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close this bookLife Skills for Young Ugandans - Primary Teachers' Training Manual (UNICEF, 190 p.)
close this folderSection One: The Life Skills Education Initiative
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1.0 Background
View the document2.0 What are Life Skills?
View the document4.0 Other supporting activities/strategies
View the document5.0 Problems and solutions


1.0 Background

This Life Skills Education Initiative has been developed on the basis of several other initiatives. These include:

(a) School Health Education Project (SHEP)

SHEP was a component of the 1985-9 and 1990-1995 Uganda Government/UNICEF Country Programmes. The aims of SHEP were as follows:

· To influence a reduction in infant and child morbidity and mortality.
· To influence a reduction in STD and HIV infection among the youths aged 6-20 years.

Appropriate content was then identified, materials produced and teachers trained to implement the project. SHEP was first introduced in Primary 6 and 7 because, while pupils in these classes had habits and behaviours which were still modifiable, they, especially girls, were at risk of dropping out of school and starting families of their own. Therefore it was important that they were equipped with some health knowledge, skills and attitudes to assist them. In addition, it was expected that they would inform their parents and other children about the health messages they were receiving in school, thereby creating a multiplier effect since a very large number of families had school going children. The programme was later extended to all primary school classes.

However, when an impact evaluation into SHEP was carried out, it was found that, while children’s knowledge on health issues had increased significantly, there was no corresponding behaviour change. The missing link was identified as the life skills to assist the children to translate knowledge into positive health behaviours.

(b) Early Life Skills Initiatives

Throughout the whole Eastern and Southern Region of Africa (ESAR) there has been a growing awareness that:

(i) The needs and life skills for children and adolescents have been largely neglected in current educational programmes in and out of school

(ii) Life skills are an essential aspect of confronting the crisis caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other social problems facing young people.

In response to this, UNICEF-ESAR held a regional workshop in Entebbe, Uganda in June 1994 with the aim of reaching a common understanding of the concept of life skills and how it could be adapted to the African situation. In addition, it looked at how life skills could be integrated into current programmes.

Subsequently, Uganda held a national workshop in the same year in Jinja to discuss life skills further in the Ugandan context. This workshop came up with suggestions for a life skills programme based on the current needs and problems of Ugandan youth. However, in the course of further workshops, it was agreed that it was better to infuse life skills activities into current syllabi in use in schools and colleges than to have a separate life skills curriculum: The reasons for this are:

(i) Within the current curricula, there is no space on the timetable for a separate life skills programme.

(ii) Since a life skills curriculum would not be examinable, it would not be given the necessary emphasis by teachers who are accustomed to concentrating on preparing their pupils and students for examinations.

(iii) Life skills cut across the whole school curriculum and can be infused into all subjects taught.

Thus it was decided to adopt an infusion approach, whereby life skills would be integrated firstly into the Health and Science syllabi and later into other subjects.

(c) The Basic Education, Child Care and Adolescent Development Intervention (BECCAD)

The 1995-2000 Uganda Government/UNICEF Country Programme stresses the promotion of positive behaviour change with emphasis on women, children and adolescents. BECCAD is one of the four interventions intended to bring about such behaviour change. The Programme Plan of Operations states that the aim is:

To promote full cognitive and psycho-social development of children and adolescents within a supportive family and community environment which is conducive to education for all, prevention of HIV/AIDS/STDs, adequate care and protection of children and adolescents from birth to adulthood.

A Growing Child

One important aspect of this is to equip children and adolescents with life skills that will enable them to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.

In order to achieve this objective, the Uganda Government/UNICEF Country Programme produced Into the 21st Century: Life Skills Education Resource Booklet (1996) for all those who work with children and adolescents, especially teachers in Primary and Secondary schools. Subsequently, a team was identified and trained to prepare this manual for tutors and lecturers in Teachers’ Colleges so that they can train pre-service and in-service teachers as the first step towards introducing life skills into the schools.

(d) Baseline Study on Life Skills

A baseline study conducted in 1996 to determine the level of life skills of Uganda’s primary school children found that:

(i) the children had a moderate but insufficient level of life skills.

