I wish I was wearing a giant bowler hat right now. Why? So that I could take it off to teachers, who run themselves into the ground in order to educate and energise the imaginations of our next generation of amazing, inquisitive, entrepreneurial minds.
I’m not going to debate the good and bad elements of our education system in this article. Instead, I want to focus on some of the key life skills that I would like to see included in the secondary school/college curriculum or, as an alternative, taught by parents at home.
And there is a key point to consider here – if we were living in an ideal world, all parents would be teaching these important skills to their children. However, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Let’s take a look at the list…
- Basic first aid
- Basic financial awareness and planning
- Mental health
- Touch typing
- How to prepare for a job interview
- The importance of guarding your privacy
- How to learn
- The art of conversation
1) Basic first aid
I’m amazed that first aid isn’t included in the secondary school curriculum in the UK. I would regard basic first aid to be one of the most important skills that a person can learn. It’s life-saving stuff, pure and simple. For a long time, St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross have been campaigning for it to feature. Meanwhile, European countries such as France, Denmark and Norway have included first aid successfully as part of their national school curricula. So, why not us?
In 2014, Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation commented that: “Lives are needlessly lost to cardiac arrests every day because not enough people have the skills or confidence to perform CPR. But the simple measure of teaching all children these skills could save thousands of lives. All parties should now follow this example and commit to making CPR an integral part of every child’s education.”
In the last decade, we’ve seen high streets being equipped with defibrillators for public use. They are said to be very simple to use. However, as with most things in life, confidence comes from experience. And so it makes sense for schools to teach their students how to use this equipment, how to put someone in the recovery position and how to provide CPR. I have no doubt that teaching these skills will save lives.
The suggestion of including first aid in the secondary school curriculum isn’t a new one. The Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education Bill, a bill to require the provision of Emergency First Aid (EFA) education by all state-funded secondary schools, went before parliament in 2015. Sadly, however, it went no further, with suggestions that tactics were used to block it.
2) Basic financial awareness and planning
I have many contacts in the finance industry and over the course of the last couple of years I’ve asked them the same question – “why don’t we teach basic financial planning in secondary school education?” The reaction from each person has been notably similar – a shrug of the shoulders and an agreement that it should be.
Although financial awareness and planning aren’t included in the national curriculum, they are sometimes taught under the PHSE (Personal, Social and Health Education) non-statutory subject.
I strongly believe that basic finance awareness, budgeting and planning are some of the most important topics one can learn. Approach your finances the right way at the start of your adult life and you’ll give yourself a far better chance of being financially stable and avoiding the crippling pitfalls of bad debt.
We should teach youngsters how to increase their credit score (through good debt and timely payments). We should teach them how to save – not only for the things they want to buy but also for their retirement. We should show them how to read numbers, read a balance sheet, create a simple income and expense spreadsheet. And we should teach them all about payday loans and why a loan with 1200% APR is such a bad thing!
I have written a number of articles about compound interest, and have designed one of the world’s most popular online compound interest calculators (used by teachers throughout the world). When people learn about the power of compound interest, both positive and negative, the benefits of regular saving are really brought home.
As I read in a recent Quora article: “Learn and respect finance, and you will find your wealth increases much easier and faster than those around you.”
3) Mental health
For a long time, mental health has seemed like a taboo subject. And although there now appears to be more openness about it, it’s still an area that can be awkward to talk about. I believe that learning about and discussing mental health can help youngsters better understand and empathize with those who suffer with it.
I’ve seen several petitions pushing the case for mental health’s inclusion in the curriculum, the most notable of which was in 2017 – Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools and over 103,000 people signed it. It subsequently went before parliament. However, the conclusion from the government was that “Schools should decide how to teach pupils about mental health developing their own curriculum to reflect the needs of their pupils.”
At the moment, then, it’s very much all about schools coming up with their own methods for helping children understand mental health, assuming they consider it important enough and easy enough to cover.
4) Touch typing
I’m fully aware that some schools (public and private) are adding touch typing classes as options for additional learning. However, I believe they largely remain voluntary and not compulsory.
I question why all schools haven’t been teaching touch typing since the start of the century. Using a computer has become a fundamental skill in both employment and home life. Being able to type quickly and efficiently can save an enormous amount of time and be a key skill in a student’s future career.
For me, I was self-taught. Back in the late 1990s I sat down with a piece of software called Mavis Beacon. I must admit that I’m not perfect at it, I have a couple of bad habits. However, I’m quick enough that I can reply to emails quickly and write at a quick speed. This maximises the efficiency and potential of my work day.
