|Life Skills for Young Ugandans - Primary Teachers' Training Manual (UNICEF, 190 p.)|
|Section One: The Life Skills Education Initiative|
Those skills needed by an individual to operate effectively in society in an active and constructive way. (Edward de Bono)
Personal and social skills required for young people to function confidently and competently with themselves, with other people, and with the wider community. (TACADE, United Kingdom)
Human beings are a complex mixture of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour. People constantly interact with other people, with their inner selves and with the environment as a whole. Thus, as children grow up into adolescence and adulthood they need to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable them to handle themselves and their environment successfully.
Traditional education attempted to address this holistic view of human personality through the informal education system. The formal education system, on the other hand, has tended to prioritise knowledge at the expense of other aspects of our personalities, believing that an increase in knowledge will automatically lead to positive changes in attitudes and behaviours.
At the same time, it was generally assumed that life skills and attitudes would continue to be imparted through the family and community. However what has happened is that such traditional methods have largely broken down thereby leaving young people more vulnerable. In addition, the challenges and threats facing young people have increased for various historical reasons. Thus, it has become increasingly clear that such prioritisation of knowledge at the expense of other aspects of the human personality is a very inadequate way of preparing young people for the complex nature and challenges of our world today. Maybe this has been brought into sharpest focus by the HIV/AIDS pandemic but it refers to the way we live our lives in general.
Life skills have been defined in many ways:
· Livelihood or vocational skills
· Practical health related skills (for example, use of Oral Rehydration Salts [ORS], or boiling water before drinking)
· Physical skills
· Skills related to behaviour and interaction.
The first three are knowledge based, whereas the last one is directed at what we do with our knowledge and skills. These are the life skills addressed in the Life Skills Initiative. They can be divided into several groups.
(i) Knowledge of oneself or self-awareness. On the basis of their self awareness, (awareness of what they can and cannot do) young people build their self-esteem and self- confidence. On this too they build their assertiveness or ability to respond confidently to any situation. Finally, self-knowledge leads to self control so that people can cope with their emotions and stress.
(ii) Development of ones interpersonal relationships with the people around one, family and friends, peers, people in authority and adults. This is done in two ways.
· Positively through friendship formation and adjustment to society in which they live. It also involves empathy or putting oneself in the shoes of other people in order to understand them and live happily with them.
· On the other side of the coin, interpersonal relations also require the ability to resist unhealthy pressures from adults or peers, to negotiate ones way through difficult life situations both in interpersonal relationships and in work situations, and, where necessary, to advocate for change in the most effective manner.
These relationships are dependent on effective communication which is also required for conflict resolution and management.
(iii) Knowledge of oneself and interpersonal relationships must be based on the development of creative and critical thinking in order to be able to confront the challenges of life and make appropriate decisions on what to do and how to solve problems. Thus, whether to resist or negotiate, how to assert oneself in different situations, even how to cope with ones emotions and stress depend on ones ability to think critically and creatively.
Life skills are examined in more detail below:
(i) The skills of knowing and living with oneself
Young people need to know and understand themselves first, their potential, their feelings and emotions, their position in life and in society and their strengths and weaknesses. They need too to have a clear sense of their own identity, where they come from, and the culture into which they have been born and which has shaped them.
For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, city apartment or farm in which they learned to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poems they read and the God they believed in (Somerset Maugham: A Razors Edge)
The more individuals are aware of their own capabilities, the more capable they are of using other life skills effectively, the more they are able to make choices which are consistent with the opportunities available to them, the society in which their live and their own abilities.
Self awareness leads to self esteem as people become aware of their own capabilities and place in their community. It has been described as an awareness of the good in oneself. It refers to how an individual feels about such personal aspects as appearance, abilities and behaviour and grows on the basis of their experiences of being competent and successful in what they attempt.
However, self esteem is strongly influenced by an individuals relationships with others. Significant adults, such as parents, family members and teachers, and ones peers can help to develop or destroy a persons self esteem by the way in which they interact with him/her.
Therefore, the encouragement of positive relationships is essential to life skills as self esteem relates to behaviour, in particular a wide range of health related behaviours such as sexual health, stress and anxiety, smoking, alcohol and other drug use, and willingness to follow medical advice. High self-
Assertiveness means knowing what you want and why and being able to take the necessary steps to achieve what you want within specific contexts. It can cover a wide variety of different situations, from a girl rejecting the sexual advances of a fellow student or older man to children convincing their parents that they need to continue with their education, to adolescents taking the lead in bringing people together for some beneficial act in the community such as protecting or developing the environment.
However assertiveness should be differentiated from the two extremes on either side; passivity whereby the child or adolescent may know what s/he wants but is too timid or too lazy to stand up for that; and aggression whereby the child or adolescent just fights for what s/he wants without any consideration for the context or the people with whom s/he is interacting. Listening and valuing what others feel and want and why is an essential part of assertiveness.
