30 Subjects You Should Have been Taught in School but were not

Although high school and college in South Africa are excellent in teaching many valuable skills, our current academic curriculum doesn’t provide and education system that includes life skills to ensure a well rounded successful life for the individual and society as a whole.

We have compiled – life skills not taught in school but are valuable in real life: 

Personal Finances

There are so many aspects of finance which would’ve been really useful to learn in school. The importance of handling money responsibly is quite valuable. Accounting, finance, and business classes do explain accounting procedures, financing arrangements, and business structures, but do not focus much on personal finances, saving or investing. The job of these classes is to prepare students for working environments, and not necessarily for managing their own finances.

A lot of people all over the world start their adult life without a basic understanding of:

  1. How to Budget

Most adults have never been taught how to budget, living within your means. Well over 26.9 million South Africans have well over 1.95 trillion in total outstanding consumer debt.

The concept of budgeting must be taught in schools. Learning about budgeting is simply a matter of tracking expenses, deciding how much to spend in each area of life, and sticking to it.

  1. How Money works

Shaquille O'Neal, an American former professional basketball player got his first $1 million dollar pay check and blew it all in 48hrs before realising he was already in debt. I personally respect Shakil because he understood that he needed to be financially educated in order to understand this new found wealth. He has grown to become one of the most prolific investors and is now worth over $400 million, most of it made after he retired from the MBL. Understanding how money works is a fundamental life skill which must be taught in school. Going out into the world without a good understanding of financing can be catastrophic.

  1. How to Save Money

The “Pay yourself first” is a simple concept where you focus on saving and investing with the first money you receive, and then live on the rest. We all know that if we wait and save what’s “left at the end of the month,” there will never be anything left because there will always be more month than money. But if we save first, we will always find a way to make ends meet.

  1. How to Invest

Early on in life children should be taught about stocks, mutual funds, and real estate. They should understand the importance of investing and the options available for investing.

  1. How Credit Cards Work

Credit cards can potentially ruin your life if they are not used with caution. There’s plenty of simple and obvious facts that people should learn about credit cards in school, but the most important thing is that they understand the potential dangers.

Credit cards are promoted as must-haves if you ever want to apply for vehicle finance or a home loan.

The Difference Between Debit and Credit Cards

Debit and credit cards do work in fairly similar ways; (Visa or MasterCard), they can both be swiped for payments (instead of cash) and usually require a pin for successful transactions.

They’re easier to carry than cash, offer greater security than cash, and can be used to strengthen your credit score if used wisely.

But there’s one very big difference: debit card payments come off a current account while credit card payments are made using credit which you have to repay with interest later.

Learn more about Credit Cards

Credit card companies are now required by law to show you how long it will take to pay off your debt at the minimum payment, this could be taught to children in school before their first card.

6. How To Avoid Debt

Credit cards and other forms of debts is infiltrating our country as a whole. When you hear something like “debt is a tool,” it makes it seem ok to keep a revolving balance on credit cards. While we do not want to argue whether debt is a tool or not, but when people say that, they’re definitely not talking about basic consumer debt.

It’s understandable that perhaps having a mortgage, debt is okay, children graduate school thinking they’re always going to have a car payment. In reality, that’s what the debt industry wants them to think. When a R3000 car payment is the new norm and many exceed R5000, we’re missing a simple lesson in our schools or homes.

7. How Insurance Works

Insurance should essentially be taught before the insurance salesman reaches the young adult who is just starting out in life. That’s typically when they learn about insurance, an insurance salesman is a dangerous teacher.

When it comes to insurance, the general rule of the thumb is, if you can’t afford to replace it, insure it. Insurance is almost as inevitable as taxes. Emergencies and unexpected events happen, and most South Africans can’t even cover a R5000 emergency with their savings.

At a minimum, the curriculum should explain:

  • Life Insurance
  • Home Insurance
  • Renters Insurance
  • Disability Insurance
  • Car Insurance

Children need to know the different types of life insurance, the difference between liability and full coverage car insurance, and so on. Most importantly, they need to be taught to know when they need each type of insurance.

8. How to Make Large Purchases

When you are starting out in life, you will be making large purchases: from cars, 65 inch TV’s to home furniture. It’s important to come prepared and be taught in school that these purchases don’t have to be financed, many people think they do.

Children should be taught the power of planning and maximising their cashflow by saving the small bits of interest accrued from financed purchases as they set out to start their lives.

