I never got the life talk.

Time to address the illusion of adulthood.

I am in my late twenties now. This is the responsible age. I can drive; drink; smoke; vote; I have a job; I have my own place; I take interest in Economics; I dabble in Politics. But the older I get, the more responsibilities I have, the more I realise, I never got the life talk!

It is as though we think that once you accumulate enough years, somehow miraculously you will be given a key to understanding the world. We all seem to live with this illusion.

We go through years of compulsory Maths and Science lessons when most of us will not directly ever make use of it; we even go so far as to learn about the past in History. Yet no one ever teaches us how to prepare for our own future. I am referring to knowledge that every single one of us regardless of our abilities will need, like what is a pension? How should we choose our bank? Or how to understand and dissect the policies of an elected government, who should we vote for? How to declare taxes? Economics and Politics might be as tedious to some as Science and Maths to others, but the simple fact is that they are an important part of everyday life. Basic understanding is necessary.

 

The numbers behind the story

I state clearly. It is a stretched assumption, but our lack of education on Politics during our high school years could be one of the reasons behind the political disengagement. Statistics reveal that voter turnout has been below 70% in most European countries during their last parliamentary elections (data according to Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA).

Just consider the following jargon being thrown around; ‘the deficit’, ‘quantitative easing’, or ‘monetary policy’. How many of us can actually in simple terms explain the financial crisis of 2008? Let alone realise it still has an impact on our job prospects today some eight years later? Perhaps our lack of education on personal finances, debt, and being ‘fiscally responsible’ is why the average household debt as a percentage of our net disposable income in Europe ranges from 50% in Eastern European countries, to as high as 300% in the Nordics (data according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD).

 

 ‘I am really glad I took that exam, I learnt so much!’ said no one…EVER

Focus appears to be on the individual (either over achievers or under achievers), with the best of intentions but not always the best outcome. Perhaps if more focus went to the class as a whole in schools, more discussions were encouraged, rather than cramming for exams. Then more of us could leave school with a better understanding of society, how it works and where we fit in, as opposed to the current unspoken system of ‘you’ll figure it out.’

 

Things are changing.

This has left a gap and it seems some companies are quick to capitalise on it. Barclays, a bank in the UK is offering ‘life skill lessons for your teenager’, while start-ups like Tynker, provide fun ways to teach coding to children as young as four. Some governmental departments are also starting to address these issues. The IRS, the US equivalent of Skatteverket, has produced material for teachers and students ‘uncovering the mystery behind taxes’, while the  Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the UK is producing teaching materials to disseminate information about financial planning and saving for later life. Also, a national curriculum has been rolled out across England in the form of Citizenship classes with the aim of making students more politically aware. In Australia Citizenship classes include lessons on Human Rights and fair-trade.

The private sector filling in the gap is welcomed, but there is a risk it will alienate those who cannot afford their services, while the initiatives by governments are overshadowed by their slow adoption and are not compulsory for all schools. But both are a promising start.

 

What does this mean for us?

During my research I was very pleased to see that the education system is changing and adapting to the current state of affairs in most countries. This should help build tolerance, inform and engage more of us in political and societal matters. But for us, the boat has sailed. For those of us interested in these topics, we have to actively seek the information. Magazines like The Economist provide clever and witty articles about the world in digestible weekly bites. Videos on the Financial Times website provide fantastic overviews in as little as three minutes, and a few clicks on any governmental website will give you a wealth of information.

My name is Lizan Kawa, I am currently doing my Phd in Neurotrauma. I am extremely interested in Politics and Economics, something I missed out on during my formal education but I am actively attempting to engage in now. Hence, I will attempt to write some blogs discussing some topics I feel are particularly important and what they mean for us. Stay tuned.

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