Life skills refer to the skills one needs to make the most out of life. Life skills are abilities to deal with demands and challenges of life. I will define life skills as any skill that is useful in life, or any skill which makes life easier, or any skill which helps us live a better life. Thinking creatively, ability of decision making, talking well, behaving well with others, even swimming, driving, and using a computer are life skills.
In a constantly changing environment, having life skills is an essential part of being able to meet the challenges of everyday life. To cope with the increasing pace and change of modern life, students need new life skills such as the ability to deal with stress and frustration. Today’s students will have many new jobs over the course of their lives, with associated pressures and the need for flexibility. Nations also need active, informed and responsible citizens, who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves and their communities and contribute to the political process. Nations depend upon citizens who, among other things, are aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens and informed about social and political issues.
While students work hard to get good grades, the employers do not just look for good grades but also skills like self management, decision making, problem solving, work flexibility and leadership skills. Many good students due to the lack of life skills cannot grow well in their career. Many toppers experience failures in life due to lack of life skills. On the other hand, many average students because of their better life skills grow brilliantly in their career and choose a better way of life.
Keeping the great significance of life skills in view, there is a much need of inclusion of life skill education in the curriculum. There are a few private schools in Jammu and Kashmir having life skill activities in their syllabus but they too don’t have it as a compulsory part. In our govt schools there may be some activities related to life skills in the syllabus but teaching and learning life skills is almost nil in these schools. If the situation remains the same, we will just produce a huge number of robots who work on the orders of a master under a remote control.
Life skills do not develop unaided; they have to be learnt. While certain life skills may be acquired through our everyday experience in home, school or at work, they are not sufficient to adequately equip children for the active role required of them in today’s complex and diverse society.
Although our schools have not made life skills compulsory but UNICEF has made the teaching of life skills compulsory and wherever there is UNICEF’s intervention, schools teach students these very important life skills. UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO list the ten core life skill strategies and techniques as:
“Problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication skills, decision-making, creative thinking, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness building skills, empathy, and coping with stress and emotions.”
Besides UNICEF, Pratham Education Foundation for the past few months has started a life skill programme. This programme is offered in addition to academic subjects like Urdu, Mathematics, English, etc. It is offered as a separate module or integrated into teaching of academic subjects or both. There is a curriculum based on Pratham’s Life Skills Framework. Sessions are designed to cover various competencies included in the framework. In Pratham’s framework, there are six main components of life skills with some key competencies. The six main components are: Self-awareness, Self-Management, Interpersonal Skills, Problem Solving, Leadership, Technical Skills. These six main components include all the basic competencies like recognising self (strengths and weaknesses), self confidence, discipline, self motivation, time management, communication skills, creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, leadership qualities, digital literacy, financial literacy, etc.
In Jammu and Kashmir, Pratham Education Foundation works along with UNICEF, so the UNICEF’S framework and Pratham’s framework have been merged to teach students all the life skill competencies. When all the educational institutions were closed because of the lockdown to prevent coronavirus transmission, the community classes run by volunteers also got closed and Pratham Education Foundation started sharing digital content with their volunteers and parents. Along with regular activities and content, Pratham Education Foundation started sharing one or two activities related to life skills every Friday in a week from December 2020. These life skill activities are based on the merged framework of UNICEF and Pratham Education Foundation. The activities are being conducted in the Pratham libraries, the community classes run by volunteers, and also done by the children at homes with the help of their parents. In the communities a variety of methods such as group discussions, reflective activities, games, presentations, role-plays are used and also given a ‘Problem Solving Group Challenge’, in which the students try to solve a problem in their community by applying skills such as communication, team-work, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving and more.
Pratham team has designed and created different types of SMSs and digital content integrated with different life skill competencies form their framework. The content is shared with the parents and volunteers to be done with the children every Friday. The Pratham volunteers, usually local youth, parents or teachers help the students to understand this content. If in any village there isn’t a Pratham community class, the team members of Pratham make phone calls to the parents and children to make them understand the messages. There are almost ten Pratham community classes in every zone of our UT, where a volunteer conducts a daily class and on Friday the volunteers conduct life skill activities with the students.
The impact of the Life Skills programme has been observed on the students as well as the trainers. The life skills intervention has been reported to help students in a number of ways: when the students come into the programme they are very shy and do not express themselves, but after the first few days, they open up and start talking with the teacher and other students, seem more confident, are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses, demonstrate a better understanding of their rights, and attempt to negotiate decisions with parents. The trainers who conduct Life Skills sessions also report positive changes. They show improvement in self awareness, empathy, communication skills, decision making, etc.
One of the most important problems that demand quick attention and solutions these days is the lack of life skills for the new generation. This is because there is a lack of life skills in the output of educational institutions. As a result, many fail in their careers and personal lives due to the absence of these skills they must have. There should be a separate daily period in the school time table for life skills. The schools should take the services of trained Pratham team members and UNICEF for the conduct of the activities of life skills. Many private schools have life skills activities in their syllabus but they must conduct the activities on daily or weekly basis in their schools.
Life skills also depend on a large part of our experiences and how we can transfer this experience to our new generations, in order to learn, preach and provide additional information to their knowledge. But now we are facing a rapid change boom and a massive revolution in the field of science and technology, which widens the gap between parents and children, especially with regard to learning and transferring experience to them. It is necessary for parents to experience the pressures faced by children and young people. They should not put additional pressure on them and not be surprised by their behaviours that may not conform to their values, but rather they must understand the technical development and the modern time in which they live and coexist. They should understand the pressures and challenges the children are going through and seek to find common solutions.
—The writer works as Coordinator, Pratham Education Foundation, district Ganderbal.