This world is a big scary place. Adulting is hard. The movies make it look easy. They lie. But fear not, because that\u2019s the point of school, right? School is supposed to prepare us for the real world. But does it? In Real Life asked everyday Malaysians what they think. Did the Malaysian education system prepare them for the big bad world? If no, what do they wish they learned in school, but did not? Of the many answers we received, here are 5 that kept popping up: 1. Critical thinking The majority of the participants in our survey cited critical thinking as something our education system failed to teach them. Critical thinking is the ability to take the facts in front of us, analyse them, and then transform them into a judgement. It is important in problem solving, which is an important skill in the workplace, and also necessary to get through life. \u201cThe education system did not encourage us to think critically,\u201d shared Sara. \u201cThe answers were all in the book, and given the focus on the As, it is no wonder that many of us just blindly memorised. And it worked. It got us the As, but how does the As help with our analytical skills?\u201d Eugene added, \u201cI think critical thinking is very important in being able to sift through the news and separate fact from bullshit. We also need to be able to weigh different opinions and recognise nuance too.\u201d Picture credit: Hunters Race @ Unsplash 2. Sex education Most of Malaysia\u2019s sex education boils down to two questions: One, where do babies come from? Two, how do we prevent babies from coming? But basic biology isn\u2019t enough. What about consent, safe sex, and birth control? \u201cTwo years into my marriage, and I was using a condom wrong,\u201d quipped Carmen. \u201cNobody told me you\u2019re supposed to pinch the tip before rolling the condom down. Otherwise, the condom might break!\u201d This study from the University of Washington found that teens who were taught sex education were less likely to get pregnant out of wedlock than teens who were taught abstinence. That\u2019s because they learnt about the importance of condoms, how to put them on, and other key information that no adult will tell them. Baby dumping cases in Malaysia are so common, it\u2019s become a basic fact of society. Astro Awani reported that 14 out of every 1,000 underage girls get pregnant every year. That adds up to 18,000 teen pregnancies a year. Malaysian society collective judges girls who go through teenage pregnancy. \u201cShe\u2019s a bad daughter.\u201d \u201cThis is what happens when you\u2019re lacking faith.\u201d \u201cShe will turn out to be a waste of society.\u201d But many of these cases are girls who fall victim due to being young, and have been sexually taken advantage of. They are unable to seek help because of the stigma. With nowhere to turn, they do the unthinkable: dumping the baby. So the trade off is: Comprehensive sex education: Teens having sex, but less unwanted babies. Abstinence sex education: Teens having sex, but more unwanted babies. Which do you prefer? 3. Mental health\u00a0 \u201cBack in school, there was a 1-day exhibition on stress management,\u201d reminisced Liza. \u201cIt was in the school hall, near the exam period. As far as I can remember, that was the only time we were taught about mental health.\u201d In Asia, mental health still isn\u2019t considered a \u2018real\u2019 issue. Liza mentioned how she had a senior manager tell her that depression is something only rich people have time to get. \u201cHe was really disparaging of people who have it. And this man has kids!\u201d The stigma is real. We need to recognise the signs, to watch out for each other\u2019s mental health. Awareness is important. Schools need spaces where kids can talk about feelings and emotions in a healthy manner. A study published by the Malaysian Ministry of Health in 2018 revealed that Malaysian teens aged 13 to 17 are suffering critically from mental health problems. The same survey showed that 10% of these teenagers had suicidal thoughts. Here\u2019s the part that doesn\u2019t get talked about often enough: Those depressed Malaysian teenagers eventually become depressed Malaysian adults. Yes, depression doesn\u2019t magically disappear when you become an adult. People just get better at hiding the symptoms in order to look presentable. 4. Soft skills \u201cNo man is an island,\u201d John Donne once said. Every job requires communication with the community we serve. We need other people for support and to thrive. The Khazanah Research Institute published a report on young Malaysians who are transitioning to an office job. They\u2019d found that employers actually rated soft skills as more important than professional qualifications. My friend Wilson commented, \u201cThe system glorifies paper tests and sidelines soft skills. It\u2019s dehumanising. There are so many other facets of being human apart from exam results. This is why we don\u2019t have empathy in society.\u201d \u201cWe had oral tests and group projects, but they did not add any marks to our final SPM cert,\u201d voiced Carmen. Without soft skills being measured, how will students learn to work together as a team? Picture credit: Mimi Thian @ Unsplash 5. Real-life application of knowledge \u201cWhat isn\u2019t measured is ignored.\u201d Sure, we know that the square root of 9 is 3, but how does that actually help us in our day-to-day life? Remember this? Me neither. We compile all these seemingly useless facts in our head, yet there is a disconnect between the head knowledge and their practical application. Vanessa told me, \u201cGeography was a wasted opportunity because we could have connected it with history and geopolitics. It was an opportunity to learn why conflicts between countries and regions happen.\u201d \u201cScience and maths, especially, could directly be applied to real life. For example, there is a correlation between hot weather and lack of trees, traffic jams and the number of people in each private vehicle, and rate of inflation on school canteen food prices.\u201d \u201cInstead of Pendidikan Moral, we could have had cultural studies which correlate with history. That would give us a chance to learn how events from our past, like the British and Japanese occupation, have shaped us.\u201d \u201cThese could be further tied to how western advertising and media has influenced us in Malaysia.