How many times have you heard someone say, "I only use a fraction of what I learned in school"? Probably countless times.
There are different views about what the main purpose of education should be:
- To cultivate a love for learning
- To build a sense of national culture or identity
- To train students to make informed decisions
- To help society progress
The list goes on.
But I'm sure you'll agree with me that a vital aim of education is to prepare students for the future.
Yes, there are noble objectives that education should strive to achieve, but education should also be useful. Idealism that isn't also combined with a large dose of pragmatism and realism has never proven to be beneficial.
This applies to education, too.
As we enter a new phase of the Information Age, the skills that are necessary in order to survive—and thrive—are evolving.
In this article, I'll discuss seven things they don't teach you in school, but which they should.
I'm aware that curriculum time in schools is limited, so I'm not suggesting that schools teach these skills on top of what's already part of students' workload. Instead, I'm proposing that schools reallocate their time and resources.
Why should students put in so much effort to memorize equations and facts, when they could easily find that information at the click of a mouse button?
For instance, is it really that critical for students to know, at their fingertips, that
sin x — sin y = 2 sin [(x-y)/2] cos [(x+y)/2]
when Google could give them that information in an instant?
(I'm guessing that you, like me, had that trigonometric identity etched in the mathematics "compartment" of your brain once upon a time.)
I don't deny that it's important for students to commit to memory key historic dates or widely used formulas. Rote learning, however, shouldn't form a major part of the curriculum.
Here's a list of seven things that, if taught in schools, would help students flourish in the future:
1. How to have a good attitude
Now that information is so easily accessible, if you want to learn a skill or if you want to become proficient in just about any discipline, you can. It's a matter of how badly you want it.
Success today is much more about your attitude than your aptitude.
Your attitude not only affects your desire to learn and grow. It also affects your willingness to serve and to contribute, all without complaining.
In short, your attitude matters a lot, but there are plenty of people around who have a terrible attitude. Schools can do something about this!
2. How to handle your personal finances
Most students leave school without a clue about how to manage their personal finances. This is unsettling, because they're just about to start their first full-time job.
When you were in school, did you learn about:
- Different types of investments?
- How to budget for your expenses?
- The power of compound interest?
- How much of your monthly salary you should save?
- What type of insurance you should buy?
- How to set goals in the area of your finances?
Students should start learning, from a young age, how to handle their personal finances. This would prevent many people from future battles with credit card debt or even bankruptcy.
3. How to use email effectively
You probably receive more emails each day than you'd like to. What makes it worse is that most emails are rude, unclear or poorly structured.
Perhaps this is the case because people have never been taught how to use email effectively.
How should you sign off an email? Should you keep it to only one main topic per email? When is it inappropriate to Cc or Bcc someone? When should you use bold font? When should you not "reply all"?
Schools could provide students with the answers to these questions. Given that a majority of students today set up their first email account before they reach their teens, it's essential that they understand how to use this powerful tool wisely and responsibly.
4. How to sell
Whether or not you're going into sales in the future, you'll be selling something: services, ideas, projects, business plans, credibility.
Students should learn how to be an excellent salesperson without being dishonest or manipulative.
5. How to get along with other people
I'm sure you know that person—you know, the one that nobody likes.
The ability to get along with others is a necessary one in any job. It's also one that can be trained, no matter how good your people skills already are.
6. How to be a competent public speaker
All of us have sat through one too many terrible speeches or presentations.
Few people will earn their living as professional speakers, but everyone will have to make a presentation at some point in their adult lives.
Students should learn this skill early on, so that when the time comes for them to give a speech to seal that important deal, they'll be ready.
7. How to write for different audiences
Schools mostly teach students how to be skilled at academic writing. In this Digital Age, however, we need to redefine what it means to be a good writer.
Being a good fiction writer is vastly different from being a good newspaper journalist or a good blogger.
For example, in the online world, good writing is—first and foremost—interesting. It's not necessarily well-structured, expertly argued or poetically crafted.
The attention span of someone surfing the Internet is incredibly short, so if the writing isn't interesting, the reader will never even make it through the article.
Students should learn about what good writing means in various contexts.
I applaud the government's efforts to improve the education system, but what we need is an education revolution. Evolutionary reform will not suffice.
Education has changed gradually, while the times we live in have changed drastically. If we're not careful, our education system may just get left behind.
Let's start implementing curriculum changes to prepare our students for enduring success.
Let's do it today.
Daniel Wong is the author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He is also an education excellence coach and speaker. He writes regularly about topics related to education, career and personal development at Living Large. Download his FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here. Together with his team of experts, he conducts The Exam ExcellenceTM (TEE) Programme.