believes kids are missing out on opportunities to learn real-world applications of what they’re being taught in the classroom.
“That really helps to keep teenagers in particular engaged because if you have a teenager looking at what they’re expected to do for assignments and none of it seems relative or relevant to their life now or in the future, that’s where you get kids who are really turned off from education and not inspired to want to do the work of learning,” she says.
So what exactly are those skills that schools overlook that kids today are missing out on that could help them in their future?
Douglas has a few ideas.
1. Coding and the art of learning
Put simply, this would be a course that teaches students how to learn.
While teaching children to computer code today is important, Douglas argues this type of computer language will most likely become obsolete in the future. That’s why teachers also need to think further ahead into the future and offer a more adaptable skill.
“We know the world is changing at a rapid rate,” Douglas says. “So we don’t know 100 per cent what it is kids are going to have to know in five, 10 or 20 years down the road … So instead we want to teach them how to learn – so whatever skill it is they’ll have to know in years to come, they’ll have a method for acquiring new information and remaining up to date on new skills so they’ll never have to worry about being completely out of touch and obsolete.”
2. How to fix anything
This course, Douglas explains, would be how to teach kids how to repair anything and everything that appears in our lives.
“It could be clothing repair, how to fix a light fixture or how to troubleshoot a plumbing emergency and all of those kinds of things,” she says. “The rationale here is twofold: first there are the environmental benefits. You don’t always have to throw away a sweater with a broken zipper, or that toaster that only needs a simple repair … And second, there’s also the self-sufficiency piece where, if something goes wrong in the middle of the night, you have a hope of fixing this problem on your own.”
3. How to be human
Working on your employment potential is essential. But working your personal life – rather than just your professional life – is just as important, Douglas says. So she suggests a course in developing one’s self.
“This course would include very practical, applied, social-emotion learning,” Douglas explains. “So it would be how to thrive as a human being, how to nurture and sustain relationships, how to make your emotions work for – as opposed to against — you, and how to hit the pause button when you’re tempted to react impulsively.”
This will help kids find that balance they need in life, as well as grow as compassionate, understanding and proactive people in life.
4. Body fuel
In keeping with the theme of taking care of one’s self, Douglas thinks kids should also be taught how to take care of their health through nutrition. This course would go beyond the typical home economics teachings, a dive a bit deeper and focus more on health rather than just cooking.
“This would be about eating well, as well as how to prepare nutritious and delicious meals and budget for food,” Douglas says. “It would be a practical course but also talk about the importance of nutrition in fueling the body – the role of proteins versus carbohydrates versus fats. It would also teach you how to eat more intuitively, to notice how you feel when you eat particular types of foods and to respond to your body’s sensations of hunger and fullness.”
If this course sounds like a no-brainer, consider the results of this 2014 report published in PLoS One.
Two surveys were carried out: the first survey was completed by 6,665 respondents and the second was completed by 5,494. The purpose was to match Canadians’ perception of their own health and diet status versus their actual health status, as well as their concern about their own diet and beliefs of health.
According to the results, about one-third of Canadians believed their health or diet was good – and while the majority of respondents believes food and nutrition was very important to improving health, few of them were concerned about their own diets (60 per cent).
“Although consumers believe that nutrition is one of the most important factors for maintaining health, there are still a number of attitudinal changes and perceived environmental barriers to healthy eating,” the study said.
5. Money smart
Learning money management is something that isn’t often done until later in life, even then some terms and strategies can still seem foreign to the average money handler.
This is where a course on money would come in, Douglas says.
“This would be a financial planning course that goes above and beyond the basics, like balancing a chequebook,” she says. “It would be a course about how to make money choices work for – and not against you. For example, like consumer skills and how to make sense of all the transactions you have to do as an adult, like a rental contract or mortgage.”
The teachings would also include a look at bigger picture items, Douglas adds, like how to figure out what you want for yourself in life and then coming up with a financial blueprint that would support those decisions.
“Sometimes we end up with our financial decisions driving all of our life choices, when really you want it the other way around and then being limited and being in a financial trap,” she says.
Why is this needed? Well, financial literacy among Canadian youth isn’t the best, according to a 2011 report by the British Columbia Securities Commission.
The report found that many of the 3,000 Canadian high school graduates surveyed had “lofty expectations” for their future and believed their expected earnings in 10 years would exceed the national average by three times.
“Although this group of young people’s attitudes toward sound financial management is in the right place, in practice, many lack the financial behaviours that are important to future success,” the report outlined. “Simply having taken a financial literacy course or not having taken one at all has little impact on the financial attitudes, behaviour and knowledge. To have an impact, courses need to be both comprehensive and delivered in an effective and interesting format. Having a bad course experience produces financial literacy outcomes similar to having not taken a course at all.”
6. Critical thinking and problem solving
In the age of internet and real and fake news, Douglas says it would be smart for kids to learn how to handle all this incoming information.
“These are really complex times and increasingly we need to know – and we need our kids to know – how to make sense of the avalanche of information that’s coming their way,” Douglas says. “They also need to know how to evaluate information to decide what’s credible and what’s not.”
It’s also important for kids to know how to handle and deal with conflict, especially in their personal relationships, Douglas adds.
“They need to know how to be an active and engaged citizen and how to raise their voice and make a difference in the world,” she says. “I think we need to have conscious conversations with our kids about developing these kinds of skills as opposed to assuming that these skills can simply be acquired by osmosis. Sometimes there needs to be an explicit conversation that explains the why and the how so that kids can translate these skills into skills they can use in the real world.”