(ii) teaching strategies in schools were content and examination driven/focussed and were therefore neither pupil centred nor suitable for life skills transmission.

(iii) when life skills were explained to teachers, they quickly saw their value and were eager to embark on such an initiative.

(iv) community representatives, like the teachers, welcomed the idea of initiating life skills education even though they had not known about life skills before.

(e) Pretesting of Life Skills Manuals

In 1996. BECCAD commissioned a team of writers to produce Life Skills training manuals for primary and secondary school teachers in order to meet the needs of Ugandan children. After the draft manuals had been produced, the writers, together with a few selected trainers, pretested the materials in Mbale, Bushenyi, Kampala and Lira. In each of the districts, a four day training was carried out for lecturers, tutors and teachers who were then encouraged to try out the activities in the manuals with their target groups. Educational administrators and relevant non governmental organisations (NGOs) were also involved. Below are some of the salient points from the pretesting:

(i) Many of the participants knew little or nothing about life skills before the training but, as a result of the training received, they were both knowledgeable and highly enthusiastic. In all the districts they urged that life skills should be integrated across the curriculum rather than in health education alone.

(ii) Participants felt that the objectives of the manual were straightforward, achievable, clear and specific; the content was relevant, easy to follow and use and suitable to the age group; and the methodology was relevant and appropriate.

(iii) Participants made several suggestions on improving activities and addressing other issues which have been incorporated into the final draft of this manual.

It is worth noting the following:

(i) Teachers who tried out these activities commented that:

The content sticks with less strain on the part of both student and instructor. (Pretest participants, Mbale)

The activities contribute to learning because they involve everyone in a relaxed way which leads to greater confidence in learners. (Pretest participants, Kampala)

The activities fit in with the syllabus and enable tutors to cover material more quickly and enjoyably (pretest participants, Lira)

This is important in that one of the most commonly stated objections is that it will be impossible to integrate life skills because of the demands of the syllabus and examinations.

(ii) The participants in the Lira workshop held a follow up meeting on their own initiative which prepared an action plan to target PTAs with information about life skills. The Headteachers’ Association also held a meeting and resolved to set up a health education department with the aim of ensuring that health materials are taught in a life skills participatory way.

In Mbale and Bushenyi, some participants immediately organised sensitisation sessions for other members of staff.

The reaction of pupils and students was similar. In Nyondo, the materials were tried on a Primary Six class who were so excited that they continued imitating the lesson even after it had ended. Elsewhere, a group of students attended very reluctantly on the first day because it was their holidays but enthusiastically attended on the second day because they found the materials relevant and the methodology absorbing. Student teachers urged their tutors to continue using the same methodology.

These reactions are also important because they show how life skills, taught in a participatory way, really do address the students’ concerns and feelings and therefore are likely to lead to not only behaviour and attitude change but also improved learning.

To sum up the reactions one can quote the comments from Kampala Primary School.

It relates to our daily lives as regards our health, emotions, character building, learning abilities and social interactions. It is also systematically arranged and extremely comprehensive.

Indeed this book is appropriate and relevant. It broadens one’s knowledge of issues and trains how to react to situations appropriately. It is also both teacher and child centred. Through the numerous activities involved, both facilitators and pupils greatly benefit.

The book is extremely readable and clear. It has nice reading texts which stimulate one’s interest and the accompanying questions for discussion help to sharpen the mind. Moreover they are drawn from life like situations and therefore educative. In addition, they are a variety - poems, dialogues, short stories, songs, character sketches. The numerous activities to be done, as shown in this book, help in making students active.

We welcome further comments from lecturers, tutors and teachers who will use the manual. What is clear from the pretest is that once one starts to teach life skills, the overwhelming reaction is enthusiastic.

2.0 What are Life Skills?

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 one’s 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 one’s 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 one’s emotions and stress depend on one’s ability to think critically and creatively.

