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Essential skills: the missing link between education and employment

Calling for profound sector reform and systemic overhaul, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has emerged as a landmark moment for India’s education sector. Informed by the idea that education should go beyond academic achievement to focus on the holistic development of our future generations, the policy recommended embedding life skills as part of the curriculum. Coincidentally, this happened at a time when the world was grappling with Covid-19 – a time marked by upsetting health crises and exacerbating learning loss at all levels.

The closure of all schools and educational institutions during the pandemic has affected 275 million girls and boys between the ages of 3 and 18 and worsened their access to education. The pandemic has also led to an increase in the youth unemployment rate in India, making their already precarious position in the labor market even more precarious. These factors have necessitated special attention to developing the social, emotional and employability skills that can enable a generation to meet the challenges and opportunities of the dynamic 21st century.

It is a well-known fact that India’s problem is one of unemployability, not unemployment. There are 650 million Indians under the age of 25, the largest population of young people in the world, which presents us with a unique situation: almost 22% of the world’s additional workforce over the next three decades. will come from India. With the right interventions, this demographic dividend can easily be converted into a sustainable opportunity.

life skills

Life skills, which add capabilities to help young people transition into a changing world of work, have only recently been identified as important for the holistic development of young students. The findings of a 2019 UNICEF report, which indicates that more than half of young people in South Asia will lack the education and skills to be employable in 2030, highlight the dire reality of our future.

The clarion call launched by NEP 2020 has triggered several debates, interventions and innovations on the ground, such as the Young Warrior NXT project. Through this project, YuWaah UNICEF, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Udhyam Learning Foundation have come together to launch 15 pilot programs that could equip five lakh teenagers with the skills to prepare them for the future.

Take the case of Komal Singh, a girl from Uttar Pradesh who was looking for a professional opportunity. Amid the financial uncertainty and stressors of the pandemic, she has experienced a significant drop in her confidence over time. In such situations, young people like Komal lose hope and resilience, which affects their ability to face challenges. Through life skills training through the Young Warrior NXT project, she was able to regain her confidence, improve her communication skills, and find new ways to solve problems with the help of her family and peers. In Komal’s words, she was always in conflict with her friends and at home with her father, but thanks to her ability to practice listening and clear communication, her relationship with her father improved. Komal was also able to help his friends practice daily life skills.

Effectively scaling up the delivery of these innovative programs, to empower our youth and equip them with the right skills, is the next logical step. At the heart of this is a systematic approach that can ultimately help integrate life skills training into the general education curriculum and improve the preparation of the next generation.

Go forward

Our data-driven projects under Young Warrior NXT have shown that scaling life skills for mainstream implementation requires a four-pronged approach.

First, create a common vocabulary. Without an agreed vocabulary and assessment framework, it is not possible to effectively scale up the imparting of life skills in India. The most significant way to achieve this is to create a common vocabulary at the national level. If the 2005 National Curriculum Framework (NCF) helped create a baseline for academic skills, the new frameworks envisioned by NEP 2020 should do the same for life skills education. The background work for this has already begun. The Life Skills Collaborative, a consortium of more than 30 organizations with multi-sector expertise, working in tandem with state governments and educational institutions, has spent the past 18 months developing a glossary of key life skills terms and a framework for life skills training .

Second, create assessment tools. In addition to a common vocabulary to help streamline life skills training, scaling up requirements assessment tools that can ensure measurable results. A robust evaluation tool would allow us to assess the impact of each life skills training framework and organize our efforts to implement the most effective framework. For example, the “Future Readiness” assessment tool deployed across the 15 different pilots under Young Warrior NXT was designed to provide comparable assessments and learning on three key metrics – enrollment, engagement, and feedback. learners – that would inform sustainability and future scalability. This becomes especially important when dealing with large systemic changes in education departments that cover millions of students.

Third, organize life skills content. Making age-appropriate, relevant and contextual learning content available to all is the cornerstone of life skills development for the 21st century. Multiple e-learning solutions that aggregate high-quality learning content on the most basic academic subjects have indeed revolutionized education. A similar solution for organizing life skills content could greatly benefit stakeholders invested in the large-scale life skills transaction. This would not only empower young people to take charge of their own learning, but also provide opportunities to collaborate with learning experts in space and build on existing efforts in the ecosystem.

Fourth, using our existing systems. Finally, if we are to deliver life skills at scale, we must leverage our existing school systems and skills training infrastructure. There are over 10 million teachers and over 1.5 million schools in India – a significant asset base and distribution channel that can be leveraged. However, it is important to note that our teachers are already overstretched and the pressure of post-Covid catch-up is putting more strain on the system. Therefore, it is essential that we adequately assist, support and guide teachers with instructional frameworks, lesson plans and assessment tools to enable the delivery of life skills training within the curriculum. regular school.

The life skills pilots undertaken by Young Warrior NXT were a vital starting point. However, to reap measurable impact and deliver at scale, we must continue to test innovative models and invest in capacity building at the local and state level. Life skills must be recognized as integral to realizing the full potential of Indian youth, and it is our responsibility to empower them with the most comprehensive tools to fulfill their aspirations and inspire future generations.

Geeta Goel is Managing Director of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, India. Dhuwarakha Sriram is Head of Gen U India, YuWaah, Youth Development and Partnerships at UNICEF

Opinions expressed are personal

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