G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE, which included frontline curriculum, communicative approach to language teaching, Information Technology, alternatives to homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at educational conferences world over.
Life skills education has always been a vital component of the school curriculum for several decades. To emphasise the need of ‘life skills in education’ may appear to be repetitive. Nevertheless, I am refocusing on this need especially in the current context, when I do feel it has become a critical need of the hour. Why? Sometimes events, both personal and social, have long term impacts on the psyche of an individual or the society. And one such impactful event has been Covid. Worldwide, it has shaken some fundamentals of the social architecture necessitating a reconsideration and review of some of our core life processes. Though humankind has always exhibited exemplary courage to trash many of the challenges it faced, and emerge with resilience with befitting responses to counter them, the current occurrence is likely to have a long-term effect on the social psyche. Needless to say, the covid effect has influenced the mental health of not only the elders, but also of the younger children going to the school. Rehabilitation of the normal psychological profile of the learners is indeed an unavoidable social obligation.
Current challenges faced by school children
1. Feeling of uncertainty
There is an air of uncertainty all around in the field of school education. Guess games about the school opening, closing and reopening have played enough on them. Even when the schools were opened, the hesitation on the part of parents and families to let them walk into the school have made them to keep their fingers crossed on what is to happen next, triggering the levels of anxiety. With Omicron and Delta running their rat race, the fear of the system getting back to square one is creating avoidable stress. Curriculum, pedagogy and associated activities having been derailed; the feeling of uncertainty sowing seeds of self-pity appears to be haunting them. Some experts go to the extent of saying that these have a lifetime impact.
2. Emotional Stress
With several families affected by the virus both collectively and in parts, there have been health challenges both at home and in the neighborhood. Death, long-term hospitalisation, quarantine and containments have created a new sense of helplessness in the minds of young school going children. The emotional stress experienced by them, as well as caused to them because of the unprecedented experiences and challenges, has impacted their psyche adversely. Further, loss of jobs at home or reduced flow of income and other financial challenges have indirectly impacted their psychological wellbeing. The cumulative effect of this stress, which is stored within without a vent is indeed likely to impact their long-time mental health.
3. Demotivation to growth
Most learners have not been able to perform to their minimal levels of satisfaction both academically and otherwise in the absence of appropriate platforms, tools and avenues. With doors of opportunities closed, they suffered a setback to their motivation. Liquidation of the content and standards of learning, placing of all learners on the same pedestal without any examinations have sent some negative signals. Consequently, learning distress, demotivation to furtherance of learning, unwillingness to explore creative faculties and much more became roadblocks to their growth.
All these need a dedicated support to facilitate them to discover themselves again to scale higher peaks of excellence in their life. What kind of inputs could be given in their curriculum?
I strongly believe that a package consisting of the following inputs may be considered, designed and delivered to all the learners immaterial of their learning stage. This may go a long way to reduce some amount of ‘learned helplessness’ contributed by the current events.
1. Self-help skills
The National Policy on Education has listed self-help skills right in its recommendations for the Early childhood care and Education. It has further been reinforced in the later stages. These skills might help them to regain some amount of self-confidence, self-esteem and encourage them to move out of any identity crisis into which they might have been trapped.
2. Cheerful outlook (with Positive attitude)
“Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of good looks” says Charles Dickens. Lessons on cheerful outlook is essential, rather vital, to be taught at this stage. This would help them to move away from the atmosphere of gloom and the feeling of ‘all is lost.’ The ability to foresee a future despite the challenges and see a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel is essential. Creating ‘belief systems’ of a positive future will help them to get out of the sense of insecurity. As Norman Cousins put “Drugs are always not necessary; but the belief in recovery is.”
3. Skills of change management
While change has indeed become an order of the day, the kind of paradigm shifts in ‘work-life’ patterns must be understood in context. Appreciation of change, adoption and engagement with change, ability to move with the changing paradigms, unlearning of the past and pragmatic skills to re-engineer to the new situations will give them coping skills. Fear to face the change is more dangerous than the change itself. A number of changes in the lifestyle needs to be addressed in right perspective.
4. Relationship skills
Bonding and relationship have been significantly affected with the near and dear having been kept away for a long time. Over a period, the mind gets tuned to newer patterns and relevance of relationships becomes questionable. Fear and insecurity triggers more ‘selfish’ attitudes than concerns of ‘caring and sharing.’ It would be appropriate to generate discussions, debates and open forums to examine these issues and restore their importance. The decreased focus on relationships in the current scenario could have long term behavioural impacts on the learners.
5. Organisational skills
Several of the processes, activities, engagements and events in school do offer unlimited opportunities for the learners to learn organisational skills at various levels. With the closure of schools and the social distancing indicators, many of the learners have been isolated and feel lonely. They have lost some of the critical organisational skills they would have learnt at these meaningful years. Further, the co-scholastic activities like scouts & guides, NCC, NSS and the like taught them organisational behaviour both directly and indirectly. The schools would do well to put in place some essential core of these skills as they have a significant impact both in their personal life and professional life.
6. Leadership skills
The foundation for effective leadership skills in the future are laid right in the schools. Students learn several facets of leadership in schools like strategy, team leadership, decision making, problem solving and prefectorial competencies. These are learnt more through real-time experiences through small events from time to time and on a continuous basis. With prolonged school closure for over 18 months, the opportunity for learning of these skills have been lost. With the iron curtain between scholastic and non-scholastic activities being lifted through the visionary document of NEP, opportunities to imbibe these skills have become possible. With current social dynamics, every profession both in the organised sector and non-organised sector calls for authentic knowledge of leaderships and related skills. It would be appropriate for schools to address this issue with greater concern.
7. Empathy & Compassion
The multiplicity of divides between humans immaterial of the country, community and races have come to surface in the post covid scenario. The need for health care across the globe, immaterial of the financial glory of a country has gravitated the attention of the United Nations. Food, medicine, heath care resources and basic living support systems need to be made available without any bias. With the universe of social consciousness expanding beyond borders, the students need to understand, appreciate and apply their understanding and skills of empathy and compassion. The schools need to evolve strategies of diverse types and pedagogies to sensitise the learners on these emerging issues.
8. Entrepreneurial skills
With a serious assault on the job structures, job growth patterns and job opportunities, most countries are facing challenges in creating and providing jobs to their younger generation. However, opportunities do exist world over for aligning the skills with newer ways of functioning. With markets finding challenges in growth in the post covid scenario, the entrepreneurs have indeed opportunities for newer ways pursuing and solving social and professional problems. Skills of entrepreneurship are becoming one of the core requisites for growth and development both at the individual level and societal level. Enough opportunities do exist at the school level for integrating this with the curriculum.
Both educators and parents need to refresh their existing thought architectures about school education so that the young learners of today learn life skills not only to face the realities of their current and future life, but to become meaningfully contributive to the growth profile of their country.
Are we ready to think beyond examinations and use the curriculum for lofty purposes of our life and of the planet?