“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself,” said John Dewey.
Today more than ever it is becoming clear that education is so much more than the Four Rs – reading, writing, arithmetic, reasoning. Every true educator would wish for children to be lifelong learners, to be passionate, ready to take risks, problem-solve and think critically, look at things differently, work independently and with others, care and want to give back to their community, persevere, have integrity, self-respect, and enjoy their life and work. The real goals of education today are to equip a child with the life skills essential to meet the challenges of everyday life.
What are life skills?
It is a term used to describe a set of basic skills acquired through learning and/or direct life experience that enable individuals and groups to effectively handle issues and problems commonly encountered in daily life. The essential skills for success in the 21st century include creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, the ability to communicate and collaborate, along with personal and social responsibility that contribute to good citizenship. These are essential skills for success in the 21st century, both for healthy societies and for successful and employable individuals.
Benefits of life skills
Life skills help an individual meet the challenges of life in a constantly changing environment. Along with dramatic changes in global economies over the past few years, a technological transformation is impacting education, the workplace, and home life. It is important for students to develop the necessary skills essential to cope with stress, frustration, and change.
The development of life skills helps students to find new ways of thinking and problem solving, recognise the impact of their actions and teaches them to take responsibility for what they do rather than blame others. It helps build confidence in spoken skills and for group collaboration and cooperation. Students are able to analyse options, make decisions and understand why they make certain choices outside the classroom. They also develop a greater sense of self-awareness and appreciation for others.
Academic success is no longer enough. In the workplace, life skills help employees gain employability skills, which employers are seeking. An individual who has the ability to self-manage, solve problems and understand the business environment is definitely preferred. Working well as part of a team, managing time and people, being agile and adaptable to different roles and flexible working environments, and possessing the potential to lead by influence, are the key life skills that are beneficial in the workplace.
Developing individual life skills has a trickledown effect, impacting society and our world at large. As individuals recognise cultural awareness and citizenship, it makes international cooperation easier. When we respect diversity, it allows creativity and imagination to grow, leading to a more tolerant society. Learning skills of negotiation, networking and empathy leads to better outcomes and reduces friction.
Teaching life skills
Educators across India are well aware of the urgency and significance of enhancing the life skills of children today. Dr. Swaroop Sampat Rawal, Founder & Vice President, Early Childhood Association, India avers, “Life skills have been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life”. Life skills include skills like social, emotional, and thinking skills—such as self-awareness, empathy, critical thinking, decision-making, and understanding and managing emotions. In this day and age of a constantly shifting environment, having life skills is an indispensable part of being able to meet the challenges of everyday life. To manage the stress and challenges of the increasing pace and change of modern life, students need life skills such as the ability to manage their emotions, think creatively and problem solve at every step.”
Dr. Swaroop Sampat Rawal, Founder & Vice President, Early Childhood Association, India
She adds, “Additionally, life isn’t only about the subjects in the National Curriculum, it involves learning how to think and communicate, and interpret, explore and represent our own experience and that of others. We need citizens with more than academic abilities. Intuition, creativity, adaptability, and powers of perception, interpretation and communication are the essential qualities of this millennium. These qualities are at the heart of the life skills education, but are not always recognised or nurtured in formal academic settings.”
“Today's generation faces many diverse challenges; the biggest one is learning how to just BE,” feels Skand Bali, Principal, The Hyderabad Public School. “With technological advancement, the world is now open to the children and as a result, they are smarter and faster but also lack vital life skills. Critical thinking, communication skills, conflict resolution, creativity, empathy, ethics are just some of the essential skills required for succeeding IN and AT life. It is crucial that children be taught these skills as opposed to assuming that such skills are self-learnt. If we want our children to grow up as happy, well-adjusted adults, we must teach them to not only be skilful at earning a living but also to be skilful AT LIVING. More than academic test scores, what will serve them better is practical knowledge of interpersonal skills. A major part of life outside of educational institutes is built on relationships and I know that as of now, we don’t have schools that have a course on how to build relationships!”
Skand Bali, Principal, The Hyderabad Public School
Dr. Manjula Pooja Shroff, MD & CEO, KALOREX Group, believes students these days are exposed to a variety of experiences. “They are extremely vulnerable not only in the real world, but more importantly in the virtual world. They are targets of all kinds of online crimes as well as they are easy prey. Unfortunately, the older generation at times does not even realise this vulnerability and fail to address this important aspect. It is really crucial that students are groomed in the ways of the world and the web equally and it becomes a very big responsibility of the teachers to do that.”
Dr. Manjula Pooja Shroff, MD & CEO, KALOREX Group
Dr. Shroff maintains, “Life skills mean a student is well versed not only in the subjects of study but all aspects of coping well in this fast-paced life and coming out stronger and more confident. To be able to live a stress-free life as they grow older and face all challenges as learning experiences. From an early age, they must develop excellent communication skills. They should be able to display financial acumen, to be alert and aware of all online and real-world transactions. They must also be media literate – to display netiquette on social media and also to understand their accountability and responsibility of online communications.”
