Life skills for transformation

SkillingIndia on September 3, 2012 Comments
Satish Jha, CEO, OLPC

Life skills are needed to find a productive place in society as the economy changes by the day!

Ask an average high school student in rural India any question and most likely you may have to repeat, rephrase or struggle to find ways to be understood to get any response that may help you. Further, be it speaking or writing an intelligible sentence or working with numbers, our high school students are far from adequately equipped to engage in what may be considered a normal conversation among the “literate” folks.

Various surveys, or reports from a number of agencies or institutions underline that the education imparted by India’s rural schools and the municipal schools may offer minimal literacy, little numeracy and may not equip the students to begin learning what they need to learn.

The rote system of education does not usually help them discover what they may need to learn for sheer survival. They are constantly at the receiving end of learning about what they need to do for their employers, whether as a manual labour or domestic help. Anything beyond that is a rarity for a few fortunate ones endowed with extraordinary talent may manage to touch or feel. Mostly because the rote learning may help children memorize what they are taught, it seldom prepares them to connect the dots.

Survival, on the other hand, becomes increasingly complex as the knowledge base of the society continues to expand and more and more people move up the knowledge curve, technologies change, processes evolve, new aspirations emerge and the threshold at which the world around us works gets raised.

Imagine what will someone barely literate with skills to read alphabets and numbers will manage to contribute in the organized sector today? About 95% of India barely does that, with about a third with little capacity to claim bare literacy as their skill.

65 years of freedom have not prepared India to educate 25 million children entering its school system in kindergartens to get an education that can help them learn learning, learn skills, connect the dots or become citizens with an ability to understand what is required to be citizens who can control their own destiny. Hundreds of millions of able bodied citizens can be skilled and helped in taking charge of their affairs thereby plugging into the national economy at a level above the “poverty line”.

Things can change if we think the right way, if we plan for our citizens the way we plan for our children. Just as children need 21 years of nurturing before they become productive, we can get every young citizen of India ready on life skills to learn the challenges of the day and the day after. This must begin by making the early learning enjoyable, engaging and offering a framework that grows with children in scope and complexity.

Rather than rote, a shift in focus to help children learn and explore will help them to think, imagine, visualize, create and relate that to their own experiences, share, collaborate, learn from each other and therefore teach each other and help various parts of the brain be engaged in their growing up.

Consider a program like “scratch” or “e-toys” that were developed by some of the leaders in pedagogy and technology at MIT and see how children at 6 or 7 years of age can start enjoying programming. For any learning has to be in the context of the time when they will prepare to enter the market, whether to leverage their skills or entrepreneurial talents. Life skills are needed to find a productive place in society as the economy changes by the day, just as technology life cycles continues to become shorter.

In this context any effort to just make the next generation barely literate we can use the 1950s benchmark to get them ready for 2030s. Giving them partial education that does not prepare them to be curious and learn or simply offer a specific vocational education clearly is a gross misuse of India’s national talent pool.

What we must keep in mind is that education can transform lives, not just of a person, but that of the nation that claims to believe in “demographic dividend”. India has, thus, far pursued the path of making everyone “literate” when it does little to prepare the citizens to contribute to their potential. It’s like making the nation work at a percent of its potential.

Instead, nurturing the “life-skills” that help people not only take care of their present, but give them tools to anticipate changes, learn new skills in time, connect the dots when faced with a challenge and contribute at a plane no one thought is possible.

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