Useful subjects that we wished we had studied in school (but hadn't)

The biggest complaint that students have when it comes to school subjects is: “Will I really use it when I grow up?”.

When you look at topics like algebra in Mathematics or personal recounts in English, it does seem like students might not get much mileage out of them in the real world. After all, most people deal with actual numerical digits for everyday maths, and you’re not likely to be writing personal recounts unless you’re a blogger (which is a tough career to embark on).

So here are some other subjects that students (and adults) wished they’d learnt in school. You could major in some of these subjects in university, but sometimes you’d just like to be exposed to them when you were younger so you’d know how much you like them.

1. Financial literacy

Unless you’ve made a dedicated effort to learn about stocks and shares, investments, and money management, you’re probably not going to finish your education with a solid foundation in financial literacy. At best, you’d learn about the compounding effect of interest in Mathematics – but without the involvement of real money and decision-making of consequence, such lessons aren’t going to stick.

A dedicated subject for financial literacy, complete with a modest budget to experiment with concepts like compounded interest, dollar-cost averaging, and diversification of investments goes a long way in helping students manage their money from a young age.

2. Entrepreneurship

Younger students may not understand the word “entrepreneurship”, but many of them have thought about ways to earn money (and by a corollary, running a business) even at a young age. But, as most adults know, there’s more to entrepreneurship than just having a good idea.

Running a business takes much more than that: accounting for overheads, paying salaried employees, and checking your P&L (Profit and Loss, or balance sheets). Students may not understand these at a young age, but exposing them to such ideas means that they won’t be shocked if they decide to become entrepreneurs as adults. SMEs are the life-blood of the country, and we should address the idea that many students are going to grow up to become entrepreneurs or small business owners.

3. Ancient History (like Greece, Rome, or even Ancient Singapore)

Quick – can you name the five kings of the ancient Kingdom of Singapura? Most people can name Sang Nila Utama, but the kings who succeeded him were (in order): Seri Wikram Wira, Seri Rana Wikrama, Seri Maharaja, and Iskandar Shah. After that, our island was invaded by external forces and came to prominence again only when Sir Stamford Raffles visited us.

The point is that these interesting historical facts may not have immediate real world applications, but they’re interesting. That means that they’ll cultivate the interest in learning and the spirit of inquiry (one of the MOE Science syllabus’ aims); these will help students appreciate learning as an end in itself. Although education has an instrumental value in adult life, sometimes we forget that we should get students interested in learning for its own sake, rather than trying to see a monetary outcome from everything they study. As reassurance, a giant of our era did say that connecting the dots sometimes come later!

4. Pedagogy/Teaching skills

This may sound like something teachers study at NIE (since they’re teaching, after all), but some students actually do practise this. For example, some lessons give students the opportunity to take charge of a topic and teach other students about it. Students who have younger siblings may find themselves tutoring their younger brothers or sisters in subjects they are stronger in. Basically, any time a student has to impart knowledge to others, they’re applying pedagogical techniques.

So why not formalise it as a subject in school? Some universal techniques apply, such as providing guided examples, scaffolding, and engaging learners. By equipping students with the skills to teach others, we’ll be showing them how best they can help others with their own expertise. At the very least, students can utilise this when they teach their parents about social media.

5. Public speaking and presentations

English lessons already have an oral component (and students are tested on their descriptive and conversational skills in exams), but sometimes that doesn’t feel sufficient when it comes to presentations and public speaking skills. The number of enrichment courses that teach public speaking is testament to this inadequacy, and articulateness can be nurtured.

That being said, students could be given more chances to give presentations or speeches about topics they are passionate about. Not everyone will excel, but at least they’d have put in the practice necessary to nurture such skills.

6. Resumé writing and interview skills

Primary students may not be looking for part-time or holiday employment, but some secondary students will. This is where resumé writing and interview skills will come in handy. It’s one thing to have a lot of experience, but it’s another thing to present it in a form that will appeal to prospective employers.

It may seem like something that’s only applicable to tertiary education students, but let’s look at it more carefully. Scholarship applications, appeals to schools, and non-academic opportunities may very well hinge on a student’s resume writing and interview skills. Even primary school students will need to know how to present themselves in an interview if they’re applying to a secondary school via the DSA. So why not teach them these skills in a class setting so they’ll benefit from it?