I ask science students how they will survive on a desolate lonely island in the middle of the ocean, and they say that they will drink the plentiful water that is available in the sea!
I ask commerce students how one opens a bank account, and many of them do not know. I inquire how they would deal with a bully in a lonely place, and they have no idea. Even inquiries about how people different from them live their lives draw a blank.
It is a fact that many meritorious students do not develop basic life skills. Since the curriculum at every stage restricts the students to what is written in textbooks, there is very little opportunity to explore the real world around them.
Activities are must
There is a strong need for 21st-century students to be taught beyond academics to face challenges of life and work. It has been over 20 years since the World Health Organization (WHO) enunciated the 10 basic life skills required for a fulfilling and successful life. Yet in India, they have not been made a compulsory and continue to remain ‘extra-curricular’ activities. It is commendable that a few schools, and also a few teachers on their own initiative, have started imparting life skills, but that can be treated as a drop in the ocean.
More important is to understand that life skills cannot be taught effectively in the classroom and through lectures. Students who spend most of their school hours within the four walls of the classroom are not very enthused to sit there itself and listen to another adult even if the topic is different and interesting. Hence it is imperative that activities be devised wherein the children step out of the classroom and involve themselves, mind and body, in doing something useful, learning about life, and building up their capacity to face diverse situations. Such activities can be organised periodically when there is not much pressure on academics, and when some time can be spared. If the activity is indeed attractive, teachers will find that students are often willing to work on it even after school hours.
Hands-on and outdoor activities can also be very useful alternatives to wean children away from mobiles and technology addiction, which has already become a major cause of concern to innumerable parents. Instead of policing the children (which anyway is a futile exercise) we can devise means of involving them in interesting activities that will not be distractive, and make them better citizens.
Some of the skills that can be focused upon during such activities are decision making, problems solving, communication, improving relationships, stress management, handling emotions, self-awareness and empathy. In fact, these are the 10 life skills that have been propounded by WHO and have stood the test of time as perhaps the most essential ones for all-round development.
The first step would be to identify teachers who willingly volunteer to take up this responsibility, and enjoy doing the projects. An orientation by a Life Skills coach can prepare the teachers to handle the children and inspire them. There should also be a reward system in place to acknowledge the additional workload that these teachers have taken up. Sincere backing by the head of the institution and management is a great motivator, and soon there can be a ripple effect of more teachers joining in, expanding the activities.
Similarly, students who take the lead and do meaningful work should also be given material and non-material rewards. Many students who never get awarded for academic prowess will find immense thrill in getting recognition in this way. Whenever possible, at least some of the parents may be roped in to become part of this project, reducing the burden on the teachers. Quite often when such a scheme is announced, there are innovative parents who may come up with very useful suggestions, and also become a part of the work to be done.
Ideas to explore
Most of the below-mentioned projects have been successfully tried out in different schools, hence there is a precedent and schools can modify suitably and try them out:
- Make students go around the locality surveying different aspects such as heritage buildings, parks, the type of eateries, vegetable vendors, municipal offices, schools, colleges, non-profit organisations etc. Based on the age of the children, they can be given suitable tasks to get details or interview people.
- Occasionally a class can be held open-air in parks or the neighbourhood park, outside a stadium, in a playground – and the children can be asked to observe new things they see and write about them.
- Senior children can be asked to open a bank account, get an Adhaar card, help an elderly person get a Senior Citizen card, guide a person to get a card for free medical treatment.
- With prior permission, visit a public hospital and give tasks to children to clean the open areas, talk to patients, write letters for them, make a list of facilities available, and find out about different illnesses.
- Photograph insects, animals and birds that can be seen around the school campus and make an album along with details of each living being.
- Visit an orphanage, make friends and report on one child each. Teach a lesson or skill to the inmates.
- Visit an old age home and interview one resident each, find out everything about their life, and make a short biography.
- Do a study of roadside hawkers or even beggars around the school, their needs, lifestyle and expectations.
- Visit friends’ homes and interview maidservants or domestic help, write in detail about their lives and challenges.
- Survey stray dogs in the area and their lifestyle, how they survive.
- Do an exploration of birds in the vicinity, look out for unusual birds, and get their details, take photographs, and monitor their movements.
The above is only a representative list. If teachers list out some of the above and ask students for suggestions, they will be amazed at the creativity and imagination with which new ideas will come forward. If possible, connect each activity to at least one or two subjects the students are studying and show them how studies eventually lead to tackling real-life issues.
Once children get into the habit of doing such projects, parents may be encouraged to take their children (or a small group) out for similar projects, if possible in rural areas amidst nature, particularly during holidays. The children can then present their findings on return to school, and their work can be put up on special notice boards in the corridors.
Certificates of recognition or appreciation can go a long way in keeping motivation alive, and will also help the child in later life for admissions or work assignments.
(The author is the founder, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)