Let’s look back at our adolescent years and introspect on certain facets of our personality. Did you fear solving maths problems and want to hide in a cave the day before a test? Did your parents have to repeatedly ask you to pay attention when they were talking? Did you fight with your nasty cousins about wanting to go first when playing games? You might have an approving smile on your face right now. But did you, at that point, know these were important experiences which will determine your response to the myriad situations life will throw at you in the future? Did you know that fear of maths tests could culminate into fear of difficult situations and an attitudinal lack of problem-solving abilities? Or the restlessness to interrupt conversations is because of inattentive listening during our adolescence. And that childhood fights about always going first could perhaps be the reason we find it difficult to collaborate with people at work.
Life skills are nothing but processes that help you navigate through such familiar, unfamiliar and challenging situations with a sense of “personal confidence, social conscience and professional competence”. They include cognitive skills like problem solving and critical thinking, social skills like communication and collaboration, emotional skills like empathy, skills to understand one’s identity like self-awareness, civic and ethical values and developing a world view. As the world becomes more complex and job markets more unpredictable in the 21st century, teaching life skills can help raise young adults who will be agile in adapting to newer ways of thinking and operating with mental strength under uncertainty. Further, with ~50% of all employed individuals expected to need significant reskilling by 2025 (The Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum, 2020), teaching life skills can prove pivotal in cultivating mindsets that enable continuous learning. In addition, the growing incidence of suicide among Indian students (the % increase in the number of student suicides in 2020 compared to 2019 was 21.20%) also calls for effective socio-emotional learning which can prevent catastrophic outcomes and encourage greater thriving.
Developed countries conduct more systematic life skills education programmes promoting positive behaviour. However, in developing countries, life skills teaching lacks systematic implementation, evaluation and monitoring. Instead of integrating life skills training with the academic curriculum, it is kept at the periphery and assumed to be learned indirectly from co-curriculars and sports. Many non-government organisations run programs to teach life skills to both in and out-of-school children. However, it is important to embed life skills teaching in the formal education system with a focus on long-term impact on student skill outcomes.
But what kind of content and delivery methods should be adopted by educational institutions to meet this objective? With extensive penetration of technology in the education sector and adoption of remote and blended learning methods, how can technology be leveraged to reduce cost and create delivery solutions which can potentially operate at scale?
In July 2021, Yuwaah, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Udhyam Learning Foundation stepped up to find answers to these questions. Samagra was onboarded as the Programme Management Unit to run a sandbox with multiple partners under the Young Warrior NXT–21st Century Life Skills programme. With a long-term vision to embed life skills training in the formal education system in the country, the programme aims to build evidence on types of scalable life skills delivery models which are impactful and can be adopted by government and non-government organisations for future scale-up. To this end, we are running 15 pilot programmes with implementation partners, each unique with respect to the course content, medium of delivery (no-tech modes like IVRS and DIY kits, low-tech channels like WhatsApp chatbot & high-tech learning via web applications), and level of teacher-led facilitation (complete self-learn models, low-touch nudges and high intensity classroom training).
We started by doing extensive expert consultations and secondary research to understand the ecosystem. We then finalised five focus skills (problem solving, communication, collaboration, self-awareness and achievement orientation) which are the most relevant for adolescents. In less than six months, we partnered with 11 organisations, co-designed and implemented 16 scalable and unique life skills delivery models as pilot programmes. The objective was to test all these programmes for effectiveness of impact on skill outcomes. An assessment tool called ‘Future Readiness’ created by the Life Skills Collaborative is being used for this purpose. Life skills training programmes are also being run in government and affordable private schools in close partnership with CBSE, Government of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. From August till date, approximately 4,00,000 students have undergone life skills training and nearly 30,000 students have undertaken ‘Future Readiness’ skill assessments.
The Young Warrior NXT programme aims to inform the future of life skills education in India by building a body of evidence on the effectiveness of delivery models which can be adopted for imparting life skills training systematically. The programme is a step towards institutionalising life skills teaching so that every child can be future ready and transition into adulthood with the abilities and mindset required to make healthy personal and professional choices.