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Life Skills Education in India

Introduction to Life Skills Literacies
The landscape of education in India has evolved since the turn of the century. The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSE) and subsequently the Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE) ensured that we have reached near universalisation of education at the elementary stage (age group 6-14). However, the universalisation of elementary education is just the first step towards creating an accessible and effective education system.
It will be premature to conclude that the state of school education in India is rosy from this statistic alone as the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017, titled “Beyond Basics” suggests. In rural India, universalisation has lead to the enrolment at Standard VIII to be double at twenty-two million from eleven million over the course of the past decade. However, post-elementary school the enrolment rate drops significantly over the 14-18 age group. For example, as the cohort enrolled in standard VIII in 2011 progressed to standard XI, the enrolment fell by seven million or nearly 1/3rd. Similarly, a great proportion of children lack foundational skills, with 73% of children in standard VIII being able to read only a standard II level text and a meagre 43% being able to solve a 3-digit by 1-digit division sum.
Broadly speaking, life skills literacies are a set of relevant domains of basic capacities which are required to live a happy and fulfilling life in the 21st century. There are numerous life skills literacies which are taught all around the world, but seven key ones are – digital literacy, financial literacy, civic literacy, media literacy, environmental literacy, legal literacy and multi-cultural literacy. This article aims at analysing the state of life skills education in the country and provide probable solutions to prepare our youth better for the demands of adulthood approaching around the corner.
Life Skills Education in the Indian Context
Around the turn of the century, due to rapid economic growth post globalisation and a large youth population, policymakers in India were very optimistic. There was talk about the “demographic dividend”, i.e. the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, becoming the new reality of India. However, two decades down the line, it has become gradually clear that while wealth has increased, majority of the country’s youth has been alienated from it and a huge dissonance has been created between the growing aspirations of the youth and their ability to realise those aspirations.
The world that we live in today is of constant, rapid change. This change is largely dictated by the flow of capital and technology, which are highly unstable, thereby resulting in rapidly changing social and economic realities – from the way we interact with each other to how we actualise our material needs. However, the sad reality is that this change has not benefitted people equitably and has resulted in the socio-economic divide between people to increase exponentially as well. While it cannot be denied that such change has driven a considerable increase in opportunities for young people, our education system has not been able to keep up nurturing the ability of our youth to access these opportunities. There has been a growing impetus on developing foundational skills among children at the elementary level but it has to be supplemented by a conscious effort to make children and the youth, who are at the brink of adulthood aware of the ever-changing reality that they are living in. This effort can take the shape of making children, especially the youth competent in key life skills literacies which are relevant for them.
The New Education Policy, 2020 envisages a new curricular and pedagogical structure for school education that is responsive and relevant to the needs and interests of learners at different stages of their development. It duly notes that the aim of education has to go beyond cognitive development by building character and creating holistic and well-rounded individuals equipped with key 21st-century skills. Imparting life skills education can go a long way in imparting such holistic and well-rounded education which is cognizant of the changing needs of our time.
Sample state of Life Skills Education in India
In January of this year, while working for the Spinning Wheel Leadership Foundation (SWLF), an NPO based out of Udaipur, Rajasthan which works to implement these life skills in schools across Rajasthan, I developed and conducted baseline assessments to gauge the competencies of children in standard VI, VII,  IX and XI in the aforementioned life skills literacies, across four Rajasthan Government Senior-Secondary schools. There were two different assessments, one for standard VI and VII and the other for standard IX and XI, based on their different levels of comprehension and understanding. The assessments had questions under each of the seven literacies to gauge the students’ competency in different facets of the said literacy. For the purpose of this essay, I have chosen to highlight the competencies of children in VIth and VIIth standards as they are on the threshold of entering the non-RTE age group of 14-18 and can best highlight why universalisation alone is not making our future generations ready for the real world. For the purposes of this article, I have selected one question for each literacy and show the competency of children for each of these schools, in each. These questions are as follows:
  1. Digital Literacy – Do you know how to operate a computer?
  2. Financial Literacy – Where can one save their money?
  3. Legal Literacy – What is the ChildLine number?
  4. Media Literacy – Is it a fact or an opinion – “Narendra Modi is the greatest PM of India”?
  5. Civic Literacy – Name at least one fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution.
  6. Environmental Literacy – What do you understand by the term “pollution”?
  7. Multi-cultural Literacy – State true or false – “India is not a secular country”.
The following table denotes the percentage of children who answered the aforementioned questions correctly –
Literacy
School 1 (Badi)
School 2 (Eklingpura)
School 3 (Kaya)
School 4 (Pai)
Digital
3.1%
30.3%
9.3%
17.3%
Financial
60.9%
69.8%
29.6%
31.6%
Legal
9.4%
30.2%
0.9%
0
Media
73.4%
48.8%
38.9%
65.3%
Civic
0
27.9%
0
0
Environmental
26.6%
16.3%
2.8%
0
Multicultural
26.6%
51.2%
30.6%
36.3%
As we can infer from the data above, the state of life skills education has left much to be desired. The ASER Report 2017 tried to identify the capacities of children in the 14-18 age group across four key domains which potentially shape their impending adulthood – activity, ability, awareness and aspirations. The report made a case for strengthening foundational skills like arithmetic and reading to ensure that day to day activities like financial calculations and planning and reading important instructions can be carried out seamlessly. It also made a case for greater digital and media awareness. One of the interesting observations made in the report was that while all youth at least aspire to complete their school education, almost 60% of them aspired to study beyond standard XII. This clearly shows that our children value education and want to use education as a vehicle for greater socio-economic mobility. Therefore, it becomes imperative that we equip children with the basic skills required to navigate the demands of adulthood and professional life.
 Conclusion
Knowing how to operate a computer gives children an important tool for both personal growth and potential professional opportunities, including digitising family-owned enterprises and businesses. Similarly, knowing what pollution means and how to limit it enables them to become conscious citizens of the world. Being aware of their fundamental rights, means of redressal of abuse and neglect and being able to distinguish between fact and opinion in the era of fake news prevents them from being manipulated, mislead and violated by others. As we move into the new decade, it is time we make a conscious effort to actualise the very demographic dividend that we were so hyped about a couple of decades ago.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Subham Krishna Borah is a 5th-year law student at Institute of Law, Nirma University.

In Content Picture Credit: Franchise India

 

 

 

Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author and not of the Indian Journal of Law and Public Policy.

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