Why does our education system fail to equip students for adulthood?

Posted by benirestea on September 4th, 2019

school university students

We spend almost a third of our lives preparing for adulthood. We pass tests that temporarily fill our brains with more or less useful stuff only to be replaced by a larger quantity of information required for tougher final exams that eventually end up buried deep down in our long-term memory until forgotten for good. We dream of becoming superheroes between two exams, yet we don’t seem to fully understand how the economy works as a whole. We are being shown only half of the truth.

This year, 3.6 million students are expected to throw their caps up in the air saying “Goodbye!” to their high school years, while 1.9 million students will receive their Bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A new cohort enters the work field where millions of Americans ask themselves the same question: “Why does our education system fail to equip us for adulthood?”

Looking back, 13 years after graduating from high school, one thing is crystal clear to me - good grades and diplomas do not guarantee financial prosperity. 

Ten years ago, an ING survey found that 88% of Americans think they have been significantly and positively influenced by a teacher. Almost all respondents believed that a teacher could influence a student to such a great extent that they could change his/her life course. We all had a teacher we liked and looked up to and we all agree that teachers need to do their best efforts to ensure all students make it. 

On the one side, some teachers really invest a lot in their students, treating them as if they were their own children. Some teachers try harder than others to put their students on the track to success. Being a teacher's pet, though, does not provide any guarantee for the future. On the other side, unfortunately there are teachers who constantly discourage students and condemn them to failure, and not because they are unprofessional, but because they don’t use the right words and attitudes. Students deserve to be praised in front of their classmates for their achievements, and when they get a bad grade, they need to hear words of support and encouragement. 

Now, think about this - according to CDC, the life expectancy in the US was 78.6 years in 2016, while in 2017 it reached 80 years, according to the World Factbook by the CIA. Having been discouraged for 12 years or more, you really start to believe that you’re worthless and destined to become nothing in life. So, after we graduate, some at 18 years of age, others later, we spend the rest of our lives looking for a purpose and digging for the other half of the truth that has been kept hidden from us in all the school years. We spend decades learning the ropes. And by the time we figure everything out, we are too old to change anything. 

Sometimes I imagine the education system as a funnel that strives to push all the students on a certain pipe, with only a few dropouts or people who oppose the herd mentality and wander in their own pursuit for happiness, freedom, and prosperity. We find too late how the system is supposed to work. Ideally, we should finish college at 22, get a good paying job by 24, buy a house and get married by 26 and have a child before our biological clock strikes 30. Little it is taught in class about the reality that awaits us after finishing high school. So why does the education system fail to equip students for adulthood? Because good grades mean higher teacher pay, especially in public schools, so the focus is on the national curriculum and on the exams - very little time is left for other extracurricular activities.    

What can schools do to help students prepare for the next stage in their lives?

happy smilling child at school

Teachers’ job is to make sure that all children learn the material being taught. They stick to their Bible - the national curriculum - and because of this rarely do they have the opportunity to challenge students to think outside the box. Schools are in desperate need of equipment and teaching materials. In the US, teachers spend money out of their own pocket to provide their students with the materials necessary to better understand each lesson, while in the UK, the government pays for everything. This is also true for special needs schools, which have long been suffering from chronic underfunding. 

If you feel like your child is gifted and is not challenged enough to make progress, remember that, in the same class, there could be children with special needs who may struggle to learn the same lessons. If your kid is eager to know everything about a certain subject, hire a tutor! Who knows, one day your child might skip a grade. It’s also good to remember that parents and students can apply for scholarships (which are usually merit-based) and grants to cover tuition fees and school supplies.  

The average per-pupil expenditure in the US is ,526, according to Education Week, while for special needs students, the average expenditure was ,666 in 2018. However, the cost of education varies greatly from one state to another. For example, Alaska and Vermont spend over ,000 a year to educate one student, while others spend less than ,000. Don’t students deserve to be treated equally all over the US? 

Uniformity manifests only in the national curriculum, which delivers the same set of information year after year to all students. It’s like passing by the same building every year looking only at the same side of the facade. Student’s are rarely shown the back of the building. In other words, teachers need to take the time to explore other routes that can lead them to the same place, result or conclusion. Unfortunately, in this way, students can’t acquire some critical life skills such as problem solving skills, communication skills, social skills, negotiation skills and money management skills. The introduction of mandatory life skills classes is a must in all public and private schools

But what does success look like in America? A survey conducted by ThermoSoft® uncovered that Americans who “made it” are married, with two kids, have at least a Bachelor’s degree and an annual income of 7,104. The average home value of those who “made it” is about 1,000. Success also means working from home and having at least 5.3 weeks away from the job. Almost half of the respondents said they need money more than anything else to feel “above the average”. But money and personal finance are never brought to light from Pandora’s box of subjects in schools and universities. The love of money remains the root of all evil because we know so little about it. 

