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Talking life skills with Geeta Goel from Michael & Susan Dell Foundation India, LLP and Rukmini Banerji, CEO, Pratham Education Foundation

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“Our schools are largely focussed on delivering academic subjects and bookish knowledge; the processes within the education system promotes individual excellence, exam taking and competition. The current preparation of young people in school does not equip or prepare them for life or livelihoods,” says Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive Officer, Pratham Education Foundation.
Adds Geeta Goel, Country Director, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation India, LLP, “Equipping India’s next working generation with skills that allow them to adapt to an emerging, dynamic workplace no longer remains a choice. Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Pratham Education Foundation are part of the Life Skills Collaborative, a new initiative in the skill development landscape of India. The CSR Journal caught up with them for an exclusive interview about Indian youth, CSR, education and skill development.

Q 1. How do life skills help today’s youth in India with job readiness and life improvement?

Geeta Goel: The World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs’ Report estimates that 40% of the workforce will require re-skilling by 2025. Job roles are changing, workplaces are evolving and technology is innovating at a fast pace, and the pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of skills like empathy, self awareness and resilience. The report lists critical thinking and problem-solving as the top two skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years. And the newly emerging skills that are shooting into prominence are skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.
A combination of these skills helps youth be independent and to learn, unlearn and relearn in the context of our rapidly changing world. For India, with more than 41% of its 1.39 billion population below the age group of 18 years, it becomes crucial that we invest in life skills training so our future workforce is employment-ready.
Rukmini Banerji: Our schools are largely focussed on delivering academic subjects and bookish knowledge; the processes within the education system promotes individual excellence, exam taking and competition. The current preparation of young people in school does not equip or prepare them for life or livelihoods. It is also true that the world is changing rapidly but whether in terms of knowledge or skills, our education systems have remained relatively static. We believe that “learning for school”, “learning for life” and “learning for work” are three strands that need to be woven together to provide a better preparation for dealing with the challenges that young people are likely to face in future.

Q 2. What is the Life Skills Collaborative? Who are the diverse collaborators on this project?

GG: The Life Skills Collaborative (LSC) is a collaborative of organisations backed by multi-sectoral expertise, focused on championing life skills for India’s young people to thrive, through an extensive on-ground outreach programme. Life Skills – or social-emotional skills – are guiding principles that help navigate through adversity. These are essential for India’s youth to grow, thrive and succeed.
RB: The Life Skills Collaborative is a collaborative of 18 organisations that have come together to conduct research and advocacy on this important issue. The aim is to create an ecosystem where evidence from different kinds of research on life skills (from surveys and assessments) is available that can inform and support government agencies and other education institutions in transforming how life skills is taught to India’s children and youth. The collaborative comprises organizations with diverse and global expertise in education, skill development, health, and gender with a commitment to collaborate in deepening the understanding of life skills, designing learning tools that nurture life skills, and developing context-relevant assessments to measure progress, share learnings and inform system change India.

Q 3. How is the collaborative’s work aligned to the New Education Policy 2020?

GG: Equipping India’s next working generation with skills that allow them to adapt to an emerging, dynamic workplace no longer remains a choice. The establishment of the National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development) reinforces the commitment to evaluate ‘higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking and conceptual clarity.’ All these factors further explain the need for establishing a stronger education framework focusing on life skills development in India.
RB: The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 provides an opportunity to re-think how young people need to be prepared for future life. The policy points out that education needs to be more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centered, discussion-based, flexible, and, of course, enjoyable. In line with the NEP, which lays great focus on equipping the young with relevant skills, LSC is aiming to provide a number of public goods (conceptualization, deeper understanding, models of intervention and influence, assessments to help advocacy and adoption of life skills for India’s young people.

Q 4. How can companies running CSR programmes in skill development incorporate life skills into their programmes?

GG: Through CSR programmes, organisations have the potential to truly empower India’s young people to lead into the future with confidence. Through various internships, fellowships, and other opportunities, organisations can offer young people life skills that will help them deal with the vagaries of the emerging workplace and life, in general. These life skills and experiences further prepare young people to be resilient professionals and citizens.
RB: Increasingly, “learning for school”, “learning for life” and “learning for work” will not be seen separately. Companies running CSR programmes can offer resource support (financial or non-financial) NGOs, educational institutions, and skill training agencies that are working to introduce life skills for India’s young people. Organisations, through their CSR initiatives, can also offer short-term integrated courses and approaches to life skills to enable young Indians to be prepared and self-reliant.

Q 5. How is LSC working in tandem with the government for the development of life skills among Indian youngsters?

GG: In the first phase, LSC aims to work in tandem with state governments across Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, and Mizoram to bring contextual, social, and cultural inputs to the development of life skills among the young people of India. The work also entails interacting with various stakeholders across the life skills ecosystem from the DIETs (District Institute for Education and Training), SCERT (State Council of Educational Research and Training) as well as national educational bodies such as CBSE and NCERT.

Q 6. What efforts are needed to blend life skills education with the existing education system? How will this help the entire learning ecosystem?

GG: The education system in India needs to focus on holistic development of our students and preparing them for the future – we need to make our students self-sufficient – self aware, independent thinkers and problem solvers, resilient and responsible citizens of the world. For long, we have given too much emphasis on academic outcomes and even there, the focus on conceptual clarity and application based learning is limited. The system needs to evolve to blend the delivery of life skills along with academic learning and help create a cadre of well rounded individuals – our leaders of tomorrow.
RB: The current school education system focuses on academics. Even within the “learning for school” domain, it concentrates on the acquisition of bookish knowledge. Curriculum content and teaching-learning methods in school have remained more or less unchanged for a long time. In the meanwhile, economies, societies, the world of work and in the family, the world is a different place and continues to change rapidly. It is useful to think of three strands – “learning for school”, “learning for life” and “learning for work”. The last two domains need to be brought into the centre of the education system. Without weaving these three strands together, we cannot prepare and equip our young adequately for future lives.

Q 7. How does one measure and understand the impact of life skills?

GG: To measure and understand the impact of life skills, quality measures will need to be developed. In line with this, LSC has developed a common rubric for assessment selection. The common rubric majorly emphasizes two distinct adolescent assessment tools, one that focuses on ‘Future Readiness’ and the other on ‘Emotional and Mental Wellbeing. The tools are being contextualized, translated, and validated across our four partner states – Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, and Mizoram.
RB: LSC is working on several fronts to develop deeper understanding of life skills and to evolve a framework for measurement. The “Voices” track of LSC’s work is using survey research methods to explore what youth, parents and teachers understand as life skills. This understanding will also inform future steps in advocacy and assessment. In addition, a common rubric and tool kit is also being developed for iteration and use by all players in the education ecosystem.