Life skills are examined in more detail below:

(i) The skills of knowing and living with oneself

Self Awareness

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 Razor’s 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 esteem

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 individual’s relationships with others. Significant adults, such as parents, family members and teachers, and one’s peers can help to develop or destroy a person’s 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 people’s 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 individual’s 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

Interpersonal Relationships

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 one’s 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.

Friendship Formation

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

Peer resistance means standing up for one’s 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 one’s 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 one’s principles. It involves being able to cope with potentially threatening or risky situations in interpersonal relations, including peer pressure, state one’s 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.

Effective Communication

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 one’s mouth is saying one thing, one’s body may be saying something completely different.

(iii) The skills of making effective decisions

Critical Thinking

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.

Creative Thinking

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.

Decision Making

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 one’s 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 one’s 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

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,


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.


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 there’s a gap between people’s 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:

Social Skills
Self esteem/self awareness


Personal confidence and competence



The World Health Organisation suggests the following:

Health Benefits

(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.

Educational Benefits

(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 people’s enjoyment of learning.
· teacher’s 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.

Social Benefits

Life skills education can promote more pro-social behaviour and so result in less delinquency among adolescents.

Cultural Benefits

(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.

Economic Benefits

(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.

Political Benefits

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.


(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

Today’s 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 children’s 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 children’s 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.


(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.



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.


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).


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.

4.0 Other supporting activities/strategies

Life skills education in schools and colleges will be supported by several activities/strategies in Uganda. These include:


In line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child passed in 1990, the Ugandan Parliament passed a law in 1995 known as the Children’s Statute. Its provisions are as follows:

Rights of the Child in Uganda

1. A child in Uganda should have the same rights, irrespective of sex, religion, custom, rural or urban background, nationality, tribe, race, marital status of parents or opinion.

2. The right to grow up in a peaceful, caring and secure environment, and to have the basic necessities of life, including food, health care, clothing and shelter.

3. The right to a name and a nationality.

4. The rights to know who are his or her parents and to enjoy family life with them and/or their extended family. Where a child has no family or is unable to live with them, he or she should have the right to be given the best substitute care available

5. The right to have his or her best interests given priority in any decisions made concerning the child.

6. The right to express an opinion and to be listened to, and, to be consulted in accordance with his or her understanding in decisions which affect his or her well being.

7. The right to have his or her health protected through immunisation and appropriate health care, and to be taught how to defend himself/herself against illness. When ill, a child should have to right to receive proper medical care.

8. A child with disability should have the right to be treated with the same dignity as other children and to be given special care, education and training where necessary so as to develop his or her potential and self-reliance.

9. The right to refuse to be subjected to harmful initiation rites and other harmful social and customary practices, and to be protected from those customary practices which are prejudicial to a child’s health.

10. The right to be treated fairly and humanely within the legal system.

11. The right to be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation.

12. The right to basic education.

13. The right to leisure which is not morally harmful, to play and to participate in sports and positive cultural and artistic activities.

14. The right not to be employed or engaged in activities that harm his or her health, education, mental physical or moral development.

15. A child, if a victim of armed conflict, a refugee, or in a situation of danger or extreme vulnerability, should have the right to be among the first to receive help and protection.

Who is a Child? A Child in Uganda should be defined as a person under the age of 18 years.

From the above, children’s rights can be divided into four main categories.

(i) Survival Rights (such as food, clothing and shelter).
(ii) Development Rights (such as the right to education).
(iii) Protection Rights (from exploitation, abuse, harmful initiation rights, battering etc).
(iv) Participation Rights (including the right to speak and be heard, to meet one another etc).

In the context of life skills (iii) and (iv) are the most important. Children need to know their rights and how to use life skills to keep those rights. The participation rights are the most controversial as many elders in most communities do not accept automatically that children have the right to speak in front of, or disagree with, adults.

In the study of the Rights of the Child at the Village Level (Kakama, 1993), the participants agreed it was a good idea to listen and to consult children in decisions affecting them. It was however expressed that most people in the community do not respect the views of the child. “Their time has not come”, according to one key informant. In one area of the country where the study was carried out it was expressed that children’s views could be sought but the decision remains with the parents. The children said they are neither listened to or consulted and yet they felt they should contribute to decision making on matters concerning them (Republic of Uganda, 1995)

However, society is changing, and when it becomes clear that children’s participation does not lead to insubordination, and that the children actually participate more fully and more meaningfully if given the chance, communities (and teachers) can accept. Without the participation rights being discussed and negotiated, it is difficult to develop life skills such as self esteem and assertiveness.

