London, April 14, 2014, (Alochonaa): Students don’t know what to do with their lives because the current education system does not mention that they should know, it does not encourage them to find out and it does not teach them how to do that! In other words, what we could call ‘life education’ is non-existent. Life education is entirely different from the education which simply prepares students for a certain occupation. Life education serves a different purpose and yet, it is as important as any other type of education.
So what do I mean by ‘life education’? I mean an education which simply has to become a permanent feature in the curriculum of every high school, college and University. In fact, it should really start much earlier than that. It is the kind of education which explains to students how important the choices they make are for their future. It explains how we make these choices and what are the influences (including the hidden ones) which we must be aware of, i.e. cultural and social pressures, parent’s expectations etc. It is the kind of education that asks students how they want to live their lives. It helps them identify their natural skills and talents and when these are known, it helps them select the best University courses, or is able to present them with other options.
It is the kind of education which teaches students how to deal with stress and how to deal with changing circumstances (both in life and at work). It teaches them how to deal with fears and anxieties. It helps students find their own path. It helps them figure out who they are and what they really want to do. It helps them envision, and plan it for the foreseeable future. So when they graduate they actually do have at the very least some or, at best, a very clear direction in life and purpose. As you can see ‘life education’ is a far cry from the ‘career advice’ departments that currently operate within educational systems.
At this point it all sounds like an unreachable dream but it is not unreachable. In fact, it is inevitable and it is necessary and the only question is not if, but when and how we are going to do something about it. By us, I mean parents, teachers, and heads of schools, colleges and Universities and students who should demand that kind of education. There is a reason why Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk has been watched by 30 million people, in fact if we include the times it was shown at conferences and different types of events, the total number of views to date is estimated to be 100 million. So what made this talk so successful (apart from an excellent delivery, his incredible sense of humour and his overall charm and handsomeness)? The answer is simple: THE TRUTH. And it is the truth that everyone who has any interest in education or is part of education knows but doesn’t really talk about. And here comes one of the most respected educators of our times and tells us that schools kill creativity and that creativity in education is as important as literacy. One of the many humorous comments and stories during his talk really illustrates how creativity is being killed in practice. He told a story of a little girl who was drawing a picture. Her teacher approached her and asked what she was drawing. She said: ‘I’m drawing God’, to which her teacher responded: ‘But no one knows how God looks like’. To which she responded: ‘They will soon find out’!
I dare say that ‘life education’ is important to students as it teaches them how to unleash their creativity. In fact, creativity is a big part of ‘life education’, as it teaches you how to think for yourself, and how to create your future. Too many high school students have no idea or a very vague one as to what they want to do in life and this includes what they want to study. Too many students chose to go to college for the sake of getting a degree, whether this is their own choice or it is expected by their parents. Too many students study subjects they have very little or no interest in. For too many, studying for a degree becomes a torture and the only positive part about student life is their social life (that’s if they have one). They are bored, stressed and frustrated. Eventually the lack of any direction and plans for life makes them feel either apathetic or depressed. It affects their confidence and sense of self-worth. What a perfect preparation for going out into the real world?
When graduation approaches, students experience a sense of relief on the one hand and a sense of dread on the other. They still don’t know what to do and they don’t know where to begin to change it. Only now they are no longer students dealing with exams. Now they have to deal with life. For many it is absolutely terrifying. Soon, they either struggle to find a decent job or any job at all or they find a job which they don’t enjoy (to say the least) or even hate. These are the young people whose lives end at 9 am on Monday and start at 5 pm on Friday. They see themselves living this way and it is a gloomy picture which many cannot face, so they numb their feelings and turn to drugs and/or alcohol for help. They feel worthless. They have very little hope or belief that they could change their circumstances. Most of them want to but they just don’t know how! As a famous saying goes: ‘They didn’t teach this in school’! Only, now this is the truth, not just the saying.
This is a very gloomy picture. In fact, it is a very sad picture of wasted talents and unrealized dreams. More importantly it is a picture of the future awaiting far too many current and future students. But it is a real one. Saying that, it is important to recognize and applaud teachers who ‘bypass’ the system and do their best to educate and help students in many ways. There are already many schools that practice new approaches and are doing an amazing job; unfortunately these are exceptions to the rule. There also many students who are blessed enough to know exactly what they want to do in life and where they are heading. These are the ones that make it happen (even when facing difficult life circumstances) and who should be an inspiration to other students who don’t know what they want or how to make it happen.
‘Life education’ is not an ‘if’ it is a ‘must’. The revolution has already started. When those who are in charge of schools and universities are willing to be open to these new avenues, new ways of educating young people, new ways of helping them and who are willing to find ways to fit it in the existing system, they’ll be proud to see and call themselves pioneers of this positive change. They will be the ones who will be looked up to by everyone who is interested not in some new reforms, but in a whole make over, a transformation of our current educational systems. These are the people who will be part of redefining what education actually means. They will be an inspiration to others who will begin to follow their example. The costs of introducing ‘life education’ are very, very small in comparison to the social, cultural and economic costs we are already facing and we will continue to face in the future, if we chose not to act. I’d like to believe that no person of sane mind would want that and I cannot imagine a better time in history to transform education so that it truly prepares students for their lives, for their future.
* Maggie Gilwicz writes from London. She holds a PhD from University of Aberdeen, UK. She is a political scientist, sociologist, teacher and transformative coach. While she is still passionate about her academic interests, currently her work focuses on writing, teaching, speaking and coaching. Her mission is to encourage, assist and inspire everyone to question the status quo, to live however they want to live and be whoever they want to be, fearlessly.
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