Life skills such as coping with grief and arranging a mortgage should be taught in schools to avoid producing A* ‘robots’ with no practical knowledge, according to young people.
A review by the Welsh Youth Parliament has recommended that more lesson time is spent teaching pupils how to manage finances and deal with challenges in their personal lives, rather than simply preparing them to pass exams. Eighty percent of those polled thought that the current provision for teaching life skills is not sufficient, with just one in 10 learning about politics and how to manage grief.
The Welsh Youth Parliament, which came into being in 2018, has 60 elected members aged between 11 and 18. Representatives are from a diverse range of backgrounds and their role is to highlight and debate on national level issues that are important to their peers. Under the inquiry into life skills, which saw 13 focus groups held across Wales as well as two regional events in Swansea and Wrexham, more than 2,500 young people filled in a questionnaire, with respondents overwhelmingly wanting better preparation for the real world.
Although more than eight out of 10 young people had been taught about internet safety and dealing with bullying, almost three-quarters of those questioned chose skills including life-saving and dealing with stress as among the most important to them. Other examples mentioned most often were financial skills, including taxes, mortgages, managing money, banking and debt; sex education; political education, cookery and a healthy diet; and employment, including careers, interviews and writing a CV.
Members of the Welsh Youth Parliament expressed concern that too much emphasis is placed on exams in schools, which can have a negative impact on pupil mental health. There were, however, opposing views as to whether learning life skills or how to succeed in exams is more important. Nearly four in 10 - 38% - thought that life skills are more important, while 29% prioritised passing exams.
As to how life skills are taught, some young people wanted to see them incorporated into the curriculum, with, for example, maths lessons including advice on mortgages, taxes and budgeting, science including sex education, geography encompassing terrorism and extremism and PE including lessons on healthy eating and mental health.
There was some caution from teachers, who were also invited to complete a questionnaire as part of the review - the first report from the Welsh Youth Parliament. Some said that they are not always the right people to teach life skills and that pupils respond better when guest speakers and experts are brought in to talk to them. Successful examples include a bi-lingual entrepreneur, St John Ambulance, the police and medical staff, as well as sixth form students helping younger pupils. Many respondents said they would also like to see life skills co-ordinators located in schools.
Research shows that people tend to start planning for their funeral after their 50th birthday. However, it’s never too early to start thinking about things such as your will, life insurance and the kind of funeral you’d like, to make sure your loved ones know and carry out your exact wishes when the time comes. Our guide to talking to your family about death can get you started, while our article on life insurance for the under 30s can also help young people understand why they might need life cover at a younger age than previously thought.
The Welsh Youth Parliament was keen to feed its findings into the Draft Curriculum for Wales, which sets out plans to reform education in Wales. The Welsh Government agrees that life skills are important and that the new curriculum will develop ‘capable learners,’ with Education Minister Kirsty Williams due to address the recommendations later this month.