\u201d \u201cThat\u2019s not the end of it. There\u2019s financial literacy from accounts. Health literacy from Pendidikan Jasmani. Our syllabus has so much potential!\u201d Our education system is long overdue for a revamp Everyone agrees that our education system requires a revamp. Here are some ways to improve it: 1 ) Project-based learning \u201cWe need more project-based learning,\u201d observed Ignatius. \u201cFor example, we could teach students how to plan an event or launch a project. The sky's the limit.\u201d Carmen agreed, \u201cThat\u2019s true. Right now, we have only co-curriculum activities. Everybody is supposed to participate, but only a handful of students end up running the show.\u201d Project-based learning teaches critical thinking, independence, communication skills, and resourcefulness. Besides, when a large percentage of the score comes from these projects, there is less pressure to perform one-off during exams. The problem with project-based learning is that it\u2019s harder to grade than exams. Picture credit: Headway @ Unsplash 2) Sexual health & mental health lessons in schools Liza expressed, \u201cIncorporate mental and sexual health education into the school syllabus, but leave religion and morals out of it.\u201d If the lessons are tied to religion or have a \u2018moral agenda\u2019 behind it, this might land the kid in an undesirable psychological state. For example, teaching that having sex is a sin, will make a kid feel ashamed for touching their own bodies. They will be less likely to reach out to authority figures for advice, worried about judgement. Especially if the kid already has mental health struggles, or has been sexually abused. School counselors and nurses should be trained to handle mental health queries without judgement. They should only direct the children to the correct resources when necessary. Such services should be made known to children directly. The children should feel safe approaching these trained professionals. 3) Engage the help of the private sector Joh Anne quipped, \u201cWe already have PPP (Public Private Partnership) and that\u2019s great. There are many private firms currently contributing, but there\u2019s room for so much more.\u201d \u201cAlliance bank has an initiative that teaches school kids financial literacy. Nestle teaches rural kids to eat healthy.\u201d \u201cBut each company can only contribute that much, so we need more private firms to participate.\u201d Aeiou challenge season 6 Credit: www.alliancebank.com.my Nelly added, \u201cAfter Form 5, I did my A-levels overseas. For our Civic lesson, we invited a jazz band. We listened to them and identified when a solo happened. We were then taught to applaud at the right moment to appreciate the soloist\u2019s performance.\u201d \u201cThis knowledge didn\u2019t help us make more money in the future, but it hopefully nurtured a society that will do more than slave and buy and waste.\u201d \u201cIt\u2019ll be great if Malaysia could include something like that in our syllabus.\u201d 4) Allow more vocational studies without stigma We can\u2019t grade a fish on climbing a tree, but put the fish in water and wait to watch it shine. Likewise, not all of us are academically inclined. We each have our personal talents and strengths that deserve to be honed. Remove the stigma from vocational schools or subjects. Stop seeing vocational studies as alternatives, and start seeing them as viable choices. \u201cThere is no avenue for people to excel in vocational subjects and feel a sense of self-worth and empowerment. Instead, they feel left behind by the education system,\u201d said Vanessa. \u201cEveryone knows the premier schools, but can anyone name a vocational school that you would aspire to go to?\u201d \u201cPersonally, although I had strong academic results, I truly derive joy from working with my hands, like making clothes for example. However, I had to get a white-collar job because I got good grades.\u201d \u201cKemahiran Hidup felt like a wasted opportunity. I made a buzzy thing, and that was it!\u201d Perhaps, vocational studies have a stigma because blue-collar labour is less valued by our Malaysian society. Or maybe, the education system shaped our culture. Picture credit: J Williams @ Unsplash 5) Abolish vernacular school system Our current system of vernacular schools has gone through heated debates. But hear me out. Malaysia is a melting pot of races, cultures and religions. Therefore, it does not serve us to bull through life with a narrow worldview, ignorant of the other communities. \u201cI have a friend from the Chinese school system. She offered a Muslim friend of ours non-halal meat,\u201d mentioned Eugene. \u201cShe didn\u2019t know that meat other than pork can be non-halal." This is just one example of how the current vernacular school system segregates us. The results are adults who are completely ignorant of cultures other than their own, and struggle to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. Research has shown that a diverse workforce leads to varied perspectives, and hence increased creativity and productivity. To flourish, we have to learn from each other and integrate into one. This starts from childhood, and the vernacular system does not help that. Author\u2019s thoughts To be honest, I truly benefited from my time in the government school system. Nonetheless, I must stress that I was loud with thick skin, elbowed my way through school, and gleaned advantage from as many school activities as I could. I also grew up in Petaling Jaya among the privileged, where our parents could afford books, internet connection, and Astro. This expanded our worldviews, and we in turn fed off each other. Therefore, I admit that my experience might not be representative of everybody who has been through the national school system. There appears to be a large spectrum, and environment seems to be the key. Having said that, no matter what our experience has been, we must acknowledge that education directly affects national prosperity. As such, improving our education system should be a continuous conversation. For more stories like this, read: I Was Bullied in An SRJK(C) School Because I Was A Banana and Public School Vs. Private School - What Are The Pros And Cons? To get new stories from IRL, follow us on Facebook & Instagram. Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life\u2019s sentiments.