The hidden pearl: home economics education for preparing conscious and skilful citizens

Image: Sharon McCutcheon /

The results of a survey on preparing young people for everyday life in society show respondents’ strong belief that everyday life skills are not naturally acquired. Therefore, school education should contribute to their acquisition. There is a fundamental question, however: how do we prepare students for the practicalities of life in society? Jaana Taar (Tallinn University) shares her thoughts in this article, as this question has motivated her thinking for some years now.

This is a question that countries treat differently. As an example, Scandinavian and Baltic countries have home economics education in school curricula exactly for this reason. As a curriculum area, home economics gives students knowledge and skills to prepare them for life. However, working in this area forces me to analyse what the all-encompassing expression “preparing for life” means in reality. What is it that young people need to know to cope with everyday situations today and in the near future? How is society changing, and what skills will be essential in our everyday lives five, ten or 15 years from now? Sustainable development and social learning have been among the last decade’s key concepts, but major changes come fast, and these concepts have already acquired new meanings. Instead of the above questions, today we could ask what skills are needed for individuals to manage their daily activities and working commitments in an isolated world, such as the one COVID-19 has created. The constantly changing world expects people who are analytical and open-minded to changes.

In my eyes, home economics is a hidden pearl. The advantages of this school subject often go unnoticed, although they could be rethought in the context of preparing students for life in society. This school subject, in its broadest meaning, has a significant role in students’ education. Well-organised home economics lessons recreate everyday situations and give students the chance to practise how to solve real problems. The tasks in home economics lessons are complex and thereby enable multidisciplinary integration within the curriculum. Students really have the possibility to give sense to and understand how (often theoretical) knowledge from other school subjects or from informal learning contexts could be meaningfully used in their everyday practices. So, students are learning in order to act, to become independent, responsible and conscious citizens.

I see that the contemporary world needs citizens who have the willingness to engage – for example, by analysing their everyday actions, taking part in discussions in their community, or taking transformative actions to decrease their footprint. Engagement is already expected in school lessons when students work in collaboration. Home economics also has potential in this regard, as students often work in pairs or small groups to solve tasks together. Interaction allows students to share their experiences with peers in learning situations and use earlier knowledge to construct understandings. My studies on interaction in home economics lessons have proved the effectiveness of students sharing their knowledge and thinking: I have seen how students learn from one another. Practising engagement in school is essential for people to gain a voice but also a sense of responsibility to others.

Teachers have a major role to play when choosing the content and methods for their lessons. However, the value of home economics education needs to be recognised first and foremost by educational policy. Home economics can teach adaptability, giving students essential tools to meet societal demands and helping them to practise an open-minded attitude towards the changing society, if the subject is seen broadly and the content is not limited to just some aspects (like food preparation or consumer studies).

Jaana Taar

Jaana Taar is a lecturer in Home Economics at the Tallinn University, Estonia. She obtained her PhD at the University of Helsinki with a focus on ‘Interthinking in Estonian Home Economics Education’.