Every year hundreds of thousands of Jamaican teenagers leave fifth and sixth form without much financial or social know-how. They graduate in pomp but don't know much about taxes, barely understand how our democracy works, and don't know much about life and health insurance, saving or investing.
As it is currently, the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE)/Life Skills component of most schools' curriculum focuses squarely (and barely) on sexual and reproductive health by encouraging teens to abstain from sexual intercourse indefinitely. Basic business and financial literacy skills are reserved for those students who will sit business subjects in external exams, barring all those who choose the sciences and the arts. So a student who does biology, chemistry and physics in CSEC will very likely leave high school without knowing how to compose a solid résumé.
It's time for a change.
Financial literacy and social know-how programmes should be standard in all Jamaican high schools in order to ensure that every Jamaican high school graduate is well-equipped for their lives after secondary school. Education is, after all, the great equalizer. While schools cannot ensure that every high school graduate goes home to a loving, stable household with all the standard amenities and resources of an 'uptown' upper class family, schools can, and should, give students from middle and lower class backgrounds access to information that may transform their lives and give them a good head start for the future.
A good education must be more than rote learning and forced deference to surly teachers, because the world beyond our classrooms requires more than that.
The real world requires sound decision making skills. The real world requires good conflict management. Thriving in the real world requires self-confidence that doesn't border on barefaced arrogance. The real world requires genuine partnership and collaboration between persons of different sexes, ages, races, colours and abilities, that isn't premised on being forced to defer to the other because of either of these things.
The real world, for example, outside of specialized schools and gender segregated schools, includes persons who are disabled. It is absolutely necessary that schools make reasonable efforts to prepare their students that are able bodied to function well alongside persons who are not, and not just special schools doing it the other way around.
And if schools can teach or otherwise preach school spirit and national pride to varying degrees of success, what of sensitivity and compassion training? We have normalized studying foreign languages, art and art history, as well as music and drama – all of which are great subjects I personally enjoy – but why have we been unable or unwilling to introduce sign language courses as part of our schools' curricula? The average student of average means is more likely to encounter a mute or deaf person than they are to visit France or Spain, after all. What about tackling mental illness and physical disabilities?
Now more than ever, teens and children are asking questions and trying to understand the world around them. It's not just a global world, it's also a diverse world. Prepare us for it.
There is more to be done.