Teach your children well, Their fathers hell, will slowly go by And feed them on your dreams, The one they fix, The one you’ll know by – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970)
Although educational qualifications are mandatory to start off on the path towards success, it has been emerged time and again that people who have the highest of qualifications are unable to bag good jobs, simply because such individuals are lacking in essential life skills. Having these skills not only makes lives much easier but they also make lives happier and more complete. Since human beings are a social species who need a tribe to survive and prosper, our children need to learn these as early as possible.
The Education system that is followed today originated during the Industrial Revolution with the aim of churning out similar clones who would fit into the ‘mass production’ concept of operations. With time, somehow the concept did not take into account various other revolutions including the IT boom and we realise today that somewhere we have lost the plot and stuck at passing on information to the students instead of skills which would help them evolve.
We, as parents and teachers have, perhaps, signed up for the most important task of them all. To help build the future – to guide the thoughts of children, adolescents and young men and women in a manner that we empower them, as future leaders to take the world forward in capacities such as thinkers, philosophers, artists, scientists and business leaders.
However, in many areas of life, by teaching or mostly by example, we convey thoughts entirely to the contrary. For instance, in school, children are taught about passing exams not the usefulness of knowledge; about being part of a choir but not developing a distinctive voice; about doing everything but not being exceptional in one; and about working on what they find hard and not honing what their unique gift is.
We set children against one another in contests, whether it is school or sport or music and in their little minds, we confuse excellence with winning, as if, the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We teach them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they have beaten. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends and collaborators but as competitors and obstacles in the path of their success. Finally, we lead them to believe that everything is a means to an end: the important thing is not to paint or read or sing or design or create, but to win. Thus we devalue the enjoyment of painting or reading or playing music or designing or creating dreams in their fertile little minds.
Quite predictably, researchers have found that the results of competition often include aggression, cheating, envy of winners, contempt for losers and a suspicious posture towards everyone. We kill trust and make our children lonely, and then rue the fact that they are! What we also do is get them to be externally motivated.
Especially in India, parents teach that what society thinks about you is more important than what you think about yourself. Everyone wants to be politically correct. Even at the expense of your own happiness! Even though a girl is in an abusive marriage, it’s definitely NOT OK to divorce. Moreover, if she doesn’t keep her husband and in laws happy, she brings a bad name to the family.
Even though a boy has got no interest in science, he has to study Engineering and then when he doesn’t do well, he brings a bad name to his family. Even though he may be in love with a girl, he can’t marry her if she is from a different caste/religion. Why? Because then he will bring a bad name to the family! A large number of broken hearts, wasted lives, suicides and honour killings can be stopped by just accepting that your happiness is in your hands, not on society, not on the neighbours, not even your parents.
We, as parents, teach children to seek external affirmation – from parents, from their teachers and with time this morphs into seeking affirmation from Bosses and from people in positions of authority. And thus, they willingly hand over the keys of their happiness to others – and spend the rest of their lives wondering why they can’t be happy. Ironically, all this is done by the parents and teachers ‘in good faith’.
So what are the 10 top skills that we should equip the next generation with? As per me –
1. Basic Human Psychology. Perhaps the most important lesson to teach children and adolescents is how the brain functions. That how people act – and what they do depends only on themselves. They always have a choice. And if a person is angry, it means he is frustrated at the lack of control he has, if he behaves badly – it means that he doesn’t think that behaving well will get him what wants. Let the child learn why people behave in different ways and empower them to hold their own.
2. Thinking through. Education is generally pragmatic, wherein the educators test students on specific data, and as such students will learn the specific data just for the test, often by memorizing. Too often, students are not taught how to think through to solutions; even in mathematics, formulas are memorized and the numbers plugged-in to the formula without an understanding of the formula’s formation and what it is solving for, and what are real scenarios it’s applicable to. The stakes are high in our duties and responsibilities in life and each decision we make have real-world consequences, some immediate, and some delayed, affecting ourselves and others. Making the right choices could literally mean the difference between happiness and remorse, success and failure. We need to be equipped with the ability to think through scenarios and situations which inevitably arise in our lives, not only for the sake of successful endeavours, but also for the sake of being wise for its own sake.
