I am certain there is one in every country. In South Africa, it is called Life Orientation. It is a subject which is, in essence, supposed to teach you to become a healthy and balanced individual. It covers sex education, career guidance, social skills and physical education. Life Orientation, much like communism, looks far better on paper.
This compulsory class has the noble aspiration of teaching us all to be well rounded, functioning members of society. I have been force-fed this subject for over eight years and I think I can summarize everything I have learnt into these (obvious?) points:
- Don’t have sex
- Don’t do drugs
- Eat healthy and exercise
- Get a job
As you may notice, this really does not teach me much on how to live my life nobly and well. The same over-spoken words are droned back to us year after year, term after term and day after day. The teachers are uninspired and those jokes they try to sell as textbooks are poorly researched and hold no appeal to their target market.
Again: whatever you call and whatever part of your school career you had to endure this in, is this starting to sound familiar?
I detest the fact that I have to waste three lessons per week in this subject. I loathe that I am examined on it, and that those results will go on my high school diploma. I shudder at the thought that I am even graded on how fast I can run or how many balls I can throw in a minute.
If given the opportunity, I believe I could create an exponentially more inspiring and worthwhile Life Orientation course (one that would actually orientate you for life). You see, I am a teenager who (like many of my peers) has no clue how to function as an independent adult. While I am sure we will figure it out eventually, this wondering does deal as a large portion of unnecessary anxiety.
So, without further ado, here is my version of how life orientation should look:
- Sex Education revisited: We all know what condoms are. We all know what HIV/AIDS is. We all know how straight people go about their business. I want Life Orientation that teaches everyone the proper, polite definitions of homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality (among others). I want a sex education that teaches me about healthy gender identity and terms such as non-binary and transgender.
- How to pay for stuff and not die: I know this isn’t accounting, but someone needs to teach us the basics of personal finance. Possible lesson plans could include: how to budget our monthly salary, how to choose a bank account, how to do taxes (I am four months away from legally being an adult and I don’t really think I know what taxes actually are) and how to pay bills.
- Life after high school: What does it feel like to move away from home and be on your own for the first time? None of us really know that and maybe it would be helpful if someone taught us.
- Religion and spirituality: My life orientation textbook from last year was attempting to teach (through childish cartoons) that people who do not follow religion are evil alcoholics with bad friends. I know better, but maybe some people don’t. We need a Life Orientation which teaches us about all beliefs, INCLUDING atheism. Understanding each other stops us from hating each other. We need a teacher that explains that spirituality does not equal religion and that each individual may find spirituality in their own way.
- Health: If you are going to mark us on physical education, at least be reasonably intelligent about it. Do something practical which promotes health and happiness. Don’t count how many balls I can catch. Teach us how to look after our bodies in a sustainable, manageable way. Teach us to reach our goals and teach us long lasting technique.
Right now Life Orientation is being squandered in ignorance, old fashioned mentalities and ridiculous teachers. It has the potential to be a powerful, important part of any teenager’s education, but it is simply not.