Teaching life skills: From curriculum to classroom

Community service, field trips, authentic debating opportunities, school events and campaigns, amongst a host of other school activities, are fertile grounds for pupils to nurture indispensable life skills 

A second position finish in a national level quiz contest is no mean feat.

Having made it to the final round, a student of this writer had to settle for silver, but that settlement apparently didn’t turn out to be easy. The dejection, clearly visible on her visage and her body language, would linger on for quite a few days to come.

A marginally close contest leading to second place finish can be more agonising than a commonplace defeat. As much as it was worrying to see the student in this emotional state, it also provided an opportunity to help her go a notch up in her self-management skills. Some futsal enthusiasts, including a few from her own class, on the other hand, suffered a rather ignominious 12-3 defeat in a friendly match.

Not that there were not dejected faces here, but post-match, one of them in particular was highly upbeat and kept talking about the two goals he scored.

The chap could have been one of those ‘happy-go-lucky’ or ‘devil-may-care’ if you will but seemed to be handling the defeat well.

Instances like these in schools are great learning and teaching opportunities of ‘life skills’ to students, which have become more important in this day and age than ever before.

UNICEF defines life skills as “psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life”. The aim of life skills education, meanwhile, is stated to be the increment of positive and adaptive behaviour by assisting individuals to develop and practise psycho-social skills that minimise risk factors and maximise protective factors.

Life skills like flexibility, leadership, initiative, productivity and social skills (FLIPS) are put on equal footing with learning and literacy, two other categories under 21st century skills.

Development of citizens possessing life skills and soft skills is amongst the national objectives of the school education curriculum framework, 2075, which has been restated again as part of the level-wise competencies of both basic level and secondary education.

The success of any curriculum, howsoever and with whatsoever purpose it may have been devised, hinges on whether teachers and students enact it in the classroom.

The inclusion of and emphasis on life skills and soft skills in the curriculum framework fall in line more closely with two of the four pillars of education: learning to be and learning to live together, both of which aim at making the learners’ life meaningful, harmonious and fulfilling.

Complemented by the other two: learning to know and learning to do, which have always enjoyed supremacy, these ‘life skill’ components of education have received fresh significance in recent times. This is all very well, but how and to what extent these life skills will be imparted largely depends on the readiness and earnestness of schools and teachers in pursuing it.

Life skills like adaptability and self-management, which this writer’s student seemed to be struggling with, can indeed be taught through course contents. For instance, a biography in social studies of a national hero who possessed self-management skills despite a series of defeats and his adaptability to the changing circumstances could be an interesting read for the students. Likewise, English grammar lessons aimed at various language functions for communication is undoubtedly geared at making learners better at communication.

However, it is wishful thinking to assume that students acquire such skills in their entirety this way.

They gain the status of halfbaked at best.

Another example of a futile attempt at imparting such skills as positive attitude, empathy, negotiation and decision-making is the moral/ethical education course that is taught is grade eight. Moral stories are not futile, but the moral education course culminates into nothing but a mini-comprehension test for students.

The teaching of these life skills and soft skills requires a lot more than reliance on the books and text. They need to be complemented by involving the students both inside and outside the classroom.

Every now and then, a real life situation in its miniature like the ones discussed above occurs at school itself, which allows the students to test and polish these skills, a chance at reflection and counseling by the teachers for better course of action.

Community service, field trips, authentic debating opportunities, school events, and campaigns, amongst a host of other school activities, are fertile grounds for pupils to nurture these indispensable skills. However, teachers can also go that extra mile to create simulated real life situations to practise these skills.

Carving out one’s niche through the development of expertise for a livelihood comes under the expedient and practical goals of education, which people achieve via the acquisition of hard skills.

They need to be pursued with full vigour no doubt, but a country definitely doesn’t want to produce automated, highly impersonal robotic citizens immaculate with their respective instruments and professional knowledge but devoid of human values and people skills.

Schools must take the ‘life skills and soft skills’ element of the new curriculum framework as an opportunity and responsibility to teach both.

Neupane is with Kathmandu University