What Life Orientation should teach

Some friends and I were discussing our tax situations the other day and my son was listening in, and he suddenly said, ‘Must I register as a tax payer?’

Good question. He’s 19 and working in his first fulltime job, for which he earns a pittance. ‘I’m not sure,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what the minimum earnings are for you to have to register.’

‘Pity they didn’t cover that in Life Orientation at school,’ he muttered, ‘rather than shoving comparative religion and safe sex down our throats for 12 years.’

This gave rise to an interesting discussion about all the necessary life skills that aren’t covered in Life Orientation at school – taxes (if Abraham Lincoln is to be believed, the only certainty in life other than death) being one of them. In spite of the fact that many of them are going to go on to become taxpayers, our kids aren’t taught anything about the South African tax system at school.

The simple act of opening a bank account is another vital life skill that isn’t taught. I’m sure many schoolkids have bank accounts by the time they matriculate, but what about those who don’t? Shouldn’t they be guided through a few of the basics – the most obvious being that when they do go and open their first bank account, they’d better remember to have a utility bill with them for FICA, otherwise they won’t accomplish a thing.

How to survive the traffic department

And what about buying their first car? Our local traffic department could easily double as Dante’s first circle of hell, in which many people spend countless hours filling in forms, then yet more filling in the right forms, queuing, being sent to other counters, queuing again, and being forced to return the next day with the right documents and then queuing again.

Surely this whole painful process could be streamlined and speeded up if our kids were taught at school what buying a car involves: what forms to fill in, how to get a roadworthy, how much licensing costs, that kind of thing. (And, as an aside, what if they need finance for their first car – how does that work?)

Then there’s buying property – something we all hope our children will be able to do at some stage in their lives. Again, wouldn’t it be helpful if they were taught about deposits, contracts, registering property at the deeds office, the taxes and duties that must be paid, how long registration takes, what occupational interest means, and so on?

And onwards from that, there’s all the bureaucracy that has to be handled once we’ve successfully bought our first home: what rates and taxes are, how they’re paid, what they’re used for, how water and electricity are billed, et cetera.

Our government has for some years been enthusiastically pushing the idea that every South African should have some sort of financial retirement plan in place – but how do you go about this? Shouldn’t our children have some idea of the way money works – short- and/or long-term investments, property and/or stocks and shares, how much they should put away each month, and so on?

And there are countless other minor life skills that I think should be taught in Life Orientation at school: how to change a car tyre; basic first aid; basic household management, including budgeting; what owning a pet entails; how to drive and look after a car…

What would you add to the Life Orientation curriculum?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne
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