Academics aren’t everything

Ask most high school teachers what the goal of their job is and you’re likely to get a similar answer: they prepare students for life after graduation. Or at least that’s the hope.

Between math, science, English and history, students learn from a curriculum aimed at creating well-rounded citizens who will be prepared for university or college. But are they leaving integral skills out of the mix? 

Among the important things today’s high school students don’t learn are life skills. Doing taxes and learning how to cook a nutritious meal are just two of the things left out of education. While some schools offer classes on these topics, they aren’t mandatory courses. 

Missing out on these basic skills at the high school level has translated into big problems in the adult population of Canada. 

A 2012 study by the Bank of Montreal found that 93 per cent of Canadians thought they knew income tax deadlines. When these same people were put to the test less than 39 per cent could correctly identify these dates. If high school students aren’t at the very least being taught the deadlines for their taxes, one has to wonder how prepared they are to file them in the first place. 

For students this issue is personal and frightening. 

“To be honest, I don’t remember ever once learning about how to do taxes in my high school,” says Danielle Clarke, a second-year student at Carleton University. “I’ve always sort of struggled with math, so doing taxes is something I find more difficult. I would have benefitted from some instruction.”

Finding a way to make this a part of the high school curriculum could have spared Clarke from learning it all on her own. 

Irv Osterer, a high school teacher at Merivale High School, says that finding the space in students’ schedules to give them courses on taxes would be a good idea.

Students hoping to study at university and college are often required to take specific high school courses as prerequisites for admission. Those students already have a packed schedule and finding a way to add another mandatory class would be difficult. 

“We’re charged with graduating decent, caring, honest people,” says Osterer. “I think we do the best we can to prep them. Are we 100-per-cent perfect? Who is?”

In terms of other basic life skills, such as nutrition, schools are trying to take steps in the right direction. “Within the health and physical education program they cover health concerns like healthy eating,” says Osterer, “I think they do a pretty thorough job.”

While learning about nutrition does give students a tool to make healthy choices, this instruction isn’t practical enough to make it truly helpful. A better approach could be to task students with applying what they’ve learned by researching and creating a low-cost meal plan for themselves. 

While many of these life lessons can be learned outside the classroom, the benefits of adding them to the curriculum are clear. If it’s not compulsory course material, there are always chances students will slip through the cracks without gaining these integral skills. 

By not teaching life skills in school, there is an assumption that they are a parent’s responsibility to teach. Parents, however, may not even know how to work through taxes or healthy eating themselves. In these cases, we see several generations of families meet the same struggle. 

Teachers have a hard job. They’re tasked with preparing the next generation for the life ahead of them, and with the resources they produce results Canada can take pride in. Canada’s literacy rate and rates of post-secondary enrollment are rising.

However, academic achievement isn’t everything. Once schools implement the mandatory teaching of soft life skills, the next generation to go through the education system will flourish.