Updated: Jan 13, 2020
When Medhavi was 19 years old, a college senior of hers told her that one day she is going to change the world, and she took it too seriously. A development practitioner by profession and a body positivity advocate at heart, she loves heritage walks, graffiti and playing ultimate frisbee.
In this article, Medhavi has shared her experience of working in Life Skills with children.
When I was in 6th, I remember my erudite parents asked me the quintessential question, “what I want to do when I grow up?” I remember thinking for a couple of minutes and smirking, “anything but teaching”. I always thought I’ll end up in the field of psychology; academics did not interest me, but emotions did. So when I ended up working for an NGO in the Education field, my mother sure had the last laugh. I had always been indifferent to the education system in India. I guess until something doesn’t have a direct impact on us, it is hard to care about it. So you might wonder what made me take up a low-paying job which requires me to spend a fortnight every month in unheard corners of the country. What really drives me? It is the area of education that I chose to work in. An area that was given zero importance when I was in school, an area that is often overlooked, an area I feel if I was exposed to as a child in school, things might be slightly easier.
I think in the race behind achieving academic literacy and numeracy, we skip one thing which prepares us to be resilient individuals, life skills. Not to say that the former is not important; there are no life skills if work is not simultaneously done towards improving learning outcomes. But are we doing enough to enable children to deal with the challenges that they face or might face in the future? Are we able to focus on building certain skills, attitudes, and knowledge that might help them navigate life? Can they even be built in the first place? I am happy to say that the narrative has been changing over the past few years.
The emerging need for ‘socio-emotional learning’ has pushed practitioners to use a pedagogy that takes into account the importance of equipping children with certain skills. These skills are a set of psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviors that enable children to deal effectively with the demands and obstacles of everyday life. They can be broadly classified into self-awareness, self-management, interpersonal communication, problem-solving, leadership, and financial literacy. These promote mental well-being, positive life outcomes and help children build their capacity to successfully face the increasingly diverse, fast-paced nature of the society we live in.
To give an example of a learning activity done under life skills - the children are divided into groups and asked to identify a problem in their school or community and attempt to resolve it. In my experience, the children pick up a diverse set of problems, ranging from lack of cleanliness and drinking water to discrimination based on gender and caste. The activity has 5 main steps, and it is done over an interval of time. Firstly, the group discusses the problems in their surroundings which bother them, and they select one to work on. Secondly, after deciding the problem, they collect more information about it from various sources to understand the problem better. Thirdly, the group thinks of ways to address the problem and lists multiple possible solutions. They select the most appropriate solution and plan the implementation. Fourthly, the group tries to implement as many steps as possible from their plan. And lastly, the children present their work in front of other groups and the community members.
The activity accomplishes multiple objectives. The group members not only enhance their interpersonal and problem-solving skills, but also learn to work in a team. The children understand how to negotiate with various stakeholders and build the perseverance needed to implement any solution. It is kind of hard to imagine that these skills can be learned and practiced, right?
When this activity was introduced in a low-income, rural government residential Girls school in an Aspirational district in Uttar Pradesh, the results were unexpected. In the school, during meal timings, the students had to share a table with the dogs, cows and other pasture of the surrounding areas. Why? Because there was no boundary wall. Animals would often enter the school compound and make it dirty. There was also a lot of garbage on the road, right next to the compound; thus, nuisance everywhere. It was a breeding ground for germs. Manisha, Jyoti, Priyanka, Kiran, and Ikhrah identified this problem to work on. They explored various avenues. They first tried contacting the concerned authorities in the district. However, in the list of things that the officials had to otherwise do, this request was delayed. As time passed, it was adding to the frustration and inconvenience of the girls in the school. While the school continued requesting and following-up, the girls decided to take charge and came to a resolution. They said, “If the authorities don’t build the boundary, then we will!” The girls got together and collected mud from a nearby lake and gathered some bricks that were lying around and built a boundary wall around the school compound. They got everyone involved: took help from the cooking staff and other caretakers of the school. They decided to take charge and managed to achieve the unthinkable only because they persevered to. This instance is a definitive example of the grit, determination and a ‘can-do’ attitude shown by the children.
As we move into the third decade of the 21st century, it is imperative to look back at how quickly things have changed from our parents’ generations to ours, and to the next one. Has our education system kept up with the times? Are we doing enough to prepare our children to adjust to this changing world? Life Skills is the need of the hour and can help us create a generation of learners that grow up to be more confident, conscious and empathetic adults who help pave the way for an equitable society.
- Medhavi Hassija