by Tom Wickham-Bassett

There are common sentiments amongst young people that “school doesn’t teach you to do tax returns,” or “you will never need to use the Pythagorean theorem,” and while this might seem like a stubborn oversimplification of a complex issue about education and the importance of learning certain things as opposed to others, it highlights a very real problem within the education system. I don’t think I’ve learned enough. As a young person about to leave school, there is a palpable anxiety between my peers and I about what happens next, not just when it comes to the daunting prospect of leaving home and going to university but a lot of the time, somewhat smaller issues like tax returns that some might describe as “easy” create a sense of panic and feeling lost. 

This isn’t limited to taxes either. The same thing spreads amongst most students with worries about how to cook, apply for mortgages, safe sex and consent and many others. I think that this creates a gap of knowledge between generations. The myth that my generation is “lazy” spread by the older generations fails to acknowledge that we might not have had the same level of education or privilege that they have, especially since the education reforms in the early 2010’s which was famous for removing many of the vital elements of the UK curriculum and particularly the elements of coursework which required more practical skills.

My favourite example of this issue is sewing, an art somewhat rediscovered through lockdown and having not much to do but still not as popular as it was. As a textiles student I know how to sew and enjoy doing it. I have repaired various items of my own, I have made and wear items of my own, I have repaired other people’s clothes. My peers, however, may not know how to do the same. The cost of a tailor to repair or embellish one’s clothes is also expensive. Sewing is a useful skill and yet my textiles class is highly undersubscribed. It links back to the old saying, “give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime” only this relates to most useful skills and contributes to the environmental problem the planet is experiencing currently. Fashion is a huge contributor to landfill. This is because cheap or affordable clothing is of arguably worse quality. The threads fall apart, the fabric is thin, and the trends change in a matter of weeks. If school had taught my generation to sew, repair or repurpose the clothing that they had instead of buying new the problem could be reduced. 

It might be argued that skills such as this are not necessary in today’s society and certainly that it is not necessary that they are taught in schools. I recall an argument a while ago that parents should be responsible for teaching their children vital skills such as sewing or cooking but for many this is not possible. teaching a skill or a principle takes a certain amount of time that, in the fast moving societies of today, is simply not there. Many parents find themselves working forty hour weeks minimum and still barely scraping by. To expect them to then subsequently teach their children how to do taxes and what a fixed rate mortgage is is simply too much. Teaching one’s child independently of a state school is a privilege held by those with time (and consequently money) on their hands, whereas, there is a place already set up to teach young people things, it stands to reason that the curriculum could be adapted to accommodate for teaching young people skills to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Whether through direct influence or not, consumerist powers benefit heavily from not educating young people in relevant life-skills because if we had the means to repair or create our own items, we could lower consumption and create a more sustainable future, one where young people need not fear the future but embrace it through skills which can be taught and learned very easily but that are missing in the modern curriculum for the sake of subjects and areas of study which will not be used unless the student decides to take a certain career path. A “curriculum for life” teaching young people vital skills and information would do a lot to alleviate pressure on young people to learn the skills that they may want or need in the future to live a sustainable lifestyle. Furthermore it will help alleviate the anxieties that arise in the mind of a young person when faced with the prospect of growing up and surviving on their own. 

Tom is an A level student and young activist, involved in the Youth 4 Climate strikes and the Make Votes Matter campaign.