I wrote this almost half a year back for a purpose that never actually took off, so here it is.
Mark Twain said, “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.”
With fifteen years of school life and a year of college behind me, I am now in a position to say that Twain knew what he was talking about. With college underway, I finally realised that my impression that school would prepare me for life was false. We had many subjects that were compulsory: English, Mathematics, a second language. Life, however, might have been easier if we had a few other subjects that were made compulsory.
1. Money Matters 101
How do you balance a chequebook? What are stocks and how do you invest in them? How do you budget for yourself? How do you save money for unexpected situations?
Right after school, especially if you live as a paying guest or board in hostel, you are likely to find yourself entangled in the dangerous hands of a plastic card that has, apparently, infinite money. You will find that that card gives you the confidence to splurge until you realise you have spent more money than you should have and are now in trouble. It’s a major problem.
Eventually in life, we are all forced to deal with money. It would, however, be better, if school prepared us for the same. Later in life, there will only be more numbers to deal with: rent, loans, taxes. We know what awaits us, but we are not equipped to deal with it. A lesson in money management is one that needs to be introduced at the earliest.
2. Sex Education
No, really, what is sex? How is it done? What goes where? Can I get a guidebook?
We are at an age where too much information is available everywhere. Unfortunately, there is no control of who receives the information and so, it’s impossible to know whether the recipient of the information is capable of understanding it or not. Eleven year-old girls are confused by their periods. Boys are embarrassed by wet dreams. Hormones start acting up, puberty hits, and nobody knows what is happening and why. Children talk in hushed whispers about sex, drawing from the little they know from what they hear older children speak, which is probably wrong as well. As they grow up, pornography and a Science chapter on reproduction will convince them that they know what’s coming. They’re wrong.
Sex is complicated. There are so many things to consider: protection, how sex actually works, sexually transmitted diseases, myths about the hymen, the meaning of virginity… the worries are endless with only Yahoo Answers to the rescue. A little prep before having to experience confusing changes would do a lot of good.
3. Self Defence
Man robbed at gunpoint. Woman raped, in critical condition. Thugs beat couple up, steal valuables.
In a world teeming with small-time pickpockets, muggers, thieves, and rapists, nothing can come in handy like some self-defence skills. Sometimes there is nothing more important than knowing how to get out of a dangerous situation. As much as we would like to live in a peaceful world, it is better to go out prepared. We live in a cocoon of overconfidence that such events are mere news reports and can only happen to somebody else. We forget that we are some person’s ‘somebody else’. It’s about time schools took up the responsibility of not ensuring health through mere ‘health tests’ (think: time required to run 50m, shot put) but also by preparing children to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
4. Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health
Girlfriend suicidal? Best friend overly anxious? Parents irritable? Peers bullying you? How many times do you find yourself clueless about how people’s minds and feelings work and what to do about them?
Schools don’t teach you the importance of the emotional quotient and mental health. They don’t teach you how to convince your suicidal girlfriend to seek help, how to be her support while she gets better. They don’t teach you to differentiate between an anxiety disorder and plain worry. They don’t teach you to understand how best to soothe irritable people. They don’t teach you how to deal with bullies when things get rough. Growing up, children are impressionable and sensitive. If they are not taught to understand the importance of their emotions and mental health at that age, then when are they going to learn?
5. Careers Choose You
“So, what do you want to become?”
At an age where you still have to raise your hand in class to go to the bathroom or ask your parents for permission to go to the movies with friends, you are faced with this unpleasant decision that is supposedly going to determine the course of the rest of your life: what do you want to become? Do you know the answer? Probably not. Is everybody around you confident of their answers? Not at all! Do you know that it’s okay to not know? No. And that’s the problem.
Careers are not as simple as picking one and working towards it. Very often, people don’t choose their career; it chooses them. Twists and turns in your life, in your interest, and in the market will find you landing in places that you never expected yourself to be in. You might not be good at everything, but you will find that you are certainly good at a lot of things. I could be a good petroleum engineer, teacher, or a cook. Where will my life take me? I don’t know! What should I choose? It depends! Your career is only as limited as you are going to make it. With a career aptitude test displaying some results about your potential future, school never teaches you about the endless directions that life sometimes can toss you into, all of them leading to success. That’s for you to find out and explore on your own.
