Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Practical Schooling?

Can schools be more practical? This is probably not going to cause the same kind of debate as the question of whether or not they should be more practical. For the most part, it was understood for many young Canadians that school would teach them the building blocks of education, that they would get the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, to prepare them for more complicated matters later, such as philosophy, psychology and engineering, depending on their choice of future career path. All the practical things in life were to be taught at home: how to brush your teeth, fry an egg, table manners, social graces, what to say and wear in front of grandma. But it seems like these things are less obvious or are being forgotten as we microwave dinner and stare at phones. So is there a place for schools to step in?

Leaving the whole question of obligations aside, it is no doubt that society would benefit largely from schools offering more practical curriculum that not only teaches charts and dates, but also teaches fundamentals of life. Perhaps the notion that these things should be learned at home is outdated, part of a fundamental social and religious ideal that is no longer relevant. Perhaps, also, the notion that they can be learned at school is an acknowledgement of the fact that not all homes are the same.

If schools are meant to give children a real chance at a good life, arming them with the tools they need to succeed, why not teach them practical things and good habits they can use over a lifetime? Here are some of the topics that schools could include to help students in a more practical way:

1- Economics: This is not a topic that needs to be left for post-secondary. The basics of economics goes well beyond basic math and should include theory as well as personal economics. Personal economics includes how to create a budget, how to budget for university, the value of savings and investments and the perils of credit. It's not riveting stuff, but it's also not rocket science. You can't spend what you don't have and you can't borrow money without a reasonable plan to pay it back. Simple.

2- Social Media etiquette: Etiquette is quickly becoming an antiquated concept, but it is not limited to how to behave at a tea party. Etiquette are the basic, unwritten social rules of how to behave in a manner that is respectful, appropriate and as unobtrusive as possible. Anyone reading this post knows hundreds of people who could use social media etiquette- a quick scroll on Twitter will show tons of potential recruits. This course should look at the potential pitfalls and implications of social media and how freedom of expression and right to privacy may not be what we assume them to be. This course can also include smart use of social media, for the savvy would-be entrepreneur, even if that entrepreneur is a teenage babysitter.

3- Physical education and nutrition: We all hear the news about obesity rates and diabetes. Nothing will change if we don't teach good habits, and this type of course is not effective without nutrition, since the two go hand-in-hand. Physical education is not about playing dodgeball. It should be about basic fitness (how many kids can do 20 push ups? Seriously? How many?) and a reasonable diet that includes water and food that doesn't come from a can. This is the best preventative method when it comes to healthy habits and healthy adults.

4- World religions and diversity: It is not enough to just teach children about their own religion or their own community. The world is a small place and diversity is a great thing. It teaches us about ourselves and opens up a world of possibilities in food, fashion, flavours and festivals. More children will travel the world for experience, work or pleasure. They should be given the tools early on to adapt to new places and given a taste of what awaits them in a future of endless possibilities.

These are just four examples of simple ways we can boost education for children. While it's highly encouraged that parents should do this themselves, it's not always possible in our time-crunched world. But if we're really committed to helping children and empowering them for the future, we should at least consider it.

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