In addition assertiveness is related to culture. It is important that children and adolescents know how to be assertive in all situations, but the way they are assertive with their peers may differ from assertiveness with parents, school teachers etc.
Coping with Emotion
Emotions, such as fear, love, anger, shyness, disgust, the desire to be accepted etc are subjective and usually impulsive responses to a situation. That is why they can be very unpredictable and often lead to actions which are not based on logical reasoning. They can therefore easily lead people into behaviours they might later regret.
Emotions are strong reflections of what we are. Thus, identifying and then coping with emotions implies that people can recognise their emotions and the reasons for them and make decisions which take account of but are not overly influenced by them.
Coping with Stress
Stress is an inevitable part of life. Family problems, broken relationships, examination pressures, the death of a friend or family member are all examples of situations that cause stress in peoples lives. In limited doses and when one is able to cope with it, stress can be a positive factor since the pressure forces one to focus on what one is doing and respond accordingly. However, stress can be a destructive force in an individuals life if it gets too big to handle. Therefore, as with emotions, young people need to be able to recognise stress, its causes and effects and know how to deal with it.
(ii) The skills of knowing and living with others
Relationships are the essence of life. Relationships also come in different shapes and sizes. As children grow up, they have to develop relationships with:
· significant adults in their lives such as parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers etc.
· peers in and out of school.
· people they meet in life, friends of their parents, the local leaders, shopkeepers etc.
Not everybody can be ones friend but children need to know how to react appropriately in each relationship so that they can develop to their maximum potential in their own environment.
At the level of peers, this is one of the most important aspects of interpersonal relationships. An individual needs friends to share life with, activities, hopes, fears and ambitions. Friendship formation starts from the earliest stages of life but children and adolescents need to understand how friendships are formed and how to form and develop those which will be mutually beneficial. They should be able to recognise and, if necessary, resist friendships that can lead them into dangerous or unnecessary risk taking behaviour such as taking alcohol or other drugs, stealing and dangerous sexual behaviours.
Showing empathy involves putting oneself in other peoples shoes, particularly when they are faced by serious problems caused by circumstances or their own actions. It means understanding and internalising other peoples circumstances and finding ways to lessen the burden by sharing with them rather than condemning or looking down on (or even pitying which is another form of looking down on people) them for whatever reason. Thus empathy also means supporting the person so that they can make their own decisions and stand on their own feet as soon as possible.
Peer resistance means standing up for ones values and beliefs in the face of conflicting ideas or practices from peers. Friends, or colleagues, can come up with unacceptable or dangerous suggestions and may put pressure on one to accept. One needs to desist from doing things that one believes to be wrong and be able to defend ones decision, even if it means being threatened with ridicule or exclusion from group membership. With young people in particular, the pressure to be like other group members is great. Thus, if the group is turning to negative influences and habits, peer resistance is a very important skill.
Negotiation is an important skill in interpersonal relationships. It involves assertiveness, empathy and interpersonal relations and also the ability to compromise on issues without compromising ones principles. It involves being able to cope with potentially threatening or risky situations in interpersonal relations, including peer pressure, state ones own position and build mutual understanding.
Non-violent Conflict Resolution
This is connected to interpersonal relations, negotiating skills and coping with emotions and stress. Conflicts are unavoidable and sometimes necessary but the skill of non-violent conflict resolution ensures that such conflicts do not become destructive. This can either involve a person resolving his/her own conflict situations or assisting others to come to an understanding without resorting to fighting.
Communication is the essence of human relationships. Therefore, one of the most important life skills is being able to communicate effectively with others. This includes listening skills and understanding how others are communicating as well as realising how one communicates in different ways. For example, while ones mouth is saying one thing, ones body may be saying something completely different.
(iii) The skills of making effective decisions
Children growing up in the world of today are confronted by multiple and contradictory issues, messages, expectations and demands from parents, peers, teachers, the media, religious leaders, advertisements, music etc. These interact with their own aspirations and ambitions and constantly require them to make decisions. They need to be able to analyse critically the environment in which they live and the multiple messages that bombard them.
The furniture in a room can be arranged in one way and the room looks pleasing to the eye. Another person may come and arrange the furniture in a different way and make the room look even more attractive. In general, there is not always one way of doing things. Neither is human life static. Coming up with new things, new ways of doing things, new ideas, arrangements or organisations is called creative thinking. This is important in life skills because people are continually placed in unexpected or unfamiliar situations where creative thinking is required to make an appropriate response.
Each day one wakes up, one must make decisions. Should one go to the garden or wait for more rain to sink into the soil? Should a family cook beans today or green vegetables? These are relatively simple decisions which may not critically affect the direction of ones life. However, an individual is frequently confronted with serious decisions in regard to relationships, future life etc. There are frequently conflicting demands all of which cannot be met at the same time. One must make a choice but at the same time one must be aware of the possible consequences of ones choice. Thus it is important to weigh the consequences before making a decision and have a framework for working through these choices and decisions.
Problem solving is related to decision making and needs many of the same skills. It is only through practice in making decisions and solving problems that children and adolescents can build the skills necessary to make the best choices in whatever situation they are confronted with,
2.1 WHAT ARE THE AIMS OF LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION?
In equipping the learner with the life skills mentioned above, life skills education aims at promoting the following abilities in the learner.
(i) taking positive health choices.
(ii) making informed decisions.
(iii) practising healthy behaviours.
(iv) recognising and avoiding risky health situations and behaviours.
Life skills education, therefore, does not teach skills in isolation but are an integral part of a variety of educational programmes such as:
· drug abuse prevention.
· prevention of adolescent pregnancy.
· AIDS education.
· protecting young people from abuse.
· peace education.
· suicide prevention programmes.
· programmes for vulnerable youth such as street children, orphans etc.
The skills outlined above are transferable to many different situations and issues. Linking these skills to the knowledge available will enable the Ugandan child to become a confident and competent individual, able to take his/her place in society.
2.2 WHY A SKILLS BASED APPROACH?
Traditionally, the main approach to health and life skill education has been knowledge based. This means just giving children the facts and information about, for example, the effects and dangers of misusing drugs or the biological parts of the reproductive system.
These activities address the right current problems of our society and especially youth. (Nabisunsa Girls School)
The skills based approach, exploring attitudes and values and developing certain psycho-social competences, is set alongside the knowledge component. The emphasis is on helping children to develop the personal and social skills they need to keep themselves safe and become responsible and independent adults. The skills based approach also taps into the feelings and emotions of the person - the affective domain.
It makes people understand that theres a gap between peoples knowledge and behaviour. (Participants in pretest, Lira)
Research, including the SHEP evaluation, has shown that where knowledge is provided in isolation, people may become better informed but there is little effect on behaviour. However where young people are taught the life skills mentioned above, the impact on their lives is usually positive. As their skills develop and improve so their confidence and self-esteem increase. This is also very important as it is now known that self esteem is a significant factor in behaviour.
The skills based approach may therefore be summarised as follows:
Self esteem/self awareness
Personal confidence and competence
2.3 WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION?
The World Health Organisation suggests the following:
(i) Life skills education addresses the combination of psychological and social (i.e. psychosocial) factors that contribute to healthy behaviour.
(ii) The implementation of life skills education in schools addresses the needs of all children.
(iii) The promotion of personal and social skills is an important aspect of health promotion interventions that aim to empower the individual to promote his/her own health as well as the health of others and of the community.
(i) Life skills education introduces learner-centred and interactive teaching methods which can have a positive impact on:
· the relationships between teachers and pupils.
· young peoples enjoyment of learning.
· teachers job satisfaction.
· rates of drop out and absenteeism from school.
Life skills go well with the ethics of a teacher and will bring serenity to schools. (Participants in pretest, Bushenyi)
(ii) Life skills have an impact on the teaching of academic subjects, e.g. because of the introduction of interactive methods.
(iii) There are indications that life skills education can have a positive impact on academic performance. Once the students or pupils feel that they are involved in issues of relevance to their own lives, they participate more and learn more.
Life skills education can promote more pro-social behaviour and so result in less delinquency among adolescents.
(i) Life skills education helps to clarify the needs of young people growing up in modern societies.
(ii) Life skills education is of particular value to young people growing up in multicultural societies.
(i) Life skills education, and the skills promoted, appear to be amongst the ones most highly valued by the future employers of young people.
(ii) Early prevention can be expected to reap maximum rewards in regard to a healthy society, especially since the health and social problems prevalent today have at their root a component of human behaviour.
Life skills education addresses the needs of the child as specified in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Child Statute of Uganda, 1995.
Research into the effectiveness of life skills education have shown similar results.
(i) Several studies have reported positive changes in self-reports of health-related behaviour following educational programmes based on life skills, for example research on self-reports of drug use and smoking.
(ii) Several reviews of programmes have found that those based on skills learning are more effective than traditional approaches based on information.
(iii) Numerous studies have reported improvements in mental health status. In particular, improvements in self-esteem and self-confidence are frequently reported.
(iv) Numerous small studies have indicated teacher satisfaction after training and implementation of a life skills programme. In addition, improved teacher-pupil relationships and classroom behaviour have obvious benefits for school staff.
(v) The pretest for this manual shows potentially the same results as the ones mentioned above.