Living skills on the menu

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Home economics should be reinvigorated to give young people some of the essential living skills they need - and want.

Researchers at Stirling University found that skills delivered in the past by "mother" were now widely lacking and that young people wanted to be taught how to cook, how to sew and how to manage their finances.

They found that some youngsters did not know how to make simple foods such as mashed potatoes and would throw clothes away if a button fell off because they did not have basic sewing abilities.

The dramatic deterioration in these basic skills emerges from a major research project led by Sue Horne, whose three-year investigations were funded by the All Saints Educational Trust, and Karen Kerr, whose research formed part of her MSc. They surveyed 1165 young people in the form of in-depth interviews and focus groups and carried out literature reviews.

Their conclusion is that schools should reform the home economics curriculum and teach living skills right through secondary to the age of 18, if young Scots are to combat the effects of the nation's addiction to unhealthy food, alcohol and tobacco and learn to handle their personal budgets properly. The subject should include financial management and consumer rights.

Mrs Horne, a senior lecturer at Stirling University, said: "We teach home economics but what is taught is not what is actually needed or it is not given priority because it is seen as a Cinderella subject.

"It is not taught all the way through the school and it is not given the time needed to do it properly. It needs an afternoon a week - the same as with PE. Home economics could be a superbly academic subject but it is not given the curriculum space.

"The Scottish Executive put pound;3million into a healthy living campaign which fell on its face. It would have been much better to have put that money into teaching young people better skills."

Mrs Horne said no-one now looked at living skills, or how young people should look after themselves, because it was assumed these come from the home.

Yet, according to the research, the demand is there - 63.6 per cent of the young people surveyed wanted to learn more about money management; 56.9 per cent about cooking; 55.5 per cent about consumer rights; and 48.9 per cent about parenting.

Mrs Horne pointed out that, even a century ago, Mrs Beeton was writing her books on household management because there was a feeling then that people were losing these skills.

"Now we are going into the 21st century and a lot of people say they don't know cooking skills. My argument is that not everyone can go into a supermarket and buy pre-chopped up food.

"Some of the children we interviewed didn't realise that you had to mash potatoes after you had boiled them.

"Some of the children who had absolutely no idea were in an educated catchment area - the poorer children probably had a better idea of what to do."

Mrs Horne added that some young people were unable to read and interpret the care instructions on garments. "Some of them couldn't read the label when they washed clothes - one girl took everything to the dry-cleaners."

The research concluded that there has been a clear loss of skills, that home economics is considered a "Cinderella" subject in schools (and even that, in some cases, home economics teachers were excluded from the general staffroom), that sources for teacher training in home economics are in decline, and that mothers are no longer teaching their children these living skills.

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