6. Take It Easy
When I was swamped in tests and assignments, school didn’t teach me to take it easy once in a while. I was always thinking about how much work I had left, which deadline was next, and what was my minimum required word count for a paper. School didn’t teach me that a year’s worth of tension would seem like the biggest problem only for that one year and that in future, I would only laugh at myself for having been silly. Any situations that seems ginormous in school become miniscule when compared to the varied experiences you are going to face in your entire life. That boy who said he would never date you? Doesn’t matter. That girl who said she didn’t want to be your friend? Not a problem! Bad hair day? Don’t worry. Relax, and laugh a little. Things get better.
7. What Tests Don’t Test
77/80 in Social Studies, 75/80 in Hindi, 73/80 in Mathematics, 70/80 in Science, and 68/80 in English. A friend of mine scored these brilliant marks in the mid-year examination. This same friend did not know the names of many Indian states and their capitals and could hardly speak any intelligible Hindi beyond ‘what is your name’ and ‘my name is…’ He could, however, solve the Mathematics problems that left us all banging our heads on the table for hours, sometimes just in his head.
This is a big thing schools never teach you. Tests don’t test your intelligence and sometimes, even your understanding. Tests only test how well you prepared for them. If you know the pattern of questions for your exam and study accordingly, you’ll do well. If you don’t, then you might miss out some seemingly unimportant information that will show up on your paper.
Real life does not have a marking scheme that allows half-baked knowledge to be passed off as the real deal. Nobody has manufactured a Golden Guide for real life yet, and nobody ever will. If you calmly believe that just because you scored well in your Science exam after photocopying bazillions of guides into your brain, you are good at the subject, think again. School doesn’t teach you to understand, just to do.
8. If it’s Easy, You’re Learning it Wrong
You’re a star student. You’ve aced all your life, breezing through exams. You’ve never had to stop to think if you’re going wrong somewhere because it’s all obvious from the grades in your report card and the trophies and certificates lining the shelf. Until you’re past school and thrown into a situation that requires you to actually draw from learning and not just a grade you once received in the past, you won’t realise what blatant liars those grades are.
There are overachievers in school who find life slapping them in the face once they are out. Having never had to experience doing badly ever in their life, they learn too late that learning is not as easy as it looked in school. In school, it might be difficult to differentiate between a person who is genuinely learning and one who is just scoring. It’s after school that you are forced to see the gap between the two.
9. Failures are Obstacles, not Dead Ends
“Look at her. She failed last year and is now studying with students who were her juniors.”
For some reason, school teaches us to believe that failures are the worst thing that can happen to anybody. School does not teach you to learn from a failure. It just teaches you to never, ever let it happen.
Failing at an exam is a lesson in how not to prepare for the test. Failing at a particular stream is a lesson in not making hasty choices based on peer or parental pressure. Failing at being a part of the supposed ‘popular’ crowd is a lesson in understanding that we cannot possibly be everyone’s favourite person. Failures are not dead ends; they are obstacles that need to be crossed over. Success is a result of the lessons learnt from failures. Schools preach that ‘failure is the stepping stone to success’ and then teach us to believe that they are roadblocks.
10. Applying School to Life
At the end of it all, did school actually teach you anything? Did you gain nothing out of it? Was your trigonometry class a total waste? Will your knowledge of balancing forces never matter? Why did you sit through your history classes about the caste system?
Don’t let your heart break. All those things matter. Where? That’s what school doesn’t teach you. If school integrated information with our everyday life, maybe we’d know what to do with our school education. Trigonometry helps with calculating the heights of mountains, which in turn is useful to understand just how high aircrafts ought to be flying. Without understanding physics, the rollercoasters that we love so much would never be built. The caste system of the past has led to innumerable policies of the present. School teaches us pieces of information in isolation, never letting us understand why we are learning what we are learning.