End this obsession with facts and focus on life skills

As crime, poverty, and mental health issues increase, pupils need to be taught life skills. And yet, our schools are obsessed with teaching facts


Children are missing out on learning practical skills because schools are too focused on knowledge, says Jo Brighouse

As a mother of two primary-aged children and a trainer in adult education for eight years, I’ve been scratching my head about something for a while now.

The UK has seen a rapid rise in challenges related to crime, personal debt and poor physical and mental health. Many adults across all generations are finding it a struggle to keep afloat, never mind thrive in life. It’s a harsh reality, and it’s got me feeling like we’ve missed a trick somewhere.

While I’m not sure exactly what that trick might be, I’m confident in knowing what it’s not. And what it’s not is knowing the life cycle of a frog, how many wives Henry VIII had, or any other of the pointless knowledge thrust upon our children today.

Education, as it stands at the moment, is not preparing our children for a life or to face challenges in the big wide world. So what does it do? And what is its purpose? To answer these questions, I turned to Google. I found a speech from 2015 made by schools minister Nick Gibb. He addressed the Education Reform Summit, and identified three fundamental purposes of education:

  • Empowering young people to succeed in the economy

  • Empowering young people to participate in culture

  • Ensuring they leave school prepared for adult life.

Ah. So, according to Mr Gibb, the purpose of education is to ensure that our pupils don’t just survive, but thrive in the adult world. So why doesn’t it? For me, it boils down to these two things:

Design of the curriculum

Our curriculum is currently designed around a first-world obsession to demonstrate greatness, culture, and civility through our ability to recall facts and information – for example, the life cycle of a frog or how many wives Henry VIII had. When you pair this with a wilful neglect of life-changing skills – such as how to cook healthy food, budget money, perform basic first aid or even how to manage emotions and develop positive mental health – it leaves a curriculum that is completely unfit for purpose. The skills we need to flourish in life have long been an afterthought in an already jam-packed curriculum.

The role of technology

The role of technology in the curriculum is given little consideration. The internet can play a huge part in sharing and retaining knowledge at all ages and should be given the space and time in the school day to do so.

Once upon a time, teachers were the one-stop-shop for learning facts – information was a commodity and was passed from those who knew the facts to those who didn’t. However, this need to impart factual content is no longer necessary – we have Google and 130 million books to do that. Now, teachers should be able to focus on what years of training and hard work has prepared them for – to be excellent demonstrators and developers of skills.

Knowing the life cycle of a frog doesn’t save a life in a first-aid situation. Nor does it prevent a person from damaging their health through unhealthy eating habits. We need to move away from from the knowledge-obsessed system and focus on the skills that will allow our pupils to be fully-functioning and fundamentally good members of society.

There is nothing so more uncultured and uncivilised than committing the most precious years of an individual's lives to an education that fills them with facts but a scarcity of skills.

The writer is a trainer in adult education

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