In today’s culture there seems to be a general attitude that the sciences, alongside maths and English, are the most highly regarded subjects. At school, we are indoctrinated into the belief that they are the stepping stones into the adult world. Yet which world might that be?
Although these academic subjects may (or may not) be the stepping stone to accountancy, medicine and law, very few 18-year-olds can make themselves a simple lasagne: as a generation, we have very few life skills.
I took chemistry, history and English literature for A-level. I’m lucky enough to have had my mum teaching me how to cook from a young age and have always been quite hands-on in the garden, or doing bits and pieces of DIY with my dad. However, my knowledge of how to apply for a student loan, manage household finances, write a cheque or mend a hole in my socks is very limited. I have friends who didn’t know how to open a tin of beans when they went to university, never mind work the microwave, and others lived off peanut butter and jam sandwiches for six weeks until they were finally shown how to work the hob.
But maybe the death of these “true” humanities is for a reason. The internet is largely responsible for devaluing basic domestic skills. With people able to google how to change a lightbulb in less than two seconds and order a Domino's in half the time it takes to defrost a pizza, there’s no wonder that simple skills that were so important 20 years ago, are now no longer required.
Yet as every teacher knows, instruction is not the same as teaching. The instructions that we find on the internet aren’t always that helpful. If it were as simple as following 1, 2, 3, why do people take so long to assemble a flat-pack wardrobe from Ikea ? There is a dimension to practical teaching that cannot be equalled through written instruction.
What we need are opportunities in school to learn basic life skills. There are, of course, practical difficulties to making these lessons compulsory. It would potentially cause great disruption to the school timetable and some children may not want anything to do with it.
After-school or lunchtime clubs are a less obstructive alternative. So too are the replacement of occasional art lessons with stitching and darning, or simple household finances could replace a maths lesson.
It just needs the education system to recognise the need to teach other things alongside “academic” knowledge. At the end of the day, what’s going to be more useful in the event of your chip pan catching fire: an iPhone with a dead battery or knowing that adding water to the oil will only make things worse?