The power of education should be obvious. In developing countries, getting all children, especially girls, into primary and secondary education is a key category for a country’s social progress. Yet, where education has long been universally available, it is too easily taken for granted. Indeed, I was as guilty as the next person in actively wishing for the long summer holidays that have just arrived for so many.
The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that we only properly appreciate education when it is not there, like good internet and regular bin collections. Kids left at home for months on end with minimal teacher input could not access the support they deserve. The educational networks and structures that so many rely on were thrust away, leaving many vulnerable and in urgent need of catch up support.
Despite this newfound vulnerability, the purpose of schools is not simply to prepare children for the next stage of their education, important though that is. Given, now schools have reopened, children spend a third of each weekday there, schools should be beacons of locations that can equip children with the skills they need for the adult world.
Nonetheless, young people do not feel they hold these necessary life skills that go far beyond what someone has to revise for an exam. Take financial education. I don’t mean having an intricate understanding of the stock market and supply and demand, but basic financial knowledge. Applying for a mortgage. Opening a bank account. Saving for a pension. I don’t recall these processes ever properly being explained within school, and that’s before you account for the competition between different banks and pension schemes.
Despite this, 89% of young people admitted to not knowing how to use their credit cards and overdrafts responsibly, according to Further Education News. The website also found that over half of young people didn’t know how interest rates worked, while a third were unaware of how to choose a bank account. In addition, nearly 80% argued that their school had failed to teach them about financial products adequately. This is a damning indictment on the education system.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is room for hope. The same survey found that 75% of 16 to 24-year-olds wanted to learn how to invest, while 69% wanted to budget effectively. Though children and teenagers understand that, for better or worse, daily interaction with money is part and parcel of life, schools are unwilling to provide the necessary financial education to allow this to occur.
Why? As Fincap argues, there should be every reason for schools to incorporate finance into what their education means. Not every parent will have the financial desire or knowledge to educate their child to make the best future economic decisions. The richest will have accountants and bookkeepers to ensure they pay as little tax as possible and store their funds in the highest interest accounts. Schools should equalise this, and ensuing individuals recognise the value of saving and how to use their money. Given that children desire to be recognised as grown-ups, talking about money ensures they are treated like grown-ups.
The same is true concerning political education. Though young people have become more involved with causes like Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter, it is far too easy to sit out and say politics is not for people like you. Though a political obsessive myself, I can understand how someone with limited political knowledge can feel Westminster is far too distant and irrelevant in their lives.
The opposite could not be more true. From a young age, we are involved with politics. The hours of free childcare provided by nurseries is based on government funding. The curriculum taught in schools is linked to political decisions, alongside funding allocation. Though universities should remain independent, they are under increasing threat from a Free Speech Champion, with finances ultimately being duel funded by students and central government. Young people are intrinsically linked to political decisions.
The best political education, therefore, should teach children not what to think but how to think. The role of teachers should not be to determine what ideas children are exposed to but instead expose them to a range of opinions and encourage critical thinking. Pupils should be taught the different views and perspectives before forming a judgement. This can come alongside discussions of how Parliament works and a discussion of the judicial system.
Thankfully, it seems young people today are already becoming more political. The Express and Star found that, in 2018, there were 19,729 entries for political studies A-level, which was up 9.8%. This compared to 13,761 in 2014, suggesting that Brexit and Donald Trump were significant factors in determining this. Alongside this, The Guardian found that more than 52% of university students have felt more political due to the pandemic, suggesting that government decisions made avoiding the news impossible.
The teaching of core skills in school is admirable and something that deserves a great deal of respect. Children must be able to read and perform basic arithmetic in the real world. But alongside this must be the life skills that take them throughout their education. These have to include basic financial skills and knowledge of the political system. Without them, children will be short-changed on the issues that will affect them for the rest of their lives.