Written by Hani Thapa
Illustrated by Prince Pretzl
Transitioning from early to (nearly) mid-twenties throughout this pandemic has been emotionally unpredictable. I’ve had all sorts of existential thoughts: feeling lost, hopeful, then lost again. On the one hand, I’m grateful to have surpassed the turbulent teenage years; on the other, I yearn for my younger days, irrationally panicking about running out of time, despite still being in my youth.
I entered my twenties while I was at university and it was a time of immense change. I was learning about myself and the world for what felt like the first time, feeling totally inadequate to be independent. I’m certainly proud of my younger self, but there are many things I wish I was prepared for so that being an adult felt less like a baptism of fire.
Following on from these thoughts, I came up with 5 things that I wish I was taught before my 20’s:
How to vote
1 in 10 Brits wished they had been taught about how the government works at school. So, when I say how to vote, I don’t mean going to a polling station or registering for a postal and proxy vote, although this is important too. I’m referring to making an informed decision by learning about the political parties, where to access the information, how our vote will affect our community – especially the most vulnerable. The extent of my political education at school was listening to our constituency’s Conservative MP deliver a speech about his duties.
At 18, I cast my first vote in the 2015 general election, having done a quick Google search of tactical voting, wondering whether my vote would even make a difference. Although I’m now confident of my political stance, each time I have to vote I still feel a familiar panic, overwhelmed by the responsibility of making this decision. In the US, CIRCLE concluded that it would be impossible to encourage youth turnout without addressing the educational gaps; political education is crucial to change and I wish schools armed us with this information before releasing us into the world.
Climate change is imminent
Instead of learning about what lakes and oceans simply exist, I wish my geography lessons had taught me about how these lakes and oceans and in turn, human life, will cease to exist as we know it within our lifetime. Encompassing both anti-racist and feminist struggle, the climate crisis is complex and in my experience, it can be challenging to learn about independently due to the scientific jargon. The current climate justice movement is rooted in youth activism and school strikes. The younger generations are often perceived as catalysts for change but our curriculum fails us. For this prophecy to be realised, we need to be taught about real-life issues at school, especially a threat as imminent as climate change.
Academia isn’t everything
At school, we are encouraged to pursue further education and once we graduate, we are thrust into a culture of workism. Throughout my education, I wholeheartedly believed that achieving high grades and attending university would determine whether I could get a “good” job, unaware that employers preached “experience!” or that ethnic minorities are less likely to get a graduate job compared to our white counterparts. Evidently, academics aren’t everything and I’m beginning to understand that perceiving jobs as being “good” or “bad” is reductive and irrelevant in building a life that’s purposeful and enjoyable. I’m not suggesting that school and work aren’t important, they are, but to me, the education that occurs outside of these settings, is invaluable.
Being creative is powerful and fun
I agree with the 16.7% of people aged 16-24, who felt they should have been taught technical creativity, such as graphic design, at school. Looking back, I wish creativity was championed with the same enthusiasm as academia is. GCSE textiles, one of the few creative options available at my school, was undoubtedly my favourite subject because it allowed me to express myself in a unique way. The process of learning a craft is often slow and challenging; it taught me to be patient and value the privilege of learning something new. It is only recently, at times when I have struggled with my mental health that I’ve appreciated the power of creativity and the way that writing poetry or painting can often be liberating.
Periods are more than just bleeding a few days a month
I recently learnt that people who bleed are on a constant cycle and there are phases to this cycle that impact our mood, our mental and physical wellbeing, our gut health and so much more. Periods are essentially at the centre of life but it is still taboo, with 48% of girls feeling embarrassed by their periods, according to Plan UK, and period poverty keeping girls out of education in the UK and across the globe. I started my period at 13, not truly knowing what I was experiencing because my period education at school consisted of watching a brief video with only the girls in our year. Perhaps if this education was inclusive of girls and boys, there’d be less stigma around periods which is as natural to many of us as breathing.
While I do wish I had been taught these lessons during my teenage years, there are some incredible organisations campaigning now with the aim to diversify school education here in the UK. The ‘Teach The Future’ campaign has started a petition for climate education to be made a priority in schools. Free Periods’ mission is to destigmatise periods and they have campaigned to make sanitary products freely accessible in schools. The Black Curriculum has an ongoing campaign to make Black British history mandatory in the national curriculum. Finally, Our Streets Now have launched their new campaign, Our Schools Now, to educate students about public sexual harassment.
Hani Thapa is an English Literature graduate based in Surrey, UK. She most recently worked in the public sector and is currently focusing on growing her writing experience. Hani has recently started a blog – her personal writing and portfolio can be viewed here.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous