|Life Skills for Young Ugandans - Primary Teachers' Training Manual (UNICEF, 190 p.)|
|Section One: The Life Skills Education Initiative|
(a) Some of the characteristics of a primary school child in Uganda
Primary school children are not homogeneous in terms of age, culture, religion etc. Most of them are in the 6-13 age range but some may be several years older. They go to day or boarding schools in rural, peri-urban and urban environments. Most belong to one of the major religious denominations and while the majority still belong to one of the nationalities in Uganda many now belong to two cultures as a result of intermarriages.
The majority of the children live in families and communities which do not have adequate resources and services at their disposal. Many belong to families with unstable or broken marriages. Some are staying with single parents because of death (mainly due to AIDS or socio-political conflicts) or the break up of relationships. Some are in the care of step-parents or other relatives. The majority of parents or guardians have little or no formal education, especially the women.
(b) Challenges to a Primary School Child in Uganda
Because of these situations in which children find themselves, they are in danger of making uninformed and sometimes disastrous choices and decisions concerning their lives
Todays children and adolescents are having to grow up in an atmosphere which is full of messages, many of them confusing and contradictory. Traditionally, parents, relatives and friends used to be charged with the responsibility of passing cultural, social and vocational skills to the children but today, most of these parents are unable to fulfil this role because they may be unavailable, too busy, ignorant of their childrens changing needs or not well equipped themselves. At the same time, traditional communities are losing their role because of rural-urban migration and decreasing reliance on the extended family. Cultural inhibitions and prohibitions have lost their force in the face of the attraction of urban, and often foreign, life styles. There is also the problem of peace and security. To crown it all there is the STD/HIV/AIDS pandemic which is threatening to wipe out large sections of the population.
Schools have a key role to play in preparing children and adolescents to face the challenges of their world. Unfortunately, to date, what the teachers teach and how they teach it and what the pupils learn and how they learn is geared exclusively to passing examinations, thereby only developing the cognitive skills.
Moreover, the traditional parental or pedagogical approaches are insufficient to face the contemporary challenges, problems and influences to which children are exposed. For example, children are daily exposed to information from the electronic media (TV, radio) in terms of music, dance, drama, discussion, and news, and the print media (newspapers, books and magazines) in the form of stories, pictures, photographs, and political issues. While some of this information is beneficial, some is misleading and a danger to the children. For example, songs which emphasise love affairs, especially exploitative ones, films which emphasise crime and violence, pornographic materials all tend to send them the wrong signals.
The communities in which the children live also tend to put the children at a disadvantage. For example, male adults, including some relatives and stepfathers, some teachers and some employers sexually exploit the girl child within the school, on the way to and from school and within the family home and community.
In addition, poverty in most of the rural and urban slum families forces the parents to pay more attention to meeting the immediate survival needs than to their childrens behaviours. The children are therefore left mostly under the guidance of their peers. In the urban slum areas, family dwellings tend to be crowded since most families cannot afford more than one room. This, coupled with scarce building materials and shared services like toilets and bathroom limits the essential privacy within and between families. The children are therefore prematurely exposed to many negative behaviours and influences from some parents and other adults who may drink a lot, use drugs, fight, commit crimes, be corrupt or have multiple sexual partners or extra -marital relationships. The results are that some children take to drugs, alcohol, petty crimes and prostitution.
The ideal course of action would be to remove all these negative pressures and influences from our society and save the children. But an ideal is like a distant star. We chart our course by it but we never reach it. Therefore the most practical and effective course of action is to help the children handle and cope with these pressures and challenges by teaching them to take responsibility for their growth and development through a life skills initiative. The short term achievement from this will be that the children will be able to cope with these pressures and challenges as they move towards and through their adolescent years. The long term achievement will be that they will take these life skills into their adult lives. Therefore, they will be more responsible and effective parents and managers of society.
3.1 HOW CAN LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION BE PROMOTED?
(a) Methodologies and Learning Environment
In the baseline study to determine the level of life skills among Ugandan primary school children, Cele et al (1996) found that while the level of life skills was not very high, the teaching styles and teaching/learning environments were generally not promoting the acquisition of life skills by the children. Teachers were using mostly teacher-centred methods which allowed limited or no pupil involvement and participation.
If the pupils are to learn and internalise life skills, more active, participatory, learner-centred approaches must be employed. The pupils must be exposed to learning experiences which will not only assist them to gain knowledge but also provoke them to think about and interpret the meaning of the learning experience and its implications in their daily lives. Such learning experiences can include exposure to and frank discussions of real life situations, games, pictures, role plays, case studies, songs, debates and reading materials.
Many teachers may claim this is impossible for several reasons:
(i) The syllabus is already overcrowded and there is no room for life skills activities.
