Subjects studied at school still reflect academic disciplinary categories that have existed since Victorian times if not before. In many ways, the education offered by a school in England (state or private) provides better preparation for life as a member of the Georgian gentry than as a 21st century citizen. The abnormal cultural universe inhabited by schools is off-putting for social groups that are not historically accustomed to this type of discourse, and also generates adults who have had little introduction to the practicalities of modern life (perhaps the odd cookery class, but that’s about it).
There is therefore a clear case for giving much greater prominence to classes in everyday citizenship for school children. A number of areas come easily to mind:
- Personal and household finances.
- Use, care and maintenance of common equipment in the home.
- Cycling and driving.
- Use of IT packages that are common in the workplace.
- House work.
- Personal health and hygiene.
- Establishing and maintaining relationships
These all constitute basic skills and knowledge necessary for functioning in society. Demonstrating competency in these areas should therefore, arguably, be a requirement for leaving compulsory education at 18. Why should the rest of us have to put up with the consequences of being around people who do not have these basic skills and knowledge? And why should people experience the handicap of being without these proficiencies in adult life due to an inadequate education?
Requiring children of both genders to acquire and exercise these skills should also, hopefully, work against any reliance on a single gender to carry out particular domestic responsibilities.
Apart from these practical skills and knowledge, there are also educational tasks involved in equipping citizens to play a proper part in the running of their society (even if these particular capabilities are not requirements of everyday life). These include:
- A broad understanding of democratic institutions and processes.
- An overview of key political and economic concepts.
- A general ability to interpret statistics.
- Learning basic facts about the nation’s geography, history, society and economy.
Again, competency in these areas could be a requirement for exiting compulsory education, so that we can all have confidence that our fellow citizens are exercising their democratic rights on the basis of a reasonable understanding of our society. Individuals from overseas seeking citizenship could be tested on exactly the same competencies, thus arriving at a level playing field for all those wishing to be part of our nation.
All of the above would, of course, take up a considerable amount of classroom time to the detriment of other subjects (although there is come commonality between existing academic subjects and the topics listed above). This would mean less time spent on English literature, algebra, descriptive biology, the history of medicine, and the like.