Life skills education

I keep seeing media articles lately about teaching things to children.  I’ve seen videos and articles about teaching finance, emotional intelligence, happiness and resilience, thinking skills and entrepreneurial skills.  


That’s great, except that the curriculum is pretty crowded already, and how do you decide what to put in?


Actually, you don’t have to. I mentioned before about integrating different elements into the curriculum.


But we still don’t seem to have got “joined up thinking” in the UK school system (or the system in general, come to that).


As part of the programme I’ve suggested, I’d make the overall goal happiness  That’s the subject of chapter two of Taming the Pound and it’s only chapter two because chapter one introduces the idea of thinking about money in terms of it being a means to an end like happiness, rather than thinking of money as an end in itself.


And I’ve been referred to a really nice TedX talk by Dr Ilona Boniwell,

 which says many of the same things as the book and one of my previous posts, but probably says it better.


Dr. Boniwell does say that we teach mathematics in schools, but not happiness.  I’m not sure I’d agree on the first point.  Certainly, National Numeracy don’t think we do, they say


 Working with a range of partners from all sectors, we will challenge those taking part to improve their numeracy skills to at least Level 1 (roughly equivalent to the standards expected of 14-year-olds). With 17 million people of working age in England currently below this level, the Challenge will begin to tackle an enormous and long-term task.


I’d suggest that if 17 million people are not operating at the level expected of a 14 year old, we’re maybe not teaching maths too well.


But actually, if we teach finance as a functional skill, aiming towards happiness, and we integrate the goal (happiness), the motivation (why, not just what, you learn) and the process (a bit of maths, a lot of problem solving, making choices, deferring gratification etc.) we actually have it covered.


Similarly, Dr. Boniwell says that we teach thinking skills.  Do we?  According to quite a lot of organisations, school leavers don’t understand what is needed in business, for example, for entrepreneurs.


So I think that maybe there are some elements that we need to put in, about what thinking skills to teach.  


And in fact Dr. Boniwell and I are on the same wavelength (and even the same evidence) with a couple of points she makes.  


One is about the importance of knowing what to choose, where she uses exactly the same example as I do, about the fact that more choice, that we think is helpful, makes it harder to make choices (it’s on page 104, about “Status Quo” bias!)


The other is that it is hard to defer gratification and it often needs to be taught, (which is page 379, about “deferring gratification” and in another post on this site).  Actually, there is a nice piece about that which is the subject of a post from Daniel Goleman.


My point is that we can teach a basic, integrated set of skills.  They fit into a way of organising one’s life that I’ve talked about before, but that basically goes:


1. Sort out your values, such as how you personally find happiness.
2. Be aware of your own mind, your tendency to “keep up with the Jones’s” etc.
3. Set your goals
4. Make the plan to achieve the goals

5. Manage your behaviour to stick to the goals, which might mean learning how to make better choices, deferring gratification etc., and might even mean learning a few useful points about finance (like how to use credit cards sensibly) and some simple maths (like understanding when an APR on a loan is going to make you bankrupt).


It’s perfectly feasible to teach people (child or adult) these things and the motivation, such as happiness, is the starting point.  If they aren’t motivated to learn it, they won’t, which is why people don’t tend to learn maths at school, they don’t actually see the point of it.  


We can try to teach bits and pieces, but if we do, we’ll end up with lack of motivation, or lack of basic skills, or people who know lots of small pieces of  “how to” but that can’t actually put a plan together to solve a particular problem, like how to raise the mortgage to buy their dream house, how to save the deposit, how to wait until they can do the deal rather than wasting the money in the meantime, etc.


If we integrate the skills, instead of arguing about whether the priority is to teach happiness, or emotional intelligence, or maths, or finance or whatever, we’ll actually have a population who can determine what they need to be happy, plan how to get it, and then stick to the plan.


In other words, we’ll have a population that has the life skills they need.







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