Do high schools need to teach adulting classes?

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

This year, as our high school graduates make their way, bleary-eyed, out of their darkened bedrooms and into the big wide world after surviving exam season and celebration season, I'm blown away by the knowledge they've attained in pursuit of their studies.

In the past week, I've spoken to some impressive teens who know and awful lot about trigonometry and the socio-political environment in the Middle East, and I've met a 17-year-old who can name every muscle and bone in the human body.

They know a lot, but are they prepared for the day-to-day demands of life?

Clearly some think not, with a range of "adulting" classes becoming available around the world. Even the illustrious UC Berkeley in the US has started offering "adults in training" classes – covering a range of topics including how to do taxes, how to write a CV, how to cook a basic meal, and how to budget.

Not such a crazy idea says Teenage Survival Coach Shari Brewer. She's been working with adolescents and their families for more than 30 years as a high school teacher and behaviour support specialist, and she sees a real need for these skills among kids she's worked with.

"There are many daily life skills - tasks and knowledge that our generation takes for granted - that today's school leavers are missing out on," she says.

"As an example, my son who finished senior in 2017 called and asked me the correct way to address an envelope for mailing. He'd never done it, nor had he ever needed to."

Shari says basic skills she'd like to see teens taught include:

* basic vehicle maintenance

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* time management

* banking

* budgeting

* the basics of how our government and voting system works

* nutrition and meal planning

* cooking and shopping for a meal

* how to write a resume, letter of request and letter of complaint

* table manners and social etiquette

* using digital devices responsibly

* conflict resolution

* critical thinking.

(Anyone else feel like they'd like to sign up for that course too?)

There's an argument that teaching those skills is really a job for parents, but Brewer says it's a mistake to rely on that happening.

"Of course in an ideal world, parents would pass such skills down to their kids through childhood by both modelling and explicit teaching during daily interactions," she says – and we can all see the big "but" coming, can't we?

"We know this is does not happen in every family, and kids arrive at high school from all different backgrounds with a vast range of social skills and life skill capabilities.

"It's fair to say parents should be teaching these things, but it's not fair to say all parents have equal capacity to – whether that be through a challenging family situation, time constraints or even a lack of knowledge themselves." Brewer says putting it on the high school curriculum would offer some assurance that everyone has at least been exposed to those life lessons.

"If schools were to deliver more learning such as this, it could be said all who finish high school have reached at least a minimum standard of self-sufficiency for entering their post-school world," she says.

Delivering the courses could be a challenge in an already-crowded high school curriculum, says Brewer, with the life skills required not lending themselves to grading in an increasingly data-driven educational environment. But she says it wouldn't have to take up much time.

"I personally could see these courses being offered throughout high school – beginning in year 7, and delivered during a block of time during the school year. One week per term each year would be wonderful!"

Brewer says she understands that the idea would have its critics, with it having to come at the expense of something else on the curriculum when the schedule is already tight.

"The bottom line is these skills would need to be acknowledged as a national priority, and schools would be expected to find the time to incorporate them as a non- negotiable," she says. "They would then become part of the national curriculum, and delivered to all students."

The difference it could make to society is could be immense, says Brewer, with a potential long-term impact on society.

"If young people were to have greater confidence in these areas, and therefore stronger capabilities when it comes to "adulting", I would hope society might see a reduction in youth unemployment and some relief to the youth mental health crisis," she says.

"What would there be to lose? Nothing!"