(ii) Participatory methodologies require a lot of preparation and take up too much time in the classroom.
(iii) The most important life skill in the current Ugandan situation is passing the examinations which will enable the children to develop in life.
(iv) Teachers are already under so many pressures caused by economic insecurity, community expectations, overcrowded classes, insufficient teaching materials and inadequate training, etc that they cannot be expected to break away from the tried and trusted traditional methods.
In answer to these partially valid objections, it can only be said that:
(i) The infusion of life skills into the current syllabi using more participatory methodologies is based on the fact that it is not true that the children and adolescents know nothing. Especially on issues concerning their health, they already know a great deal from parents and relatives, health workers, visits to hospitals and earlier training in school etc.
The methodology provides simultaneous feedback on the learning experiences of the child. (Participants in pretest, Mbale)
Therefore, rather than plodding through one topic after another, the tutor (and teacher) can, by using the kind of methodologies and activities outlined in the next sections of the manual, elicit and build on the knowledge the students already have while at the same time connecting the knowledge (which is also vital) with the life skills required to use it effectively in their everyday lives.
(ii) Although most teachers follow the chalk and talk model, they may not be satisfied with it. It may need less preparation, especially for a teacher who relies on the notes of years in the past, but the classes themselves are tiring precisely because they depend on excessive efforts from the teachers who have to do most of the talking. Worse still, because the vast majority of the pupils are not involved, they tend to lose interest and the teacher has to expend a lot of effort on maintaining discipline. The life skills approach leads to a more involved, less stressful classroom so that the teacher can actually enjoy her/his teaching more. This is why the teachers who participated in the base line survey were initially suspicious but later enthusiastically embraced the need to infuse life skills into their teaching.
(iii) Even in terms of examinations, life skills has a positive contribution to make.
The content sticks with less strain on the part of both student and instructor. (Participants in pretest, Mbale)
Firstly, lively classes lead to better retention of content. Secondly, the skills of critical and creative thinking are essential in examinations and finally children who have a dear awareness of themselves and their relationships with their peers and their community are more motivated and focussed in their learning.
(b) The educator
Effective implementation of the life skills education initiative will depend, to a great extent, on the life skills educators. For example, s/he must be able to correctly interpret and internalise the aims and objectives of life skills education, integrate the skills in appropriate carrier subjects and topics and select the most suitable situations and activities for the pupils to appreciate and learn the skills. S/he must also be convinced about the values of the individual skills. S/he must have the ability to recognise the pupils characteristics, challenges and needs in a given community. S/he must be sensitive and coordinate fellow educators, parents and opinion leaders so that they too play their roles in promoting the development of life skills. S/he must be a role model in words, actions and behaviours. If this seems a big responsibility for any individual teacher, there are many who are already showing many of these qualities and the life skills initiative merely provides them with the chance to develop them further.
3.2 WHEN CAN LIFE SKILLS BE PROMOTED?
Life skills education should be given right from birth. All the interactions between the baby and the mother, father, fellow children and other people in the family should be geared towards promoting the appropriate life skills in the child as it develops. These interactions should demonstrate love, affection, warmth, support and guidance. The physical environment should promote health and at the same time provoke and reward curiosity and the wish to learn and relate.
In communities or families where children go to pre-primary schools, they should continue to support family and community efforts to promote the skills. Formal life skills education should start right from Primary One.
3.3 WHERE CAN LIFE SKILLS BE PROMOTED?
Life skills education should be given everywhere. Within the school, every activity should offer an opportunity to impart life skills. For example, English Language and the ability to communicate effectively are crucial to life skills. Science lessons can help to develop skills such as critical thinking and decision making. Mathematics can be used to analyse trends and patterns of behaviour, and of course Religious Education, Political Education, History and Social Studies are often prime vehicles for instilling some of the life skills. During the pretest, several of the participants had already assimilated life skills into English, Geography and Political Education.
In addition, assemblies, communal work, meal times, worshipping time and games also provide useful opportunities. One Bushenyi school suggested that clubs like religious associations, scouts and guides and other extra curricular activities should include life skills in their activities.
Outside the school, life skills education should be given in the families and communities. During the pretest of this manual, the consensus everywhere was that parents and community need to be aware of the nature and purpose of the life skills initiative so that they become active participants. Some effort has been made in the activities to include parents but a broader sensitisation process is required, as shown by the participants in Lira who have already made plans to introduce life skills at Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).
3.4 WHO SHOULD RECEIVE LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION?
The obvious answer to the question is that everybody should. This manual targets first of all the college tutors. Through them, the primary and secondary school student-teachers and teachers will be reached who will eventually teach the pupils. This is therefore a cascade model of infusion.