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Should schools do more to prepare students for 'adulthood'?

A more pragmatic approach may be called for to reform the modern education system, writes Irina Nakon.

A decades-old debate has recently re-emerged with fresh zeal – the question of whether the modern education system truly prepares one for “adult” life.

Polls, surveys, trends, and statistics dominate official studies – the Office for National Statistics’ recent report, for example, reveals that only 34 per cent of 15-17 year-olds feel “well-equipped for adulthood” before graduation. Only 48 per cent of university freshers answered to the same in the affirmative.

A joint study carried out by the universities of Manchester and University of Chicago, meanwhile, revealed that over 60 per cent of high school students both in the UK and across the Atlantic feel that their high school curriculum contains “irrelevant” or “redundant” subjects, while simultaneously “lacking life-skills, hands-on material” and “interpersonal approaches” which would prepare for the practicalities of independent or solo living.”

So what is missing from the modern educational curriculum? And are there any established academic cornerstones which should be reformed, or perhaps even erased?

Credit: Save the student

On the part of the students, there is one key argument in the educational reform debate which is frequently rehashed: “teach us how to do our taxes alongside examining complex logarithms, advanced music theory, and literature criticism.”

The argument here being that although the current educational system is designed to provide students with a broad horizon of possibilities for future careers, the menial and vital day-to-day tasks of adulthood such as taxes, medical insurance claims, pension plans, and even such basic responsibilities as cooking, scheduling, and cleaning are omitted.

A common counter-argument is the need for rigid boundaries between academic duties and wider individual, or social, duties. Moreover, many believe that the basic ‘chores’ such as cooking and cleaning should be impressed upon an individual by the parents – one’s self-sufficiency should be instilled in them within the home. However, recent debate is questioning whether any part of this argument still holds water.

As vital as academia is to our society, is it really mutually-exclusive with the hands-on skill set every young person is required to learn on their own? Is it not possible to study music theory and the history of the Cold War alongside such practical courses as personal accounting, budgeting, nutrition and healthy cooking, and even more versatile studies, such as argument construction, interpersonal communication, public speaking, work interview guidance?

It seems doubtful that traditional academia would suffer if taught in conjunction with these more worldly skills – in fact, I’d argue it would be enriched by this supplementation.

Credit: Discover Magazine

Finally, and crucially, this would open up the field of reform for such vital subjects as sex education, gender studies, and internationalisation. In her recent Ted-Ed talk, Aliezah Hulett identified a sizable gap between what we learn in school versus what we need in later life. This certainly refers to such growing discussions as sex education and personal boundaries, but also the broader concerns of race, gender, and identity.

“The school system and the parents should be working together to raise educated students,” Hulett said.

“Schools should be accountable for instructing students to be knowledgeable about the world around them – crucial and topical anthropological issues, identity questions, and current sociological developments – even when the parents slack off.

“It should be a joint effort between parent and educator to train the next generation of children to be independent and prepared for what’s ahead.”

In 2019, more than a quarter of 20 to 34-year-olds were still living with their parents, according to statistics collected by The Guardian — the highest proportion since 1996. These types of stats quickly spark discussion about modern youth being purportedly less ready for adulthood than their parents’ generation, leading to conversations which include all the trite buzzwords: “privilege”, “laziness”, “irresponsibility”.

Yet the issue is far from definitive – these stats go hand in hand with the highest levels of anxiety, depression, and isolation ever recorded in young adults, indicating a wider sociological concern. It seems quite apparent, therefore, that there are several corroded links in the chain of societal development, while the question of identifying and recasting them actively remains on the discussion table.

A pragmatic approach is perhaps needed, therefore, one which would ensure that young adults are able to draw concrete, beneficial connections between education and everyday life. Our transatlantic cousins still have Home Economics as a school elective – a historical subject which has shed its 1950s misogynistic connotations, now offering students practical guidance on home management and nutrition. In Japan, meanwhile, accounting and personal budgeting is instilled in students as early as middle school.

Pragmatic subjects therefore can, and perhaps should, exist alongside traditional academic curricula, offering young adults a wider scope of skills which would ensure well-rounded development and improved future academic, professional, and personal success.

Feature image credit: tvo.org

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