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12/08/16 Issues

A CALL TO INVEST IN LIFE SKILLS IN THE NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY

By Mahesh Chandrasekar (mahesh.chandrasekar@dreamadream.org) 

Education can help make our children and young people an asset or a liability for the nation. While more than 95% of the children in India attend primary school, less than 50% complete Class 10.  

The National Policy on Education was formulated in 1986 and modified in 1992 and has been the guiding document for over three decades in shaping the education sector in India. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is seeking suggestions to the Draft National Education policy 2016 that will replace the current policy.

The key challenges reported in the draft policy is a bold acknowledgement of the systemic failures that continue to plague the Education Sector across multiple fronts. This has denied a secure future for a significant majority of young people from impoverished communities in urban and rural India.

The Vision, Mission and Objectives of the Draft National Education Policy highlight the need to replace rote learning with creativity. It mentions the need for innovation and equipping young people with abilities to respond to the requirements of the fast-changing world. However, the specific policy initiatives including systems to assess scholastic and co-scholastic learning outcomes limit this understanding to gaining technical and vocational skills. This approach is primed for failure because it does not acknowledge the criticality of Life Skills within education in laying the foundation for life-long learning.

The concern continues to be that we design solutions based on symptoms without investigating the core challenges. Lower enrolment rates and higher dropout rates is a symptom to a deeper challenge of children not achieving their developmental milestones. When children miss out on their developmental milestones due to adversity, it makes it difficult for them to develop the social and emotional skills needed to survive and succeed in a learning environment. Life Skills can help children overcome adversity and catch-up to their developmental milestones.

Research unequivocally shows that students who develop social-emotional skills and academic mindsets are better equipped to succeed in school and are able to transfer theoretical concepts to real-life situations early on. Social and emotional competencies do not just raise academic achievement and educational attainment, but have also demonstrated strong correlations with personal satisfaction and growth, citizenship, and reduced risky behaviour like violence and drug use.

The call for a structured integration of Life Skills in the National Education Policy is a single opportunity that cannot be lost. The definition of Learning Outcomes in the policy should go beyond basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic to include Life Skills; Life Skills that nurtures the development of social-emotional competencies of leaners. Teachers are uniquely positioned to unlock the creative potential of the child. Teacher Development Programmes that are designed to help the teacher understand the child, develop empathetic approaches to learning and provide tools to integrate Life Skills within the learning sessions play a significant role in heralding this change. A Life Skills Approach integrated in the curricula stemming from understanding child development, psychology and behaviour enables teachers to integrate experiential learning and empathy. An approach that will help treat child uniquely and nurture their unique journeys.

In addition, skill development programmes in school and higher education system should give equal priority to building Life Skills not only for gainful employment but also to develop entrepreneurial skills.

For too long, children and young people have been denied the future they deserve. It will be to our own detriment if we continue to miss out on significant opportunities to enable young people to unlock their potential, break out of the cycle of poverty and be prepared for a world that is changing at a rapid pace. Our demographic dividend could soon become a liability. It is a crisis of education, and we need to act now.

The writer is Director – Research and Advocacy, Dream a Dream, a Bangalore-based NGO