Karuna Yadav, Principal, Kapil Gayanpeeth
According to Karuna Yadav, Principal, Kapil Gayanpeeth, “It is our moral obligation to make the students learn to manage and handle life’s big and small challenges effectively and not succumb to the multi-directional stress in this hyper-competitive VUCA world. Worldly life - which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous - needs to be tackled and maneuvered tactfully to live to its fullest, while growing socially and productively.
In this labyrinth of present day’s utter confusion in social values and educational demands, a gross lack of partnership between school and parent is taking its toll on our kids and youth. Students are to be prepared and equipped with skills to fathom unwarranted situation, for they shall have to cope with the day to day tiring situations arising when they are away from parents busy studying or earning a livelihood.”
Neeta Bali, Director and Head of School - G D Goenka World School opines, “We live in confusing times, with a lot of conflicting ideologies, opinions and points of view. The use of technology further aggravates the situation with unlimited access to the internet to young people. There are moral dilemmas related to basic issues like which friends to hang out with, issues related to academic honesty, how not to give in to peer pressure, how to tackle bullies, adhering to rules or exercising unlimited freedom. Young people often get caught in situations where they need to pick between family and peer group rules - situations in which each possible course of action breaches some otherwise binding moral principle.
Neeta Bali, Director, and Head of School - G D Goenka World School
Under such a situation, it is important that we enhance life skills so that young people are able to make careful choices, based on a set of values they may have been imbibed in school and home. Consequently, young people will need these skills to deal effectively with the challenges in everyday life, whether at school, at work or in personal lives.”
Lt Col A Sekhar, Head of Schools, Alpha Education, affirms, “Life skill – noun, plural noun: life skills, a skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. The above definition, courtesy online dictionaries, succinctly explain the concept of life skills. In a digital world with data as the uber dominant matrix for decision-making across industries, and perhaps the world over, the increasingly unpredictable, machine driven world is crying out for compassion and empathy.” He goes on to share an episode that he personally witnessed… “During a lively, unscheduled interaction with middle school children once during the assembly, some of the students made patently untrue statements. Over the next few minutes, the students were made aware of the mistakes and asked to apologise. They were hugely reluctant...still they were made to do the right thing. We found the entire incident unpleasant; so a discreet counselling session followed. At least two of the students, when questioned about their reluctance to say sorry, observed that ‘Arnab Goswami never apologises for his mistakes...why should I?’”
Lt Col A Sekhar, Head of Schools, Alpha Education
He adds, “India today is a trust deficient society with whatsapp videos and fake news leading to riots, deaths and lynchings. Thus, the importance of life skills cannot be over-emphasised. However, students are less than impressed with 19th century moralising; I am still ambivalent about teaching them life skills. We, in India are part of a deeply hypocritical society; and when teachers, who are in the tuition business give out preachy monologues, for sure it hits a wall.”
How to go about it…
Dr. Swaroop Sampat Rawal: “At the heart of life skills education is the learning of life skills. These capacities do not develop unaided; they have to be learnt and practiced. Teaching techniques that integrate active learning need to be incorporated into a life skills educational programme to increase its efficiency. As life skills education is a dynamic process it cannot be learned or enhanced on the basis of information or discussion alone. Expecting children to change their behaviour merely by providing information is impracticable. It must also include experiential learning. Experiential learning involves a ‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it.’ Life skills learning is facilitated by the use of participatory learning methods and is based on a social learning process which includes: hearing an explanation of the skill in question; observation of the skill (modelling); practice of the skill in selected situations in a supportive learning environment (scaffolding); and feedback about individual performance of skills. Drama in education is perceived as a natural vehicle for active and experiential learning as it is an extension of the imaginative, pretend play of childhood. Intrinsically drama is a multisensory mode of learning, and can increase awareness of self and others. It can enhance communication skills, creative thinking skills and interpersonal skills through experiential learning.”
“A teacher's role is to spark the thought process, to give the right direction. We want our students to be a success, to be happy and fulfilled. For this, we must also provide them with the right tools. Life lessons must be incorporated into the curriculum. Teachers should not just theoretically talk about a life skill but also create an opportunity in the classroom setting to implement the lesson. Education must be value based. A teacher can format any lesson plan to impart the values of justice, caring, fairness, ethics, good citizenship. It will add depth to every lesson. History, geography, languages, sciences even mathematics can be used as tools to impart life skills; we just need to think out of the box. A teacher himself or herself is a live example of teaching students life skill by examples be it inside or outside classrooms.”