Perhaps if your child isn’t being taught at school, sit them down with a computer programme (there are many great ones available on the internet now) and teach them this key skill yourself.
5) How to prepare for a job interview
I could easily bolt on ‘preparing a CV’ to this one as a key skill. When applying for a job, a CV may sit on the desk of the employer with anywhere between 5 and 300 other CVs. A person’s CV needs to stand out, and the chances are that if there are 300 CVs to go through, they will flick through them with a very quick and decisive yes or no. Of those 300, maybe only 10% will end up getting through to the second stage of being read. The content and layout of one’s CV, then, is super important.
Get the application right and the applicant be heading for an interview. I’ve taken charge of numerous interviews in my life and witnessed plenty more. I’ve worked with HR specialists and discussed this area with them. There are some key things that, time and time again, people attending interviews get wrong. Here are a couple of them:
a) Preparation is key. A candidate should turn to an interview knowing as much as they can about the company they’re applying to work for. There’s no excuse for not researching this – the internet is everyone’s friend. A candidate should find out as much info as they can; what the business/company’s mission statement is, their brand, their ethics. Without this knowledge, they might as well not bother turning up to the interview.
b) Consider and prepare an answer to this key question: ‘why do you want to work here?’ As advice, it’s a good suggestion to focus an answer on what you admire about the company or how you can contribute to it and NOT what you intend to get out of it.
I think there’s also an opportunity to take some time to role play for interviews, and this is something that every parent can help their child practice.
6) The importance of guarding your privacy
In many ways, this key skill follows on well from number 5. A number of studies have shown that employers often look at the social media accounts of applicants pre-interview. What someone posts on social media, then, can have a dramatic impact on their future job ambitions.
I honestly believe that people have a far too lackadaisical attitude towards their privacy. With the invention of social media has come a sudden desire to share everything.
The problem is this – once information is out there, it’s very hard to get back. We’ve featured one of the problems with this above. However, there are many more – identity theft, for example. The more blasé someone is with their personal information, the more opportunity there is for people to take advantage.
From what I understand, data privacy, internet safety and identity theft can be covered by teachers under PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) at various key stages. However, I would like to see them taught to every student, whether at school or at home.
Data privacy is fast becoming a big issue. Indeed, I believe the next 10 years will see us taking much more control of our personal data and being much more careful about who we allow to see it.
7) How to learn
This sounds like a strange ‘skill’ to be discussing, doesn’t it? Everyone’s mind works differently, so how can we possibly have a teaching/learning system that works for everyone?
John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio, summed the issue up well in an article in American Educator in 2013:”the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis – if any – is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning.” He continued, “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important – if not essential – for promoting lifelong learning.”
What sort of strategies have been suggested? Perhaps basic ideas like underlining important parts of texts, drawing pictures or diagrams, discussing the subject with others, making notes of things the student doesn’t understand. Every student will be different, so it’s about each student finding out what works for them. There’s a very good article on this subject here.
8) The art of conversation
“Put your hand up if you’re shy…” – I think we can all see why this wouldn’t work in a school assembly. A true paradox.
Communication and conversation are, for me, key skills for absolutely everything in life. From making friends to meeting your life partner, to selling, to negotiating a good deal on just about anything.
I can admit to being very, very shy as a child and having very poor conversation skills This continued through my teens and well into my twenties. I would, quite literally, not be able to talk to anyone without huge, awkward silences occurring. When I tell people now that I used to be incredibly shy, they struggle to believe me. So, what happened?
Quite simply, when I hit 30 I made the decision to improve the skills I was weakest at. I decided to get the hell out of my comfort zone, learn some conversation skills and push myself into talking to people more – I was steaming straight into a potential car crash, I thought. And, I’ll be honest, it was difficult.
I’m more than happy to confess to people that I’m still shy. However, the difference now is that I’m comfortably shy. I like my time away from people, but when I meet someone in public, I can communicate easily and put the other person at ease. And in addition, by going through my learning process, I’ve learned a lot about psychology, personality and body language. I can appreciate, empathise and understand people a LOT better.
I find myself looking back and wondering how I might have coped in school and in my early life if I had learned some basic conversation and communication skills. In addition, I conversely wonder what might have happened had I not pushed myself to learn them in my thirties.
The world revolves around communication. And, one of the most important ambitions for many people is to find a life partner. Without communication skills, that becomes a whole lot harder.
I’ve written this article not to have a dig at our current curriculum, but to point out a few things that I think could be bolted onto it – either during school hours or by parents at home. There’s also an interesting Twitter account called Life Hacks for Kids that’s worth following for ideas.