Number four in the Introductory series: Keep learning

Why don’t they teach it in schools? Consider the following instruction: “Pierce onion with bay leaf, infuse milk; add to basic roux to form béchamel sauce; pour over blanched brassicas”. At one time, this would have been as commonplace a piece of jargon in the kitchen as “Remove outer packaging and pierce film lid”.

This might not be strictly true, but the point is that many skills that were once considered such a necessary part of running a home and bringing up a family have been relegated to the position of “professional knowledge” or the language of an esoteric hobby. Passing knowledge from one to generation to the next was entirely necessary to survival for so much of our human existence. But then came the printing press, then the industrial revolution and then the internet. With so many household chores being outsourced or mechanised – or simply available at a few strokes of a tiny flat screen - the need or inclination to spend time teaching the upcoming generation how to suck eggs has diminished drastically.

It isn’t just the passing of knowledge to our children that has suffered. So much of our modern life is run behind the scenes that most of us find ourselves divvying up the mental tasks of remembering how to do stuff. Like the tuning of the TV. The home network. The heating controls. (“Yes I see that the milk on your flakes of corn has frozen solid but Mummy’s away and I don’t know the password for the remote control device that would allow me to turn up the temperature on the boiler that is right in front of me.” This leaves us feeling vulnerable in all sorts of areas of our lives and, rather than address the gaps in our knowledge, we have simply written them off as unattainable.

Managing our money is undoubtedly one such area – along with basic cooking skills – and there is a temptation to place responsibility for this situation anywhere but at home. Schools are often cited as the ideal place to teach these life skills – and, in the case of cookery (sorry, Food Tech), some limited inroads are made in the early years of secondary education. But we have to be realistic. We also seem to want our schools to provide children with solid academic qualifications, a decent amount of physical education, world awareness and respect for others. Furthermore, in the last decade or so, teachers have been expected to join the fight against extremism in all its forms, to say nothing of keeping up with the fast-moving world of technology. Where, in previous generations, pupils might have had the luxury of learning how to sew on a button or knock up a key rack, now that “extra” period in the timetable is taken up with tutorials on staying safe online or learning how to build a website. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement in the national curriculum, but our education system is too big and important a beast to shake up on a whim every time something in the world changes, so perhaps we have to look closer to home when it comes to teaching some of those life skills that we, ourselves, are lacking.

Think about how you feel when news about the financial markets comes on the TV or radio. There have been some very real attempts in recent years by financial journalists to provide easy-to-understand explanations about specific monetary events; and yet, the fact remains that, for a great many people, at the very sound of the words “quantitative easing” or “mortgage-backed securities” a switch in their brains flicks to “off”.  (“Mum, Dad, I need vast quantities of shredded scrap paper for my giant panda stuffing project.” “Here child, have the Business section.”) Quite often we feel that, if it is a subject that we weren’t formally taught at school, then it is closed forever to us. This is compounded by the knowledge that some banking professionals are paid astronomical salaries: so the knowledge they possess must be very valuable and they must be incredibly clever, right? Well, it is true that some financial instruments are fiendishly complicated, but there is no reason to write the whole subject off because of that. When you start to learn a foreign language, you don’t allow yourself to be deterred by the fact that you can’t (and probably never will be able to) translate the entire works of Shakespeare. Small steps are the key to building knowledge and accepting that the path is not a straight one from A to B, but more of an ongoing accumulation of miles.

Being part of The WoWW! Business is all about lifelong learning. As with any subject, if you can make it personal and relevant to you, learning more about the world of finance and how to manage money effectively will hold greater appeal. The next time the Chancellor makes a Budget announcement, make an attempt to listen to it all the way through and then test yourself on what you remember. The chances are that the bits that stick are the bits that bear relation to your own circumstances. Income tax rates, personal allowances, tax on beer, cigarettes, inheritance tax thresholds, state pension levels…. these are all things that people tune into because they have a direct effect on their pocket.

We encourage people to harness that principle: of paying attention to financial matters in the news when it is relevant to them; and then gradually widening their interest so as to chip away at their fear of the subject. Immerse yourself in the language slowly – start with topics that are familiar, such as sales trends in high street stores or the price of gas or electricity. You will be surprised at how much financial information is actually quite simplistic: a warm winter means that sales of winter coats and usage of gas and electricity will be down, so share prices in companies that provide these might fall. True, some of the jargon can be offputting, but once you realise that it is usually just short hand for ideas and principles that follow common sense rules, your confidence will grow and you will be using the jargon yourself.

Research leads us to believe that continuing to take an active interest in all areas of life is important for our wellbeing – indeed, “Keep learning” is number four in the 5 Ways to Wellbeing programme that The WoWW! Business is mirroring. We need to start viewing schools as springboards for our lifelong quest for knowledge and betterment, rather than the start and finish of our education. If we can achieve this, it will be one lesson that we pass onto the next generation that will set them up life.

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