9. How to Be Prepared for Emergencies

An emergency fund is a crucial part of finances. I don’t know of any financial guru who doesn’t recommend having an emergency fund. Still, so many South Africans don’t have one.

Children should be taught the power of automated savings (and investing for that matter). It’s easy to save R12 000 over a year if you automate R1000 or so a month.

According to a survey, when South Africans were asked what caused their debt problem, the main reasons are emergencies:

Credit cards are the most common way I’ve seen young adults handle emergencies. I’m not sure if the credit card companies are teaching this, or if kids decide this for themselves. It’s a toxic solution to a problem that could have easily been solved with enough savings.

10. How Student Loans Work

Similar to car payments, student loans are often preached as unavoidable expenses. Children must be taught to understand how student loans work, how long it will take to pay them off, and that they aren’t a must-have in life.

Despite what schools are teaching, college is not for everyone, but if college is for your or your child, students loans aren’t the only way. Scholarships, paying as you go and online learning are some of the many alternative options that are overlooked by so many parents and children.

As I’ve said before, college isn’t for everyone, despite what the schools are teaching. But if college is for your child, student loans aren’t the only way. Scholarships, paying as they go, and the military are three great options that are overlooked by so many parents and children.

While there are some student loan forgiveness programs, in general, student loans are the one thing that never goes away, even after bankruptcy is declared. Sure, it’s possible to get rid of student loans in bankruptcy, but it’s difficult, and I’ve never seen it work. And I’ve seen a lot of bankruptcies.

11. How Taxes Work

We are taxed when we earn, when we buy, and when we die. And it doesn’t end there. While most South Africans accept this as something they can’t change, there are ways to lower your tax burden. At a minimum, the curriculum should include a basic overview of the different kinds of taxes in South Africa.

12. How to Keep [and Access] Records

Every adult should be prepared to know that some records should be kept for a year, some for five, and some for life. It’s important to distinguish which is which. You don’t want your child to trash important records, but they should be taught in school how to maintain a good home filing system for every record they’ve ever been given.

Accessing records, such as  medicallegal, taxes, and other financial records, is another overlooked piece of being an adult. Kids need to know where to go, who to ask, and how to get copies of all records. This even expands into practical records like credit reports.

Life Skills

13. Question Everything

Developing a healthy sense of skepticism (not cynicism) must be taught in schools.

Many children go into the world listening to everything that they are sold, told, without applying their own ideas, without questioning too many things.

While children are taught in school to be respectful, respect authority, they must also learn to question everything.

The sense of conforming to authority through and through can be dangerous, imagine how many sexual assaults could be prevented if our children knew it was ok to say “no” to an adult who has gone too far?

We always tell our children that they need to be respectful to their teachers, but at the same time, teachers can make mistakes too. I think the schools would win a lot more hearts if they taught the students to be skeptics, as opposed to teaching students to do whatever they’re told.

14. Self-Awareness

Teaching kids to understand themselves may be one of the most important things we could teach. I would’ve loved to understand this better as a kid. I was different in a lot of ways, especially socially, and it always seemed like the teachers directed their lectures to one type of individual.

If we’re taught to understand ourselves, and how we learn, we could change the world. I do think the understanding of different learning styles is increasing, but kids who learn differently are still often brushed off as “problem children.” If they understood why they learned differently, and more importantly, how they learned, it could change everything.

Personality tests shouldn’t just be for corporate training. Kids could benefit greatly from these. In his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman explains that people who are more self-aware have a higher level of psychological health and a more positive outlook on life.11 We’ll talk about emotional intelligence in a moment.

15. Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship should be taught in school. The school system is strongly structured to prepare you to be a lawyer or doctor,’ and we’re missing that opportunity because no one ever says, ‘Hey, be an entrepreneur.'”

Even entrepreneurial MBA programs are designed to teach you how to manage someone else’s business, rather than how to start your own.

You may want to argue that they don’t teach entrepreneurship because it’s not something that can be taught. “entrepreneurs usually just drop out of school anyways,” but how many more kids could grow up to create amazing businesses if we did actually teach this in school?  Many entrepreneurial concepts are teachable, and these important skills could be taught in school:

  • Critical Thinking

What often separates the most successful from the average in is the ability to think critically and creatively. 

Beyond skills, the ability to think critically and creatively are the platforms an individual can leverage to deliver value and outperform the competition.

