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Government schools fail the youth with social and etiquette skills

According to the founders of The School of Etiquette, Courtenay and Fraser Carey, South African public schools are stunting learners’ potential for growth by overlooking critical social skills and business etiquette learning. This problem is more pronounced in seriously under-resourced and impoverished areas as the children don’t have the same opportunities as their more affluent peers. Children from higher income households are taught social skills by their parents and their social circles, while some disadvantaged children are not fortunate enough to have the benefit of learning these skills in their private capacity from family members.

“Many people believe social skills to be inconsequential that can’t be quantified, yet studies done by Harvard, Stanford and the Carnegie Foundation, have in fact found that social skills account for 85% of your financial success in life. Sadly, the 12-15 years our children spend in the education system, only contributes 15% towards their eventual career success,” says Courtenay Carey, Director.

“Nowhere during those years of learning is there any inclusion of social skills, protocol or business etiquette teaching, not even in Life Orientation classes. The consequence is that school leavers very often do not have even a rudimentary grasp of the basics that will help them through interview opportunities, or settling into a new workplace. Naturally the youth that have been failed in this way are part of the current growing problem of youth unemployment.”

Carey believes the government should during its review of its educational curriculum incorporate modules around social skills for all ages and business etiquette for matriculates in its Life Orientation classes. She adds that children as young as eight should be taught social skills and that business etiquette should be introduced from around aged 17 or grade 11. She maintains that that these theories should be taught in the school room and that students need to participate in practical examples and exercises where they get opportunities to practice these new skills.

“Teaching these skills delivers real long-term improved prospects for these children who will fare better in job applications, be promoted more quickly in the workplace, be better equipped to harness potential business opportunities and at an all-round level, will feel more comfortable and sure of themselves when entering new environments. The potential for embarrassment and social rejection is therefore mitigated by ensuring they do not express inappropriate behaviours that disadvantage them during job-seeking or in business settings.”

Carey stresses that because they have not been taught basic etiquette and skills for social environments, young adults entering the workforce are often perceived as not having the required level of intelligence for the workplace. “In fact, they just do not know how to behave in line with expected standards. Their intelligence is overlooked because their lack of social skills leave them looking less than professional, demotivated and incapable. I firmly believe this training is critical for young people in the workplace who are struggling and it should be partnered with self-esteem and motivation training.”

According to The School of Etiquette which offers training on protocol and business etiquette to adult learners, school subject matter should include:
• How to get along with people
• Acceptable topics to talk about with strangers, interviewers and bosses
• Confident body language
• Handshakes and greeting people
• Self-esteem
• Preparing for interviews
• Correct clothing
• Joining groups of strangers
• How to manage yourself when walking into a room full of strangers
• Respect and courtesy
• How to introduce yourself
• Cell phone and social media etiquette
• How to sit and stand correctly, since you announce your confidence and sense of achievement through the way you hold yourself
• How to eat with a knife and fork and table manners.

“By way of an example of the simplest skill, Fraser once took a young man from an under-resourced background to lunch. He ordered them pizzas and a side salad for some healthy greens. When Fraser offered him some salad, he declined. Fraser pressed on and said, ‘William, you need to eat salad for your health’. William responded by saying he doesn't know how to eat with a knife and fork so he and his friends would rather get food from KFC so they can eat with their hands. This response shows how something as simple as the inability to use a knife and fork properly can influence the health of a child as well as his ability to get a job one day were the interview might be conducted over a meal,” continues Carey. Although eating is a very small aspect of etiquette, it is nevertheless an important aspect for the overall well-being of the youth.

She points out that the two largest superpowers, China and the USA invest heavily in training their youth in these skills. They see the benefit as creating global citizens prepared to take advantage of all opportunities.

“If the South African government agreed to implement appropriate course material per grade in Life Orientation, our nation would be better positioned to harness business opportunities, improve relationship building which leads to bigger contracts and greater profits, companies would benefit from greater staff retention and unemployment rates would be reduced,” concludes Carey.

The School of Etiquette promotes social skills, protocol and business etiquette for the benefit of South Africans. It offers courses to business and individuals. However, it is also prepared to assist schools to highlight the importantance of etiquette by participating in Etiquette Days