9 Ways the Education System Fails to Prepare Kids for Life

By Robert Holmes

Feb 18

There are some significant challenges facing today’s young person that they are just not prepared for. Our parenting goes some way toward helping them, but as parents we rely deeply on the education system for the rest. Unfortunately, the education system is not designed to prepare people for life, at least not life as we have it today.

The Western “education system” (classes, tables, chairs, a teacher at the front and subjects in streams) was created for an entirely different era, with totally different needs than we have today. The current education system harks back to the Ango-Saxons who established the first British King’s School 597. Think about a world dominated by poverty, sickness, ignorance, slavery, fiefdoms and castles. After a rudimentary primary education kids went into apprenticeships at 12 or 13.

The system as it was then hasn’t changed much. Grasping English, Maths and Science, Latin, Religious Studies and Weaponry (nowadays Sport) might have still worked in 18thC rural America as wagon trains crossed the Wild West. They might even have worked in the penal colony of 19thC Australia. But is it really relevant to succeeding in life today? Is it really what parents and educators want?

Jaemin was placed on hold while trying to reach a school principal recently and was fascinated by the recorded message on the answering machine. It boldly declared that this school was all about more than just education, it was focused on equipping young people for life. He just couldn’t buy it. Whilst the school is full of great teachers who are passionate about this very thing, the education system actively works against this intention and continues to pump out students who are totally ill equipped for life. We know it, because they become our coaching clients!

9 ways the education system fails to prepare kids for life:

  1. It is about downloading the right information and learning the right answers.
  2. It is about what to think not how to think.
  3. The subjects are archaic. It is built to fix a medieval problem not a postmodern one.
  4. It rewards selective excellence. Academic and sporting achievement are not the most useful things to solve the world’s major economic, environmental and cultural challenges.
  5. It attaches people’s identity to their ability to perform to a predetermined, externally measured, standard. If you can perform you are good, if you can’t perform you are bad.
  6. Those who can meet the expectations of the system in the first years of school seem to be the ones that continue in this space for the whole of their schooling life, while those who don’t fit in at the beginning will struggle to fit in at all. The die is cast very early on and there is very little room to change your fate.
  7. It is excessively focused on left brain logic, ignores right brained skills like communication, negotiation, instinct and totally ignores intra-hemispheric training.
  8. Time management is valued and promoted over energy management.
  9. The system is built on fear and control. Kids are told that the only avenue to success is within the system. If you don’t go to university and continue in the system you will be a failure.

OK, so admitting it is broken is one thing. So what? Complaining won’t solve the problem! What we need is a solution, a fresh alternative. Some people take the education of their kids into their own hands, and start homeschooling. This is admirable, but the downside of homeschooling is that you are going to reproduce exactly what’s inside you – and you were trained in that system – everything you know and had modelled to you was based on that system. Believe me, we’ve tried it. Rob and his wife ran their kids through home school for six years and in effect they produced a mini school.

Well then, maybe we should enroll our kids in a Montessori school or the like? It’s right out of the box… no classes, child independence, a sense of self-worth, an enriched learning environment… heck it sounds great. Maybe that is a step in the right direction? But building a network of private schools is expensive, and so is the equipment they “have” to use in their “unstructured” approach!

Of course the pinnacle of an outcome for us would be a movement that drives to the heart of the education system – something that transforms schools as we know them, integrating foundational life skills and a capacity for children to flourish through learning that is intrinsically relevant to a postmodern world.

Until such a movement is started or emerged, we believe parents and teachers alike should be encouraged to develop themselves personally and professionally so they can facilitate the student’s learning in these nine areas:

  1. Thought leadership: Can you think for yourself instead of simply being able to reproduce information that is given to you?
  2. Capacity to question: Can you ask high quality questions instead of just knowing all the right answers?
  3. Internal referencing: Are you developing a sense of self, independent from performance, relationships and possessions, instead of defining yourself by your grades, scores, awards and trophies?
  4. Self-esteem: Are you facing up to life instead of running away from the results you keep producing?
  5. Resilience: How resilient are you? Have you been programmed for a fixed mindset, or are you flexible and agile in your responses?
  6. Internal conversations: Are your beliefs/stories serving you? Have you examined them and do you work on them so you can improve?
  7. Resourcefulness: How resourcefully are you meeting your needs? Sure your needs are being met, but is there a better, more productive, satisfying, safe way of meeting those needs?
  8. Interpersonal skills: How healthy are your relationships? Can you communicate, negotiate and assert your needs?
  9. Self-management: How well can you manage your state? Do you take responsibility for how you are or do you let life circumstances determine your outcomes?

Frazer Holmes Coaching have been experimenting on these ideas by working in schools and with educators directly. We have worked with principals and heads of departments, training teachers and school leaders like the captains and prefects. We’ve been sending coaches into schools to work with year groups and classrooms too. These are the issues which turn up, these are the conversations we have, these are the challenges youth face and they are not being handled by “the system”.

While we are seeing profound outcomes from the programs we deliver, we believe the students would be much better served if these nine concepts were part of the education package from the outset. Even more so, if they were embedded deep within our parenting and conversations outside of school.

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About the Author

Robert is an expert in the science of human behaviour and performance enhancement with a passion for neurology, leadership and the psychology of potential. He believes it is important to bring hard science to coaching, and that coaching practices be evidence based and research backed. Robert is a founding partner at Frazer, Holmes Coaching and current Director of Brand and Marketing for the International Coach Federation Australasia (ICFA). Robert is a professionally certified coach (PCC) with over 20 years of business experience and an ICF Accredited Mentor Coach. He is an Associate at the National Speaker's Association, a member of the Coaching Psychology interest group at the APS, a certified Action Learning Coach, a Member of the Australian Institute of Management Consultants.