  •     Personal branding

Learning to brand yourself, which involves reflecting on personal values and identifying who you truly are, you can become more self-aware and use this awareness to influence the world in positive ways. Then, you can create stories and products or services that are valuable, not superficial, because they are things you are passionate about and want to share with the world.

  • Creating products or services

While startup failure statistics vary greatly depending on the criteria used to define failure, a survey of 101 failed startups found the top reason for failure was creating products consumers did not want. 42 percent of the companies named this as one of the reasons. "User-unfriendly product" and Product "pricing/cost issues" and were near the top as well.

Developing approaches you can use to create products and services people actually need can be taught in school.

  • Smart failure

Business experts say the willingness to start over from scratch is one of the key traits of a successful entrepreneur. This is a mindset but also involves skills, the willingness to change products, adjust the marketing approach, shift industries or rebrand.

16. Problem Solving

In school we are typically taught a right and wrong answer for everything. When taking a test, answer C is correct, which means answers A, B, and D are all wrong. Or that you’re wrong if you don’t use the “answer from the book” That works for questions with a basic right or wrong answer, but what if we focused more on solving problems, and less on being right?

We could teach kids creative problem solving in more areas than we do. And the conversation of how they come to certain conclusions may be even more important than the conclusions themselves.

17. The Value of Mistakes

“Missed more than 9000 shots in my career, lost over 300 games, 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Changing your  perspective on mistakes is the greatest lesson you can be taught earlier on in life. Adults are now starting to realize the benefits of mistakes. You may have heard the phrase “fail forward,” which was first popularized by John C. Maxwell in his book with the same title.

Studies have shown that the use of “productive failure” is more effective than simple, direct instruction. There aren’t many studies on how teachers respond to mistakes in the classroom, students are often punished for mistakes that could’ve been used productively.

18. Resilience

Kids who grow up moving from place to place, school to school, because their parents get reassigned every few years are known to adapt and overcome things that most kids never have to worry about. You can also agree, they will not struggle with the necessary adjustments in their adult life.

This would be a great thing to start teaching in all of our schools. Being able to bounce back from life to recover quickly from difficulties, There are few life skills that provide more benefit than resilience.

19. Logic & Reasoning

You might want to overlook a subject like logic, or view it as unnecessary. On the surface, it may seem unimportant. But a child’s ability to reason, through learned logic, is a huge asset in his ability to make decisions for the rest of his life.

Kids have to reason through questions and assignments every day in school, without ever being properly taught how to do so.

20. Time/Life Management

Time management is as simple as learning to prioritize and be intentional with your time.

Students often learn this in their first semester of college, but this should be taught in school.

Children can’t learn to manage their time without time to manage, so it’s key that the schools (and our homes) are giving children enough open time to manage. If we’re structuring every minute of their school day and home time, they literally won’t have the time to learn time management.

21. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

If we only added one thing on this list to our current curriculum, this should be it. This can quite literally cut back on depressed, more angry and unruly, more nervous and prone to worry, more impulsive, and more aggressive adults if kids learn the concept of learned emotional intelligence in school.

The benefits are huge and the need is great.

A science journal points out that students with stronger emotional intelligence had improved learning strategies. Many studies have explained the benefits of learned, increased emotional intelligence, and some studies have even shown the effect of emotional intelligence as it has been increasing in recent generations.

22. Basic Law

We can all agree that everyone needs a lawyer at one point or another.

Why do you need a lawyer? Because Law is often complex, dry, and confusing. We are all subject to the law in its entirety, regardless of what we do and don’t understand. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and that ignorance doesn’t excuse anyone from the law. It turns out, “I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” doesn’t always eliminate jail time.

At a minimum, schools would benefit the students greatly if a single, required class covered:

  • How the legal system works and individual rights.
  • How contracts work (as well as the little-known things that can count as a contract, such as an email, whatsapp message etc).
  • How to find more information about laws and what to do when wrongfully accused.

23. Stress Management

This is one, along with emotional intelligence, is one of the most important things kids could learn. Recent studies show that suicide rates for teens are soaring, up 70%.

There’s obviously a growing problem, and stress, whether over catastrophic or mere “common” issues, is the cause.

Stress and anxiety hit kids as well as adults before they even know what’s going on. This could lead to signs of depression at younger ages than ever. There are many ways the schools can help.

I think it’s important that this is implemented in schools rather than at home, because in so many cases, the stress is coming from home. If kids were only worried about their grades and the amount of play time they get, they wouldn’t be committing suicide and facing depression at such an alarming rate.

