By Zubeida Mustafa
I WAS first introduced to the term ‘life skills-based education’ at a forum of the Indus Resource Centre a few weeks ago. The term was used freely but it was not elucidated sufficiently, at least not for novices like me.
The IRC, which is doing very good work by promoting education in Sindh, had just completed its Reproductive Health through Girls’ Education project and we had gathered for an independent assessment. This was basically a population venture funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation but fitted into IRC’s agenda since it sought to change the mindset of girls vis-à-vis reproductive health issues. This was expected to impact on the galloping population growth rate of the country — one of the most serious concerns of the day.
Now it is widely acknowledged that key questions of demography such as family size, the spacing of pregnancies, the age of marriage and the status of women should be integrated into the national population programme to make it effective.
In societies such as ours, strong inhibitions prevent an open discourse on sex education and family planning, at least with young girls and boys in their adolescence. Hence, these sensitive questions have to be camouflaged and presented as a package containing many ‘acceptable’ subjects that can be talked about openly.
Inhibitions prevent an open discourse on sex education.
It is significant that these supposedly peripheral issues have a profound bearing on every aspect of human life. They include interpersonal relations, the art of communication and human rights especially the empowerment of women. Experts have come to realise that talking about such matters can bring about subtle changes in people’s thinking on many vital social issues.
The IRC claimed that its LSBE approach has had a far-reaching impact on adolescents. Though there were no conventional tools available to measure this impact, some changes, according to the IRC, have been pretty visible.
It is in this social context that LSBE has been found to be relevant. It seeks to create awareness in boys and girls in their teens about health and hygiene, drug addiction, violence, interpersonal relationships, the importance of recognising and expressing one’s feelings, reinforcing one’s self-esteem and handling peer pressure. While going through the literature used by the IRC and given to me by its executive director, Sadiqa Salahuddin, on my request, I was struck by the diversity of subjects addressed,
What fascinated me was the opportunity LSBE offered to the youth to improve their lives and acquire skills which would enable them to achieve fulfilment.
In this age of communication, the person who can manage this area of his life well is the one who succeeds. In the community school where I volunteer some hours of teaching, I feel that LSBE would help the children. Since I encourage them to participate in the dialogue we have in the classroom, I foresaw no difficulty in getting them to talk about themselves. It came as a surprise to me when to my question of whether he ever thought about himself — his emotions, his desires and relationships — 14-year-old Jibran flatly replied ‘no’.
Initially, he was not even sure what I wanted to know. As I prompted him making suggestions, he seemed to understand what the entire exercise was all about. As we proceeded, he started anticipating my questions and in the next stage his replies became more expansive and cohesive.
To the best of my knowledge, our schools are generally not focusing on LSBE by any name though it should be an essential and integral part of education. All children, which includes those of the affluent going to upscale schools, should be encouraged to learn these skills. Many need to be taught how to communicate and negotiate their way out of a difficult situation. They should know how to recognise their own emotions and develop an understanding of their positive and negative traits to be able to cope with them.
If this is not being done in our schools, it is primarily because our classrooms do not encourage a dialogue and the participation of students in the process of education. What we generally witness in classrooms is a one-way communication with ‘knowledge’ flowing from the teacher to the students with no flow in the other direction.
The IRC cites the case of Shabana Rajput, a teacher in a government high school in Kot Diji. Shabana is highly enthusiastic about LSBE and has inspired her students to learn these skills. More importantly, she interacts with the mothers to create an interest in them about their daughters as she believes that education should not be limited to book learning but lead to some self-introspection, analysis and critical thinking.
The only system that gives an insight to teachers into children’s emotional development is the one based on Maria Montessori’s philosophy. In The Absorbent Mind, Dr Montessori describes the four planes of development of a child as a “series of rebirths” and insists that all of these need to be understood.