Dr. Manjula Pooja Shroff:
“Teachers have to come out of their comfort zones and explore new territories and adapt themselves to new and unfamiliar technologies. They have to be trained to use the new systems and given as much exposure to the latest international pedagogies. New educational technologies and tech-based pedagogies are the demands of the future, and it is in our best interests to imbibe them to the fullest extent.
In my organization, it is important for all educators to bring up discussions of global importance in their classes and to inculcate a sense of responsibility and ownership towards the world they live in. The teachers and students work together towards making a difference in the society through initiatives taken towards social causes and participate in various forums to make an impact.
Making student future-ready means inculcating goal setting skills and people skills in them. The focus has to be on building 21st-century skills which will finally help the students to go out into the world and cope with the fast-paced life and shape their future careers. The onus of learning will be totally on the students themselves and they will emerge as enquirers and thinkers who will have a responsible say in all matters.”
“Right from early childhood, the kids at home need to be taught the ability to fathom the day to day anxieties and to be more adaptable. They need to be told that it is okay to lose a race, get scolded, drop an ice cream, spill milk, to cry when hurt. Parents need to let them go out and play (with Lego, jigsaw, puzzles and board games) to enhance their logical and critical thinking.”
“Learning of subjects per se will amount to nothing if schools and teachers do not teach pupils moral values and survival skills; There should always be a hidden curriculum that is based on eternal values of diligence, honesty, kindness, optimism, and compassion. In languages and social sciences and even science, it is important to have warming up exercises to begin teaching of content. It is imperative that students know not merely the learning objectives related to the teaching of the subject but also associated life skills. Teachers must get students to reflect on what they learn in a class, encourage new ways of thinking, reflect on how their actions can impact others and get students to explore options to make life happier for all. Cultivating a greater self-awareness and tolerance for the opinions of others is imperative. Getting students to take responsibility by assigning small jobs and asking them to devise their own solutions goes a long way in instilling life skills and boosting morale while forming teams and grouping goes a long way in building skills of collaboration and acceptance of diversity. It is equally important to create a flexible learning environment to induce creative thinking, where young people are not restricted and can use their imagination to create solutions. Outdoor experiences and social outreach programmes must be included to foster social sensitivity and empathy. Getting students to advocate for themselves and have a conversation with an authority figure is another great way of honing skills of expression and articulation.”
Lt Col. A Sekhar: “My experience across India, as a soldier educationist highlights the following: Inspiring role models matter. As teachers, students focus on our actions, not words, (especially under pressure). As teachers, are we proficient in life skills, values? Impact of parents, society, media is enormous.”
It’s never too early… nor too late!
Educators unanimously agree that it is never too early to start life skills education. “Life skills are a crucial part of early childhood education. Not every life skill comes naturally, many life skills effective communication skills need to be introduced and then consistently supported and taught over and over. For example, little children don't naturally know how to make good choices. Life skills help children know what to do in everyday situations as well as how to make good decisions about more abstract, long-term choices. Teaching children problem-solving and decision-making prepare them to manage peer pressure and make good decisions as she grows into adulthood,” affirms Dr. Swaroop.
Skand Bali adds, “As with every other knowledge that is imparted, every concept that is taught is broken into understandable chunks depending on the age and comprehension skill of the student. Similarly, life skills are an ongoing process and should be taught to all age groups from kindergarten upwards. I believe that the young mind is fertile with immense potential and we need to sow the right seeds in it as early as possible. As I always say, one must begin right to end right! I believe every age group is an ideal age to start this exercise; it's never too late or too early.”
“It is crucial to catch them young, maybe from the pre-primary levels itself,” points out Dr. Manjula. “The culture will be built for this future generation to follow and get adjusted to. Small responsibilities, starting with inculcating good habits, to instilling civic sensibilities, with an attitude of responsibility towards their country and the environment is important to be developed from a very young age.”
“Life skill is not a stand-alone subject which can be taught as per the timetable. Nor is it a onetime exercise,” declares Karuna Yadav. “It needs to be integrated and incorporated in any and every activity from cradle to grave; curricular transaction and sports activity, as it is an integral part of education.”
“Parents can inculcate independence by getting even 3-year-olds to take care of their toys, putting on their own clothes with a little help, brushing their own teeth etc.,” informs Neeta Bali. “As children grow older, the complexity can increase. Teachers can instill the same life skills through another set of activities in the class by giving responsibilities and appreciating when these are executed effectively. As children grow, teach them that life is not just about themselves but about pitching in when others need support. At all ages, right up to the threshold of adulthood, it is imperative that essential life skills of problem-solving, independent thinking and articulation, decision making, critical thinking, and interpersonal relations are nurtured by educators.”
According to A Sekhar, “Building up of life skills, are an ongoing process. The earlier we start, the better. Make sure that the exercises we do are age appropriate, and contextual. Most importantly, get our teachers to appreciate, understand and practice what they preach.”
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