In addition, there is always a need to insist on children’s rights within a life skills programme since knowing and asserting your rights successfully is an important part of self esteem and development. In addition, many vulnerable groups, such as orphans, street children, children with disabilities etc and girl children in general can be deprived of their basic rights, even to education and health.

In the pretest, participants commented that life skills and children’s rights go hand in hand.

· In knowing and understanding their rights, the children will increase and develop their self awareness and self esteem

· Life skills training, based on discussion of real life situations will help the children to discover how to assert themselves and their rights in acceptable ways

· Both life skills and children’s rights are interpreted within the cultural context of Uganda.

At the same time, it is worthwhile observing that the Children’s Statute emphasises both rights and responsibilities.

Responsibilities of the Child in Uganda

A child in Uganda shall first of all have responsibilities towards his or her Family, Society, Country and then the International Community.

A child shall, according to his or her age, ability and rights, have the duty:

· to work for the cohesion of the family, to respect his or her parents, elders and other children and to assist them;

· to use his or her abilities for the benefit of the community;

· to preserve and strengthen cultural values in his or her relations with other members of the society, in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue, consultation and to contribute to the moral well being of the society.

· to preserve and strengthen the independence, national unity and the integrity of his or her country.

This is in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child which talks of the responsibility of parents and guardians for ensuring that their children are brought up in accordance with acceptable cultural norms. Thus childrens rights do not mean the freedom to do whatever they want without parental guidance or correction. What is needed is to find the correct balance between adult guidance and children’s growing autonomy.


Generally in Uganda, the girl child is more disadvantaged than a boy. In a study on Village Perceptions of Children’s Rights (Kakama, 1993), it was revealed by the discussion groups that on various fronts the girl child is discriminated against. Girls are a second consideration for education, especially in instances where there is insufficient money. Girl children do not have the right of inheritance, and they are generally subjected to harder work than their brothers. These discriminatory practices against the girl child are not formally condoned. They are largely culturally determined. The overall effect, however, is that these practices and attitudes deny the girl child the enjoyment of her full rights. (Republic of Uganda, 1995)

The SCI is an initiative developed by UNICEF and its allies in the East and Southern African Region (ESAR). This initiative, which has learnt from the Meena Initiative in South-East Asia, is directed at the adolescent girl and her society with the following objectives:

(i) To address the extreme discrimination that exists against girls

(ii) To highlight the needs of girls (and boys)

(iii) To present a dynamic role model for girls and boys which communicates specific messages on:

· education, health and development with gender equity.

· other issues relevant to the survival, protection and development of children in sub-Saharan Africa.

The problem areas identified include economic issues (eg exploitation in employment, lack of vocational skills and homelessness), educational (eg being pushed out of school due to lack of school fees or girls being married off, lack of access to education, lack of family life education and career options), sexual (eg sexual abuse, pregnancies, STD/AIDS infection), and cultural (eg son preference, female genital mutilation, inheritance, early marriage, gender roles and workload)

It was also identified from the outset that in order to deal effectively with all these problems and challenges the girl child needed life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, self assessment and concept, assertiveness, negotiation, coping with emotions and stress, conflict management and resolution, empathy and interpersonal relationships.

Some of the characters from the Sara Communication Initiative.

Thus, the Sara Communication Initiative aims at developing the life skills of girls in order to meet the challenges of life. This is to be done through a series of animated films produced regionally about different aspects of the life of the girl child, together with radio plays, comic books, story books and any other activities that might grow out of this.

In order to achieve this, stories were written across the region (from Eritrea to Namibia) and four were chosen for research in all the countries. They were read to boys, girls, community members, out of school youth etc in rural and urban areas, from different cultures and environments in order to test the acceptability of the characters, the stories, the names and even the appearance of the characters. As a result, three stories were chosen and rewritten for films and a second phase of research to choose a further four stories is underway.

