“We learn not for school but for life.” – Seneca, Epistulae

In a person’s most formative years, their experiences in a classroom have an enormous impact on their lives to come. Education is meant to prepare a person to live in the real world and function as a good citizen. Too often, schools don’t live up to their values. The education system in the United States, unfortunately, doesn’t always serve its students in the ways they need. How can academia be improved so that students are better equipped to be productive members of society? Here are the top five ways schools can start.

1. Teach business earlier…much earlier
Preparatory education often assumes that college will teach students business skills for their careers. However, as college becomes more expendable and cost-prohibitive, it is necessary for students to obtain basic business skills like balancing a checkbook, doing taxes, saving for retirement, and general financial responsibility. Teaching entrepreneurship also helps students start their own companies. Diverse career choices necessitate academia to teach more of these daily life skills sooner rather than later.

2. Foster solid communication skills
Most jobs in today’s market require teamwork. Employers want workers who can manage, stay on budget, and deliver results on time while working with others. Learning teamwork as a student can shape a person’s ability to do so in the workplace as an adult. Encouraging positive interactions with peers and working through challenges respectfully fosters communication skills for the future.

3. Connect lessons to real life
If students ask whether they’ll ever use an algebra equation in real life, teachers should have an answer, be it an example of a career in which they will use algebra regularly or exercise their way of thinking. Most students are missing the connection between school work and real life, which makes school merely a means to an end. There are many ways to connect curriculums to the world students will soon be living in. Realizing their power with knowledge can give them a new perspective, prepare them for what’s to come, and make school a much more enjoyable experience.

4. Encourage critical thinking
Another way to help students connect their knowledge with real life is to think critically. In professional situations, accomplishing a task requires strategy, not just speed. Coming up with multiple routes to the solution makes students more open-minded, well rounded, and patient. Subjects such as politics, history, international affairs, and math are great for building critical thinking skills. Giving context to their decisions will serve them well in their professional lives to come.

5. Round out the curriculum
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) makes up the majority of core curriculums. Including the arts, history, and physical education provides more insight into STEM subjects, gives students creative outlets, helps them to understand the past to shape the future, and sparks their passions. The arts, in particular, are shown to improve academic achievement.

Studies show that higher quality education gives students better wellbeing, health, and tolerance throughout life. Education levels can be a more significant factor in their outcome than others like gender, income, or employment status. That makes education have a lifelong effect. Schools might as well start representing the world that it is preparing students to enter.