Stress management can also help you in your adult life if you were taught in school how to manage stress.

24. Basic First Aid & Emergencies

I’ve been the You will at some point be a first responder to an accident and with the necessary training, lives could be saved, in some cases even your own or your own kids.

These first aid basics would help everyone:

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • How to treat for shock
  • How to stop bleeding (and what to do when the first way doesn’t work, or the second, etc.)
  • The signs of someone having a stroke or heart attack
  • How to splint a limb
  • When to move, and when not to move, a person who has been injured
  • Likewise, the signs of a spinal cord injury

It would be beneficial for these things to be taught in school.

25. Basic Home & Car Maintenance

Even if you never plan to do your own maintenance, and you plan to teach your kids the same, it’s still a good thing to know. Of course, you can save some money if you DIY, but if you think your time is more valuable than the money saved, it’s still good to know when you’re getting ripped off.

These are a few things kids could learn:

Home Maintenance

  • Cleaning
  • Painting
  • Basic drywall repairs
  • Basic wood repairs
  • Basic plumbing and electrical repairs

Car Maintenance

  • Changing a tire
  • Changing the oil
  • Detailing and cleaning
  • Changing spark plugs
  • Changing the battery
  • Changing the brakes

Parents who are capable often teach these things to their children, but many parents don’t know how to do the basics. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think we could all agree that it would benefit our kids to know… and maybe they could teach us a thing or two.

26. Self Defense

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that safety is a basic human need.

Safety is 90% awareness, knowledge, self-esteem attitude, confidence and choice, and 10% strategy, de-escalation language (we’ll talk about that below), physical defense tactics, and protective gear.

Teaching situational awareness (also known as SA) would be amazing.  

There are many self-defense benefits to list, so I ‘ll just name a few:

  • Enhances patience
  • Provides physical exercise
  • Improves respect for other people
  • Increases confidence and self-control
  • Develops better balance and motor skills
  • Improves state of mental clarity and awareness
  • Develops assertiveness while reducing aggressiveness

Self defense is not just physical, the act of verbally deescalating situations, Verbal Judo, is something that would make a great addition to the classroom. Children in school can be taught how to defuse situations through basic conversations. It may not work all the time, but it beats not knowing what to say in a heated scuffle.

27. Survival Skills

Boy Scouts is great for boys and girls who show an interest in the outdoors, and want to learn more. For the rest of the kids, basic survival skills would still be a much needed addition.

Bushcraft skills—the skills needed to survive in the wilderness—could come in handy for anyone. Nobody predicts being stranded. You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to find yourself alone in the middle of nowhere. From hiking excursions gone wrong to plane crashes on deserted islands (and yes they do happen outside of Cast Away), there are some basic skills children could learn in school that may save their life.

At a minimum, kids could be taught:

  • How to start a fire with an ignition source
  • What you can and can’t eat in the wilderness
  • Communication and navigation without technology

Above of these worst-case-scenario skills, it would serve kids well to learn the basics of gardening and taking care of farm animals. Even just a few hands-off lessons would give children a greater awareness.

28. Cooking

Learning how to cook and how to handle household duties must not only be left for Home Economics class in high school. Cooking is a basic survival skill, essential to life and very beneficial to eating healthy, and being healthy. With home cooking, the ingredients and dishes can be controlled, and the portions commensurate with one’s appetite.

29. Relationships

Learning how to deal with and relate to people is important in business and more important in personal life.

At a minimum, you be taught in school how to identify toxic relationships, and foster real relationships.

Things like “respecting boundaries” could be useful, as an example. Who knows, maybe these lessons could prevent some of the sexual assault, which comes partially from wrong thinking about relationships in the first place.

Life is based on relationships, why not teach kids some basics in school?

30. Dating

We can all agree that dating is a very valuable aspect of life, for this is the first step in falling in love, getting married, and starting a family. The family is the foundation of society. It is, therefore, important to know how to choose the right mate, know what to look for and what to avoid in a partner, and how to be a good partner yourself. This takes practice and attention to yourself and your date.

Schooling doesn’t help our awkward dating life because it doesn’t teach in this domain of life whatsoever. With a basic foundation on the aspect of dating and moral guidance, we could achieve more a more stable society.

Let us know in your comments if you would like to make an addition to our list. We would be glad to hear from you.

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