The stories try to look at:

· factors that ensure that a girl does not have enough chance to improve her status in life.

· how girls and boys, their families and their communities can transform their lives from what it is to what it should be.

This Life Skills Training Manual makes use of the Sara Communication Initiative in three ways.

(i) The work done in all the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa to identify issues pertaining to the girl child has been used to ensure that the gender aspect of childhood and adolescence has been foregrounded where previously it was not apparent at all. As stated in the report quoted above, the discriminatory practices are culturally embedded more than deliberate discrimination and thus need to be highlighted. Thus all the activities bear in mind the specific problems facing girl as well as boy children, the reasons for them and the life skills required to face them.

(ii) The main characters from the Sara Initiative are introduced at the beginning of Section 4 (suggested activities for the tutor) These include Sara herself and her classmates and friends Juma and Amina. In subsequent activities, the tutor may continue to use these characters and invent other classmates and friends that reflect specific aspects of Ugandan life.

There are also her teacher, Ms Matata, and her family; the supportive father who is working in town to raise enough money for them to start a new life; the mother and younger brother and sister with whom she lives in the compound of the uncle; the uncle who is the elder brother of the father and is resistant to any change in the status and behaviour of girls in society; and the grandmother who is the depository of traditional values in society. Sara lives in a peri-urban setting and thus the problems and struggles of her and her friends can be adapted to a wide variety of urban and rural activities. Finally, Sara is presented as a role model of a girl who is assertive but respectful, who knows where she wants to go and uses her life skills to achieve her goals despite all the obstacles she faces. From research into the first stories produced she was recognised and strongly appreciated by both girls and boys, especially girls, and by the community as a whole who recognised that she had the right mix of assertiveness and respect. Where they felt she was too assertive, the stories were changed but parents greatly appreciated Sara’s ability to negotiate her way creatively through the obstacles placed in her path. Above all they appreciated that Sara is an actor, not a passive victim. Thus everyone, boys (who said she was the ideal wife of tomorrow) girls (who wanted to be like Sara) and parents (who felt that she was the kind of daughter they would like) identified with her.

The Sara materials give vivid feelings, raise emotions and problems affecting girl children are made clear. (Student teachers, Bushenyi)

In terms of teachers colleges, Ms Matata is also a good role model for the student teachers and can be used to promote discussion on the way teachers interact with their classes.

(iii) As Sara Initiative materials such as videos, comic books and radio tapes are produced, they can be used by schools and colleges for provoking thought and discussion on specific youth and girl child issues in relation to life skills. The first materials have already been produced and can be obtained from the UNICEF Kampala office at Kisozi House, off Kaggwe Road.

5.0 Problems and solutions

In the final section of this chapter, we would like to raise and comment on some of the potential and actual problems that can arise when life skills are introduced into the curriculum. These are divided into two sections, ‘yes... but’ and ‘what if...’.

5.1 YES... BUT...


(i) Life skills are a nice idea but the syllabus does not give us any time.

It is true that life skills activities do take time and reduce the amount of time available for imparting of knowledge. However, by using a participatory methodology, the tutor is able to assess the level of knowledge already existing and build on it by addressing only those issues which are still problematic. As said by the Mbale participants:

The methodology provides simultaneous feedback on the learning experience of the child.

In addition, where students are active, interested and involved, they learn much faster and thus one is able to cover the content more quickly. In Kampala tutors commented:

The students learn more and you can cover more of the syllabus in a shorter space of time.

Therefore, the contention that there is no time has not been proven valid in terms of the research undertaken during the pre-testing of the manual.

(ii) These methodologies are very good but I don’t have the time and the materials to prepare them.

It is true that, especially at the beginning, it takes time to produce unfamiliar material. However, the manuals have already provided a wide variety of materials and participants in the pretest who started making up their own activities based on the suggestions in Section Five, found that they were not too difficult as they arose out of their own experiences.

