Tuesday, 5 April 2022

What do students want to learn?

This question seems like a simple one but starts to make you think if schools and education settings actually prepare our children for life after school. The fundamental requirement for our schools is to prepare our community's children for life beyond school and be prepared for adult life.

I am a secondary maths teacher and on a regular basis I get asked why we need to learn these things that we are learning in my lessons and I use the simple answer that the future is uncertain and the skills that we learn in maths prepare us for unknown problems that we may face in later life that we need the skills we have learned elsewhere and apply them to these new situations. I obviously like this answer and have been honing it for some time now.

But what do our students want to learn? What are the things that I left school not knowing, or what do our students not be prepared for?

I have a tutor group, a small group of students that check in with me each morning and I check about their wellbeing and cover any academic issues, who are aged 16-18 and these students are at the point of completing secondary education. Some are destined for university, apprenticeships, or work and so I asked them this year, "What do you want to know before you leave school?" 

They started to give me this list:

  • Personal Finance
  • Insurance
  • Tax
  • Cooking
  • Rent / Mortgages
  • Car maintenance
  • Stocks and shares
  • Pensions
These are things that may be touched upon in some of our personal development lessons but are really not covered adequately and they don't feel prepared at all for things that they will end up having to use almost immediately once leaving school!

I asked this same question to teachers/ educators from a Transatlantic Educators Discussion group and they added to the list the following:
  • College Applications & Finance
  • Media literacy - fake and real news
  • Cursive writing
  • Mental health
  • Meditation
  • CV
  • How to write an email/ letter
  • Covering letters for applications
  • USA health system
  • Local Government - What is it and what does it do
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Simple Sewing
  • Building and using a network for personal support
  • Social etiquette and how this differs in other countries
  • Jury Duty
  • Voting
This is quite a list and looking at it there are some similar ideas mainly about finance, employment, and health but a reasonable part about local society and these are really not taught in our school in the UK and some of this seems to be missed in other parts of the school.

So how important is this? How much time should school devote to preparing our children for adult life as well as pushing academic subjects and preparing for final exams?

This is an impossible question. Schools are measured by students' outcomes and in some countries that comes down to the individual teachers too. The pressure that is applied to academic performance is going to prevent schools from giving more time to cover this list. Our students have enrichment opportunities each year which are used for various activities, and school trips but is this enough time to give them the proper preparation for later life? What else do we need to teach our children so that they are truly ready for later life?