Albeit aspirational, the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) falls short on clearly envisioning some of the pressing needs of the Indian education system, especially pertaining to the delivery of quality education in schools.
Ensuring quality education for all has been recognized as one of the SDGs (SDG 4) and it implies an education which prepares the child for life, rather than for testing. In order to enable the child to overcome the challenges of the 21st century life, the NEP enlists a few fundamental principles to guide the education system of the country. Some of these principles highlight the importance of soft skills which can be broadly classified as “life skills” that form an integral part of modern education.
WHO defines life skills as “the abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life" The list of life skills is not exhaustive and includes skills such as critical thinking, communication, cooperation, teamwork, empathy etc. as indicated by the NEP.
While the intention to promote life skills is commendable, there is much to be desired on how it needs to be materialized. The policy aims to deliver these skills through curricular and pedagogical development, which include reducing curriculum content to make space for holistic learning, allowing flexibility to students in choosing their individual curricula and providing for capacity building of teachers to deliver such curricula. Dream A Dream, one of India’s leading organisations in delivering life skills education has comprehensively covered the challenges of implementing life skills education in India.
A large number of children in India live below the poverty line, have stunted growth and are underweight. Data highlighted by the NGO Child Resources and You (CRY) from the NFHS 4 (2015-2016) state that- only 9.6% of children between 6-23 months in the country receive an adequate diet, 38% (1 in 3) of children between 0-5 years are stunted in the country, 21% (1 in 5) of the children in the country suffer from wasting and 36% of children under 5 years of age are underweight in India.
Such childhood adversity results in developmental delay that is associated with a range of mental health and developmental issues. These issues create challenges throughout life which is known as the phenomenon of “failure to thrive”. At the same time with nearly fifty percent of the total population being young, India’s demographic dividend offers the country incredible opportunities for economic growth. This has resulted in two primary problems –
Articulation of adversity and the failure to thrive as an unemployment problem – thereby requiring solutions which create more jobs. In the education sector, such solutions take shape in prioritizing developing skills for employability through vocational learning.
While life skills education has been deemed of significance over the years through various policies like the National Curriculum Framework, 2005 and CBSE’s Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation policy, its significance is evaluated in terms of its contribution to making a person employable rather than being life ready. Thus, actual curriculum building and teacher development efforts for life skills remains poor.
Without proper life skills education, the failure to thrive is likely to prevent a large number of children from fully utilizing the vocational skills they learn to live a fulfilling life, thereby falling short on actualizing the potential of India’s demographic dividend.
Building a school culture toward life skills and improving the capacity and motivation of teachers to impart life skills is essential for ensuring that life skills education doesn’t remain confined to the margins of school education.
Tackling these problems requires an unambiguous articulation of the scope and purpose of life skills education and its distinction from vocational skill development. Without such articulation, subsequent policies founded on the NEP’s principles are likely to continue unilaterally focusing on vocational skill building and making children “employable”, thereby alienating the goal of quality education as envisioned by the NEP.
- Subham Borah, 5th year law student from Institute of Law, Nirma University, working for Spinning Wheel Leadership Founder impart 21st century life skills in villages for Rajasthan.