Life skills are transferable everyday abilities that can enable and empower young adults to navigate through a range of life contexts with a sense of personal confidence, social conscience and professional competence. The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 of the Ministry of Education, India, highlights the significance of moving away from traditional rote learning methods and enabling young learners to develop life skills that will guide them in and outside the classroom to make informed choices about their lives and navigate through complexities of their future.
The policy reimagines ‘education’ for better life outcomes for children by promoting holistic, rights-based and life-long approaches to learning. NEP 2020 emphasizes on increased flexibility for students regarding their choice of subjects to study, particularly in secondary school – through the integration of vocational education in schools – so that they can design their own paths of study and life plans. It identifies the early school-based introduction of key life skills and competencies like problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and decision-making – which promote creative, innovative and inquiry-based learning.
It is essential to introduce these critical skills in schools through focused child-participatory strategies, in a conducive classroom environment and by trained, qualified professionals. Following that, it is equally important to understand how life skills, in scholastic or co-scholastic settings, can be measured, assessed, and evaluated. This article is an attempt to understand the need, challenges and methods of conducting school-based life-skills instruction and assessment.
Life Skills Instruction
There has been a global acceptance about the importance of school-based introduction of life skills for adolescents and young adults. There are diverse life-skills intervention models being implemented worldwide, ranging from an out-of-school strategy to system-integrated in-school strategies, both methods having their own levelled advantages and disadvantages.
In-School Life Skills Approach
Within this teaching model, life skills can be imparted to students during school hours as a stand-alone subject or through integration into the regular curriculum. This is a systematic, scheduled, and time-specific approach wherein teachers can be trained to deliver focused lesson goals in a classroom, according to the need of the students.
However, delivering life skills in a pre-determined manner, focused more so on achieving ‘learning outcomes’, can be limiting in terms of students practically learning how to use skills in real-life situations. Also, life skills education can often be given low priority by already over-burdened teachers and students, as compared to other academic-oriented subjects.
Out-of-School Life Skills Approach
This in-formal intervention model, typically implemented by civil society organizations, imparts life skills to students in an out-of-school community-based setting. This approach provides space for students to learn life skills in a multi-dimensional setting wherein they can interact with other students from diverse backgrounds, ages and realities, including potentially out-of-school students. However, such programmes often lack the ability to scale up and be stable and sustainable over a long period of time due to financial and human resource constraints.
Life Skills Instruction in Practice and Policy
In the last few years, several Indian governmental and non-governmental bodies have made promising efforts to initiate school-based life skills education among young students.
Delhi government has designed Happiness Curriculum, Jharkhand has introduced Project Sampoorna, and Uttarakhand has implemented life skills-oriented educational programs like Baal Sakha and Anandam, focusing on the socio-emotional development of students.
Room to Read is a global organisation demonstrating thoughtful leadership in life skills programming in India and across nations. With an aim to standardize school-based life skills lessons within the government delivery systems, Room to Read provides technical assistance to SCERT and DIET officials across India to help them build system-integrated life skills capacities at school, block and district levels.
Life Skills Assessment: Challenges and Methods
Different intervention models have put forward how life skills can be taught and learnt in schools through a range of formal, non-formal and informal techniques. However, critical to the school-based introduction of life skills is the need for standardized life skills assessments that are scientific, scalable, and contextualised to India.
Challenges and Strategies of Life-Skills Assessment
- Multidimensionality – Each life skill can contain within itself multiple sub-constructs, values and behavioral attributes. The multidimensional and abstract nature of life skills makes it challenging to facilitate assessment which is internally consistent and coherent. Tool validation methods like triangulation, test/retest or face/criterion validity may be required for the construction of a statistically reliable and valid life-skill measurement instrument.
- Contextualization – Conceptualization and usability of different life skills may vary across different societies and cultures. The contextually fluid nature of life skills becomes limiting in conducting large-scale standardized assessments at the national, state, or district levels. Micro-piloting, cultural and language adaptations of the tool can be essential steps in making life-skill measurement instruments contextually sensitive, equitable and empirically grounded.
- Benchmarking – While life skills programming has seen significant evolution, outcomes are rarely measured in a consistent or comparable manner. Gaps in theoretical and empirical research have generated limited evidence on age or grade-specific proficiency levels benchmarking of life skills attainment. Criterion-referenced tests and concise rubrics of pre-defined criteria or benchmarks for each life skill can facilitate the development of a robust measurement instrument.
Methods and Tools of Life-Skills Assessment
- Self-Reporting Scales – This is the most widely used large-scale testing method as it is easy to administer, cost-effective and has been widely used to derive consistently reliable and valid scores. Likert-type rating scales are typically employed to gauge the extent to which individuals are likely to perform in a skill. E.g. The Grit Scale (Duckworth and Quinn, 2009); the Social and Emotional Well-Being Tool (Life Skills Collaborative, 2022).
- Anchoring Vignettes and Situational Judgement Tests – In this testing, participants are presented with hypothetical situational statements, and their responses reveal an individual’s attitude or behaviour, which are not easy to measure in real-life events. Vignettestudies offer a scope of comparative contextualisation, reduce cultural differences and enhance the construct validity of the tool. E.g. Program for International Student Assessment (PISA, 2012); Future Readiness Tool (Life Skills Collaborative, 2022).
- Teacher and Classroom Reporting – Through this method, teachers are trained to rate students on target skills, competencies and attitudes through tools like anecdotal records, checklists, portfolios, classroom observations, and self & peer assessment. E.g.Holistic Progress Card (HPC), NEP, 2020.
- Serious Gaming Tests – In this method, life skills are tested through educational games wherein a scenario or simulation is developed, and then the participant needs to perform or select the correct behaviour to succeed in the game. E.g. Crystals of Kaydor, Learning Games Network.
Key Take-Aways & Way Forward
Moving forward, it is important to design a robust analysis framework which can quantitatively and qualitatively measure these critical skills. Room to Read has conceptualized a Life Skills Education Framework which focuses on ten life skills, falling under the three key domains of self-awareness, self-efficacy, and social awareness.
As represented in Table 1, each life-skill domain can be broken down and operationalized into a set of measurable domains and sub-domains, which can in turn be scored and evaluated through different valid and reliable scales or instruments.
An assessment framework can help develop standardized and scalable measures for evaluating life skills education proficiency and readiness for students and teachers across the vast educational landscape of India. However, the goal should not be to build one universal assessment model for life skills but to build contextualised micro assessments, adapted to local contexts and needs. The nuances of geography, language and socio-cultural practices across close to 1.5 million schools in India need to be taken into account while developing multilevel and intersectional assessment systems.
In conclusion, this summative analysis of assessment challenges, strategies and methods presents opportunities for holistically mapping life skills education in policy and practice in India.