In the diverse tapestry of India, life skills education has emerged as a vital thread in the fabric of holistic development. Beyond the realm of traditional academics, life skills are the competencies that empower individuals to effectively manage the challenges and complexities of modern life. Over the years, the perception of life skills education in India has undergone a transformative shift, acknowledging its significance in shaping well-rounded individuals equipped to thrive in a dynamic world. But is knowing and understanding its importance enough to pass on the knowledge? How and when does one start teaching skills like problem-solving, delayed gratification or open-mindedness in a formal educational setup? Moreover, can these skills be only taught by teachers in school/college or elsewhere?
At this point, I am tempted to ask the reader if they remember where they learnt any of these life skills from, that is in case they think they have these skills today. If you are unable to pinpoint a source or time, you’re not alone. It could have been a parent, a sibling, life circumstances or situational issues, a teacher, a friend and quite possibly, a combination of all these over a period of time. The nature of life skills is such that they can seldom come from only one source. Moreover, only when faced with situational circumstances in life can one confirm possessing a skill or not and the extent to which they have been able to actually exercise a certain skill. Another key component of building and learning life skills is also having the vocabulary and the knowledge to acknowledge that a certain skill needs learning. For instance, during a focus group discussion with young boys in UP, none of whom were aware or had ever heard about life skills, one young boy spoke about wanting to support his mother and siblings as the single motivating factor to learn, earn or basically go about his day-to-day life. His family had faced a severe monetary crisis and still continues to struggle after his father’s untimely demise due to which his older brother quit education early to support the family. For this child, his drop-out brother and uneducated mother are the main sources of inspiration, while he aspires to finish his graduation and work in a secure job to be able to support his family adequately. Undoubtedly, this individual is full of grit, resilience and empathy amongst a host of other life skills that one is unable to see in a span of an hour, none of which he has the vocabulary or understanding for today.
Faced with these realities, one is tempted to question the ecosystem in which the curriculum and material for life skills education is contextualized. Not only does this raise questions about assessing one’s life skills awareness and ability, but it also makes us question the universe in which life skills education is spoken about. As per the recent data by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI 2022), nearly 60% of youth (15-29) in India currently live in rural locationsIndia. Hence any curriculum or program design focusing on developing life skills among rural youth in India, cannot ignore their circumstances and lived realities.
Traditional Values and Modern Realities
Rural India is often associated with traditional values, agrarian lifestyles, and close-knit communities. In this context, life skills might not be explicitly articulated or recognized as a separate entity. Rather, they are interwoven with the fabric of daily life, passed down through generations in the form of practical knowledge and experiences. The perceptions of life skills in rural India are influenced by 2 major factors.
While traditional perceptions have their merits, there is a growing realization of the need to augment rural life skills with modern competencies. This shift is driven by several factors like economic transformation as rural economies are diversifying, with opportunities in sectors like tourism, agribusiness, and handicrafts. To seize these opportunities, individuals require skills such as communication, financial literacy, and customer relations. Moreover, as awareness about education’s transformative power spreads, there is an aspiration to provide rural youth with a holistic education that prepares them for a wider range of careers and life situations. Furthermore, the digital age is penetrating rural areas, offering access to information, markets, and services. Basic digital literacy becomes a valuable life skill, enabling individuals to participate in the digital economy. Finally, skills related to nutrition, sanitation, and preventive healthcare can greatly improve the quality of life in rural areas.
The Way Forward
To harness the potential of life skills in rural India, a multi-pronged approach is essential:
The perceptions of life skills in rural India reflect the intrinsic connection between skills and community well-being. As rural areas evolve to meet modern challenges, integrating life skills with traditional knowledge can create a robust foundation for sustainable development. By embracing both time-honoured wisdom and contemporary competencies, rural communities can not only navigate change but also shape their destinies in an increasingly interconnected world. The journey towards empowerment is a joint endeavour, requiring concerted efforts that respect the past while embracing the possibilities of the future.
About The AuthorDr Devleena Chatterji is a Senior Research Associate at ASER- Pratham Education Foundation and specializes in Qualitative Research Methods and research writing. She holds a PhD in the field of Comparative and International Development and Education and is passionate about working with youth in India. She’s been part of the life skills collaborative for 2.5 years and takes keen interest in gender, caste and intersectionality in the realm of education.
"The educational systems should rely on three solid foundations: enhancing values, life skills, and formal educational curriculum. Each of these bases completes the other, none of them can stand on its own. "