Adolescents need to focus as much on life skills as school books, say experts

Following the Union government’s focus on school children’s skills development in the 2022 budget, the Prime Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, recently announced the decision of the state government to mandate life skills development as a compulsory box for grades 9-12.

Khattar said the greater focus of the Haryana government will be to make students “civilized and self-reliant so that they can make a significant contribution to making India a world leader again”. While technical skills are a more emphasized category, the importance and effectiveness of life skills education for students’ social, emotional and cognitive development have also emerged in the post-pandemic era.

What are life skills?

While there is no definitive list, some of the key examples include time and money management, effective communication, interpersonal relationships, stress management, and others.

UNICEF says life skills are an approach to behavior change or development designed to address a balance between three areas: knowledge, attitude and skills. Meanwhile, the WHO defines life skills as the capacity for adaptive and positive behavior that enables individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.

Why is teaching life skills in the early years important?

Maneesh Dhooper, the co-founder of the edtech platform PlanetSpark for communication skills development, said that young people are brimming with untapped potential and that they need dedicated skills that enable them to bring out the best in themselves.

“Consider a group of young individuals who excelled in school but have no idea how to deal with the realities of life. What if they couldn’t communicate clearly? Or were they always in debt because they couldn’t manage their money? It’s disturbing and all too common at the same time. While no one can deny the value of good grades, they are insufficient without the required life skills,” Dhooper emphasized.

Vishal Gupta, the founder and CEO of Little Leap, said the need for life skills is present in all age groups. However, at a certain age, the importance of some skills becomes relevant. “For a 4-6 year old, morality, ethics and values, and self-image along with language and expression are the most important skills, while confidence and problem solving become more important between the ages of 8-10 after the foundation of other life skills are built,” noted Gupta on.

Awareness among parents, schools

PlanetSpark’s Dhooper said millennial parents are more aware of the importance of life skills given their own experiences. “With the technological advancement and availability of online platforms, the accessibility and awareness of life skills has improved dramatically over the past 10-15 years. With less time to spend with their child, millennial working parents are enrolling their children in life skills classes to develop both scholastic and co-scholastic aspects of their children’s lives,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mukund Rao, the co-founder of muvin, a pocket money app for teenagers that provides lessons in financial literacy, said: “With changing times and the advent of digitalization in India, young Indians are becoming financially independent much earlier than even the previous few decades. We have seen that through the penetration of financial pages on social media, teens have an initial interest and basic awareness of understanding personal finance from an early age.”

“It is important to visibly display financially responsible behavior in front of your children to teach them important lessons about money management from an early age,” added Rao.

Pandemic-induced demand for life skills education

Little Leap’s Gupta said as online learning became a new norm during the pandemic, parents became more aware of the other activities and skills their children can participate in.

PlanetSpark’s Dhooper also endorses the claim that massive changes have occurred in the pre- and post-pandemic era. “The need for soft/life skills has been around for a long time, but the demand accelerated after the first Covid-induced lockdown. Enrollments on our platform increased nearly 150 times in the year 2020-21, with the majority of parents wanting to enroll their children in communication skills classes,” added Dhooper.

Sajal Jain
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