3. Learning from Failure. Ironically, children are fearless when they are born and all fear is learnt. From adults! It is we who teach children to fear failure, to feel bad about themselves when they don’t succeed at all times! Which is practically neither possible not feasible. We teach our children to feel miserable when they fail. Have you ever seen a toddler walk, fall down, get up and walk again? Did he stop attempting to walk because he fell down? Does he learn to ride a bicycle without falling? Then what makes him want to kill himself for not getting enough marks in his class 10 exam, or when the girl he loves walks away? Or when he doesn’t get into the school basketball team? Or does not pass an audition to participate in a dance competition? Unless your children are able to overcome the fear of failure, they will NOT achieve satisfactory results – because the focus will remain on failure and not success. Neurologically, the fear of failure in children produces a series of negative and adverse thought patterns that eventually reduce your children’s strengths and potentialities. Fear of failure ties down the child’s mind and make him/her mentally weak and tired. In fact, it can make them incapable of achieving anything in life, even though they are capable of reaching the highest levels of success.
4. How to handle Finances. The importance of handling money responsibly is a valuable skill. 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, not for managing their own finances. Furthermore, higher education doesn’t spend much time teaching students entrepreneurship. For the self-starter, knowledge of how to set up their company’s structure, manage the finances, pay taxes and reinvest into the company is crucial, and can mean the difference between failure and success.
5. Repair. I was fortunate to be in the army. The army teaches you to do everything, right from stitching torn clothes, to fixing light bulbs to carrying out minor electrical and vehicle repairs and joining cables. Painting, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, etc., are all involved in maintaining and repairing a home, and since home is where most of your valuables are and where you will spend most of your life, knowing how to do repairs and improvements is always valuable. Knowing what tools are necessary for specific jobs makes the work much easier. All of this taken together contributes to the value of your home, both monetarily and intrinsically.
6. Basic Cooking Skills. Learning how to cook and how to handle household duties are gone with the era of taking Home Science classes some took in school. Nevertheless, cooking is essential to life and very beneficial to eating healthy, and therefore being healthy. With home cooking, the ingredients and dishes can be controlled, and the portions commensurate with one’s appetite. Cooking at home generally saves money over eating at restaurants and being a good cook is a valuable weapon in your arsenal.
7. Conversational Skills. When employers are asked about the most important factor in their decision to hire someone, almost always, communication skills are on the top of the list. But how many of you were actually taught to communicate effectively? Think about it. Did you ever have a class between kindergarten and graduation that taught you how to work through conflict? Or be a good listener? Or how to express empathy? I’m sure you didn’t. And yet, thats what any organisation wanting to employ you are looking for.
8. First Aid. The knowledge of rendering first aid and help, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, applying a splint on a broken bone, cleaning a wound and what medicines to give in case of minor ailments and emergencies are necessary for all responsible citizens. Accidents can happen at just about any time, and being equipped with the knowledge of first response is important to the health and potentially to the life of yourself and loved ones. In extreme events, this knowledge could mean the difference between life and death. Often times the response time of medical professionals is too long, and can result in complications and worsening symptoms, which could be preventable by immediate help from a close individual. Looking for appropriate warning signs for things like a concussion, frostbite, heat exhaustion, dehydration, not breathing, etc., would be very valuable and potentially life and limb saving knowledge.
9. Self Defence. We all have the right to self defense as a basic right, afforded to us by virtue of being alive. Learning a self-defense technique can be necessary in protecting the well being of yourself and your loved ones. Hopefully, no one would ever need to use self-defense, but in the event that using skills learned in self defense classes was ever necessary, exercising those skills could mean preservation of life and limb. It is better to know how to defend oneself and never need to, than need to and not know how to. Having pepper spray, mace, a concealed weapon, is a good start to self defense preparedness, however, there could be scenarios in which these are inaccessible, and old fashioned hand-to-hand combat and defense becomes necessary. For women it is particularly advisable to know the weaknesses of a man, and how to apply manoeuvres accordingly that would leave any potential violator incapacitated.
10. Sales and Marketing Skills. The basics of marketing are something everyone should understand. Even if you don’t think you’re in marketing, you’re in marketing. If you have an idea at work, or want to get a raise, or want to convince friends to go see a movie then there is something applicable from the marketing world. Even just picking out a good headline for something you’re writing so that it will actually get read requires some basic marketing skills and the earlier you learn them, the better you are.
We ask ourselves the ‘why’ question. Why don’t we teach these skills in our educational system? I think the answer is a complex one, it’s probably because it’s assumed that children will learn all of this at home. But what if your parents model terrible communication skills? Or they are living on the verge of bankruptcy? That’s not a great way to learn sometimes. I think another reason we don’t teach these skills is because they’re taken to be ‘soft.’ In other words, ‘easy.’ I think this nomenclature itself is faulty. I think the so called ‘soft skills’ are more important than most of what our children are taught.
Just think of it this way. On your child’s first job interview – which will change him from being a boy to being a man, they’re assessing his communication skills, his skills at converting his thoughts to coherent words which can be understood by the interviewing committee – they are not asking him to solve a calculus problem or about where in the periodic table he will find Barium.