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Our Kids May Be Getting a Better Education Than We Think

image source: thinkstock
image source: thinkstock

I grew up in an era where schools taught academic subjects and rarely ventured into the arena of emotions, relationships, confidence, safety, or anything else. I may have been equipped in history and biology, but even though I attended a co-ed school, I knew nothing about boys. Everything I learned outside of a textbook I learned from TV, movies, or friends. Because kids nowadays seem to be so much more worldly and have so many new things to deal with (social media being a huge one) alongside all the traditional challenges of growing up (hormones, boys, dating, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes) — I’m delighted our schools are acknowledging this and adapting their curriculums accordingly.

Here are some ways our kids’ education has changed — for the better.

More Emphasis on Practical Life Skills

There are so many practical skills I wish I had learned in school when I was a kid. Instead of doing four periods of home economics where I learned how to knit and cook a baked potato, I wish I’d learned more about how to buy property. Instead of studying Latin (sorry, I hated it), I wish I’d learned how to create a spreadsheet of my individual finances that helped me look after my money and investments. I also wish I’d been taught how to put up a shelf. Or hang a picture properly without it hanging to one side.

Fortunately, UK schools have a new program of learning that’s touching on some of these skills. While it may not be teaching kids how to buy a house or assemble a shelf, the new Personal, Social, Health, and Economic (PSHE) educational program is helping children and young people acquire the knowledge, understanding, and skills they need to manage their lives — now and in the future. The program is based on three core themes: 1) health and wellbeing, 2) relationships, and 3) living in the wider world. (I actually wish I had these classes in my life as an adult, as sometimes between motherhood and work, I feel I’m not managing!)

As part of a whole school approach, PSHE education develops the qualities and attributes students need to thrive as individuals, family members, and members of society. Essentially it helps to make them well-rounded, caring individuals who care about others and the community as well as themselves. PSHE helps children and young people build their personal identities, enhance their confidence and self-esteem, make good career choices, and understand what influences their decisions including financial ones. (Sound like the spreadsheet I so craved back in my school days.)

The program also helps kids develop self-understanding, empathy, and the ability to work with others so they can enjoy healthy and productive relationships in all aspects of their lives — both at work and play. I am so thankful that my kids will get to take these classes. That they’ll learn about living and not just academic subjects that while important, don’t necessarily add to their well being.

Earlier Discussions of Careers

Remember when you were a kid and a grown-up would bend down and ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d always say a nurse, actress, dancer on Fame, or a queen. Sadly, you never would have heard scientist, lawyer, architect, or physician escape from my mouth.

But for today’s girls in the UK, that’s hopefully going to be changing. Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt suggested that 7-year-old girls should have career lessons to encourage them to become more ambitious. At the London Festival of Education conference last week, he stated:

“I think [girls] could start learning about careers in year three or four [ages 7, 8, and 9]. Giving them careers education at that age can do a lot to broaden their horizons. We have a challenge here in making sure we are raising ambitions. […] They can be taught they can be architects or they can be engineers or they can be doctors, beginning at primary school.”

While part of me desperately wants kids to be able to just enjoy being kids without thinking about the pressures of later life, the other part thinks that the sooner the idea is planted in our daughters’ heads that they can pursue any career (especially where science and math subjects are concerned), the better.

Hunt also wants to encourage more employers to go into schools to talk about careers. “I want them to go into primary schools to talk to pupils — particularly girls in primary schools — so that they broaden their horizons.”

This comment sold me on it. Imagine you’re 7 and some amazing scientist comes into your class and shows you all kinds of exciting things that they’ve worked on. Maybe you go home and tell your mom and dad about it and then ask for a book on the subject. A year later you’re looking stuff up online and the idea begins to appeal more and more. All of a sudden, it’s 10 years later and you’re preparing to go to college to study that subject — all because of one amazing person who took the time to talk to you about their job.

I’ll never forget when I was 10 years old in Primary 6 and my teacher had us all make our own newspaper. I wrote a couple of articles and found the entire process absolutely thrilling: interviewing people, writing up an angle, researching a topic. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be involved in journalism or writing in some way.

The sooner girls hear about jobs that used to be earmarked for boys, the more likely they’ll be to develop an interest in them. If someone wants to suggest to my daughter when she’s 7 that she could be an architect or a lawyer, I don’t have a problem with that at all. In my book, the more information you have on a subject, the better informed you are. The more she broadens her horizons, surely the more options she’ll have.

An Evolved Approach to Relationships and Sex Education 

When it came to relationships, life, and sex education, I was taught virtually nothing. By the age of 12, I thought a menstruation cycle lasted for an hour! Lessons on sex were given in biology class and only the basic information was given in a very technical fashion. I wish I had been taught more about self-esteem, self-respect, and how important they are. I wish I had learned about confidence and ways to improve it.

Thankfully, my daughter will be getting more out of her education than I did. Beginning at the age of 11, kids in the UK will start learning the differences between rape and consensual sex as part of a new drive. The “consent” classes will be added to the personal, social, health, and economic syllabus after concerns were raised that teenagers were being pressured to have sex. Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, spoke to the Sunday Times, stating: “We have to face the fact that many pressures girls face today were unimaginable to my generation and it’s our duty to ensure that our daughters leave school able to navigate the challenges and choices they’ll face in adulthood.”

While part of me worries that this would possibly scare young girls, the other part of me thinks that the more information girls have about understanding what “consensual sex” is, the safer they’ll hopefully become.

Social Media Education

When I was growing up, a bad photo could literally be snatched from a friend and ripped into a million pieces — evidence destroyed. Nowadays, every kid has a camera on their phone and images taken can haunt someone forever on a multitude of social platforms. So when the Education Secretary stated, “We have to ensure that the education girls receive not only allows them to reach their academic potential, but also prepares them for life in modern Britain,” she makes a very valid point. Girls need to be aware of the dangers of recording videos and taking photos with boyfriends/friends and where they could end up.

Just this January, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children released a cartoon advertisement that depicted a child taking a picture of his nether regions for a joke. But then the photo ended up being sent to another friend and then another until his entire school had seen it. The cartoon culminates with the photo eventually ending up in the hands of a predator. It encouraged kids to be “share aware.” These are things that I never would have had to deal with, but are very real issues for kids today.

Because I often fear my children will have too many avenues in which to gather information (read: the Internet), I’m glad schools are joining the discussion of these major issues. After all, just because I’m a parent doesn’t mean I have all the answers. Thankfully, their schooling will help give them even more.

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