Imagine a 13-year-old student from a public school, on the verge of dropping out because they cannot handle the anxiety of not knowing what to do with their life. If left on their own, with little or no responsible support system from family or school, and the lack of role-models in his community, they are likely to make the wrong career choice, or end up staying at home to eventually find themselves employment in the informal labour market. What could play a vital role in changing the script of such a student’s life?
In developing countries like India, 115 million children are living in extreme poverty; 48% of children are stunted and 20% are wasted, and unable to reach their potential in cognitive development because of poverty, poor nutrition, and deficient care. Children and young people from vulnerable backgrounds like these come from experiences of adversity, which may range from poor care to violence and abuse. Research on the developing brain shows that early childhood experiences build the foundation for a skilled workforce, a responsible community and a thriving economy. Early experiences of adversity affect their ability to engage with the world, make healthy choices, and thrive.
It is high time we re-looked at our education system and actually began questioning what we are attempting to teach our children. The number of children attending primary school has grown considerably from 20 crore in 2002 to 23 crore in the following ten years in India. However, it will take another 100 years for children in developing countries like India to reach the same levels of education in developed countries. A study conducted by The Brookings Institution found that developing countries have average levels of education in the 21st Century which were achieved in many western countries by the early decades of the 20th Century. Our current education system is still geared towards the Industrial age and isn’t preparing young people to overcome adversity. By not re-imagining education, we will continue to have graduates who are unable to find jobs, retain jobs, or respond to hurdles with the resilience and confidence required to solve problems. We will not be able to bridge this 100-year gap.
Life Skills are the critical ingredient we need to help children and young people overcome adversity and thrive. This is not to be misunderstood as livelihood skills, which our country has been pushing for through its Skill India initiatives. Livelihood skills are those which could help an individual earn a living and make enough money to sustain themselves and their family. Life skills, on the other hand, lay the foundation which will help cultivate the ability to take initiative, solve problems, face challenges, deal with conflict, interact with others, and pay heed to instructions. These skills are required for executive function and are also termed as social emotional learning, but translate to the same psychosocial abilities that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. WHO defines them as psychosocial competencies and interpersonal skills that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, empathise with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner.
Why does a young person need this, you may ask? What happens when we help skill someone with empathy, the ability to cope with pressure, and a knack for creative thinking? The 21st Century brings an unprecedented pace of change, which towards a future which is not only complex but absolutely unpredictable. This will present a new set of social, economic and environmental challenges for the next generation. A person needs to be in a position to switch gears and be ready to face the unexpected by not crumbling with anxiety and the inability to make quick decisions to solve problems. They need to be equipped with skills which will help them adapt and effectively face these challenges with confidence. Life skills will help them be world-ready.
The most effective way in which we can empower children and young people to overcome adversity and create safe environments which strengthen their development and be world-ready is through life skills. When children and young people are put in trying situations, these are the skills which will make them understand the physical and emotional changes, that will help them transition successfully from childhood into adulthood.
Life skills will help them have a good sense of self and be able to make sounds decisions based on long-term impact and leapfrog into the 21st Century!