No wonder that, as soon as students find themselves free in the real world, they start making one poor decision after another. First, they might get a student loan. On top of that, two or three credit cards, while their income is still low. A chaotic lifestyle and the lack of financial discipline soon lowers their credit score and by the time they want to buy the house of their dreams, their credit score forces them to pay higher interest rates for the money they borrow. The number of foreclosure filings in 2018 was 624,753, but in 2010, over 2.8 million people defaulted on their mortgages, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. Although the number of foreclosures has dramatically decreased since the last recession, it doesn’t mean it can’t go up again, when another wave of insecurity hits our economy. 

Preparing students for life after high school

student with books

Students are like caterpillars wrapped in their cocoons waiting to turn into beautiful and colorful butterflies. Their parents and teachers must teach them how to fly before they spread their wings, before they break that cocoon and venture into this wild world. Raising a well-rounded child is a joint effort. But unfortunately this doesn’t happen often. Only the elite and the ones attending the Ivy League schools seem to be entitled to more open doors such as challenges (for gifted children), tutoring, paid internships and so on. Most US presidents have attended an Ivy League school, and even the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mr. Jerome H. Powell, has an AB in politics from Princeton University. 

When students don’t learn to fly before they spread their wings, they remain in the batch of the 90% of Americans who work for the richest 1% - a group that takes in almost 200 times as much as them. The incomes of the richest 1% of Americans grow at a fast pace - they are like a sponge. Not to mention the old school tie that still works wonders, ensuring that high paying jobs are occupied by the ones who graduated from the most expensive private schools. 

Isn’t it interesting that the same system that is supposed to provide a safe and bright future to our children somehow prevents them from gaining all the skills they need to succeed in life? Is it fair to be unfair? 

How to make it in America? 

men sitting on the rooftop

The American Dream is not dead. Although only 23% of Americans still believe in the rags-to-riches myth, you can still make it in America! 

If you are a parent, make sure your kid is enrolled in a life skills class. To our dismay, only 1,000 schools provide critical life skill classes as part of their curriculum. These classes should become mandatory in all public schools. 

In a normal class, the teacher lectures for 30-40 minutes and not all the students are captivated by the subject, and many get bored and disengaged. During a life skill class, students are encouraged to work in groups and interact with their teacher. They learn communication skills, they improve their decision-making skills, they learn how to ask for help and how to resolve a conflict amicably. Life skill classes also help students set goals for themselves and make a plan for achieving those goals. This could lower the number of dropouts for sure. Did you know that every year more than 1.2 million children drop out of school? Without high school, the future employees are condemned to work on a low wage and will have to work longer hours to support themselves and their families. Economically speaking, it is cheaper to improve the employability of one student through life skill classes than to keep one person in prison. 

And because money comes slow and goes fast, make sure your kids receive a healthy financial education. Take your kids to an open faucet and show them how the water slips through their fingers. If they keep their hands and wallets always open, they’ll spend all their money. Then ask them to close their palm to form a cup and pour water into a glass of water. It will take time, but eventually, they will be able to fill that glass with water. The same happens when you save money - it will add up, slowly and steadily. We talk so much about “purchasing power” but never about the “saving power”. Isn’t that strange? 

We leave you three simple steps that will help you make it in America:

  1. DON’T LET YOUR GRADES DEFINE YOU! 

You are more than your grades. Grades don’t evaluate other abilities and talents that you’ve been endowed with. SAT scores are just a number. And as you will see, no two people work with the same numbers. 

  1. LEARN TO MANAGE YOUR MONEY FROM YOUR FIRST SALARY! 

Managing your money wisely from the first salary is something that most students don’t take seriously. When it comes to money, the sooner you start saving for a down payment, the better. Don’t be afraid to go against the current! Save when everybody is splurging. And don’t spend more than you can afford! Don’t bite more than you can chew! 

  1. BE CONTENT! - Contentment is the key to happiness. Stop comparing yourself to others! Quit comparing your kids with other kids! Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed with mom guilt! Tell yourself that you’re doing great and don’t try to get ahead of yourself. Enjoy the little things and plan for the bigger ones. 

When it comes to educating our children, the US spends thousands of dollars more than Finland - the happiest country on the planet  and the one most envied for its education system - despite the fact that it ranks only 14 among the richest countries, with a projected GDP per capita in 2019 of ,320, as provided by FocusEconomics. We sacrifice our happiness to make only ,586 more than Finland this year. And we also burden our children with a lot of homework, while Finnish students don’t know what that is. Wouldn’t it be nice if Homework was optional - no more than 15 minutes of recap or reading?  We have a lot to learn from the old continent that hosts the richest countries in the world: Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland. These countries also rank above the US in terms of life satisfaction. 

There are a lot of changes that could be made. Right as we write this, change already takes place. Good school districts mean real estate market, for sure, but homeschooling is also growing at an estimated 2% to 8% per year. How will our education system change in the future to cater to the new generation is still a mystery. What would you change to our education system? We would love to find out in the comments below! 

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