Educating kids on 'happiness' isn't the answer

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 27 July 2011 in News
As head of the civil service Sir Gus O'Donnell calls for 'happiness' lessons, Francesca Preece argues why a whole overhaul of the education system would make us a lot happier

Money, money, money - must be funny - in O’Donnell’s world. Sir Gus O’Donnell, our modern day Sir Humphrey, has taken a break from managing Westminster behind the scenes to speak up about ensuring our kids are taught that there’s more to life than iPods.

Apparently money can’t buy you happiness (though it can buy that peace of mind and more!).

According to the main man in the civil service, adults and kids focus too much on material goods and would be better off switching off those iPods and looking out for each other instead.

It’s easy enough for O’Donnell to preach about matters of money while sitting on a £285,000-a-year salary (How many iPods or official cars could you buy with that, eh, Gus?)

However, the sentiment rings true. The keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality is rife.  Importance is measured by wealth. We clamour for big brands, big Christmasses and big weddings, and believe that success is measured by how much is in our bank account.

Kids have forgotten the true value of life and material possessions are regrettably a higher currency. Is it the parents’ fault? No. It’s society’s.

And so-called happiness lessons will not solve this.

Children should learn early on just what life is all about. It’s not about cars, money, Louis Vuitton bags or Christian Louboutin shoes. It’s about blood, sweat and tears and in most cases, hard graft.

Yet we don’t prepare our children for this reality. It’s no wonder employers turn away our school kids for not understanding what is expected of them. What do they know about hard work? Work experience, once a necessity, no longer carries the same weight. Few either undertake community work or volunteer unless compelled by a judge.

Children are not taught how to budget and keep within their means. They see pop careers and life on the arm of a footballer as means to avoid facing the harsh reality of accounting their costs.

This is why I believe that money management should feature on the curriculum alongside science and art. For most kids, their next 50 years will be working five days a week to keep food on the table and the taxman at bay. Yet we don’t equip children with the basic skills and knowledge they need when they start out in professional life.

Money may not buy you happiness but it is the fact of life and is terribly important. Why don’t we teach children about savings accounts, bonds, pensions, P45s, mortgages? Why do we deny children the basic right to know how to do basic things such as filling out tax forms or job applications? Aren’t these far more beneficial than double general studies?

Michael Gove was right to wage an educational war in January against the likes of time filler subjects such as citizenship classes but a return to the days of old isn’t necessarily a better option. Education MUST become far more vocational.

Throw away this nonsense about relationships and er, identity, and instead use the time wisely. By all means teach kids to say ‘le chat est sur le tapis’ or pick algebra over mental arithmetic, but add a little practicality to proceedings.

Such is the drive to further education that schools have failed to provide enough knowledge or experience to survive the real world.

So Gus, David, Michael, here is my curriculum, my basic model which with a few changes here and there will really get the most out of our kids:

Maths – mental arithmetic, fractions, percentages and statistics with a view to understanding pensions, cash ISAs, mortgages, National Insurance, interest rates and employment taxes

Science – chemistry, physics and biology, with particular focus ON drugs and sexual health. Obviously sex ed hasn’t been a runaway success in the UK ...

Geohistory – considering that the two often interlink, why not teach them together?

Languages – instead of nonsense phrases that mean very little, why not take a tip from our continental cousins and make classes speak only the language they're studying. The concentration must be on spoken word. The intention is fluency, NOT learning enough to pass an exam.

English – grammar, grammar, grammar! Poor spelling and punctuation should no longer be acceptable at school or in the workplace

PE – Physical exercise is a measure of good discipline and exertion and should be on the timetable at least three times a week.

Politics – This wasn’t even an option at my school. Children are growing up with no understanding of world affairs, government structure, policy and Parliament. Debating, law, religion and sociology can have elements in this class.

In future mainstream school should include more vocational courses such as catering, IT, marketing and design, engineering, and business as well as work experience each term and community work during the student's own time. These are just a few ideas (I have more where that came from) but if you want the next generation to score highly on the nation’s happiness index survey, make these changes now.

Maybe then our children will grow up with knowledge and experience on their side. And maybe just maybe we will all be a little bit happier without the need for needless happiness classes.

Tags: Education, Happiness, National Curriculum, Politics, Schools

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