Secondly, participants found that, while the preparation may be more time consuming, and even painful, the actual classes were much more enjoyable and fulfilling and therefore less exhausting.

Once the students start to participate, the strain placed on the teacher is significantly reduced and they do not get as tired as they used to. As Mbale participants noted, the content sticks with less strain, not only for the student but also for the tutor.

Thirdly, most activities can be carried out using a few sheets of paper and the blackboard. Once students appreciate the methodology, they can be used to prepare the materials if necessary, such as copying out sufficient copies of a case study, questionnaire etc.

(iii) I would like to use life skills but my class is too big.

It is very true that large classes may make it quite difficult to use some of the methodologies recommended in this manual. However, the methods may be adapted to suit circumstances. For example, the children may be taken to an area outside the normal classroom where additional space is required. However, group work does not depend on the size of classes and some methods such as role plays can be rotated from group to group, week by week, in order to give every student a greater chance to participate and ensure that the large size of a class does not prevent these methods from being used for the benefit of the students and the teacher.

(iv) Participatory methods are more enjoyable but they lead to more noise and a breakdown in discipline.

Findings from the pretest proved otherwise. Pupils and students were so absorbed in the activities that discipline actually improved. Discipline is more likely to break down when students have no interest in what they are being taught. The Mbale participants even commented that energisers and icebreakers (See Section 2) in fact boosted class control, concentration span and interest.

(v) We should teach life skills but they should not lead to pupils and students questioning our own practices.

In the pretest, some teachers, and headteachers, did not like some of the activities such as those related to destructive teacher behaviour and the health promoting school because they raised awareness of some of the negative practices and situations that exist in their schools. However, even without such activities, children already make such observations and it is incumbent upon the teacher to modify the behaviour identified as inappropriate. The activities are intended to help teachers and educational administrators to improve their practice.

At the same time, headteachers may argue that the school is so dilapidated because of economic constraints and that therefore it is wrong to criticise. However, such an activity could lead to a new appraisal, even with the PTA on how to ensure that schools really are health promoting and identify achievable targets for development.

(vi) Life skills are good but they go against culture and religion.

It is interesting that, in the pretest, one teacher at Mengo secondary school commented that:

The topics are good and helpful in helping teachers as custodians of culture in schools and curriculum.

Culture is not static and communities themselves are changing and developing in response to the challenges of a changing society. Life skills do not preach but rather raise issues which allow teachers and their pupils/students to look critically at culture in order to ensure the survival/development of those aspects which reinforce the society. The same applies to religion. It is only those who cannot tolerate debate who could object to the raising of issues.



(i) What if the pupils become so emotionally involved that the debate gets out of hand?

Because life skills raise real issues affecting the lives of the children, they are likely to become emotionally involved. This is why the early activities in team building and laying down ground rules for discussion are so important.

It is also worth remembering that an animated discussion does not mean that it has got out of hand. The teacher has to let go and allow the debate as long as the students are actively involved and learning. It is not necessary for the teacher to control the whole discussion.

In addition, teachers should be aware of other support staff and agencies that may be able to offer help and advice to certain students and maybe even involve them in the discussion.

(ii) What if young people are bored with such issues and don’t want to listen?

Although this was raised by a participant in the pretest, the actual experience proved the opposite. If the young people are bored, it will be because the activity, or manner of presentation had some weakness and the teacher should discuss this with the students and look for an alternative method. Very often, the young people become bored as soon as they realise they are being preached at in another guise. The reflections from the pre-test were that the life skills activities were enjoyable and beneficial to the needs of the children.

(iii) What if a child’s rights are being violated?

If it becomes apparent in discussion that a child’s rights are being violated at home, school or in the community, the Local Government (Resistance Councils) Statute 1993, provides that the Vice chairperson of every Resistance Committee at all levels is the Secretary for Children’s Welfare with the responsibility of ensuring that the rights of the child are protected.

Therefore, if necessary, such cases of violation can be reported to the Vice chairperson. However, it may be worth trying more persuasive methods first through the staff meetings, Board of Governors, Parent Teacher Associations etc.