Growing enthusiasm for education that helps children and young people develop psychosocial competencies in addition to literacy and numeracy skills is well documented. Though recognized by different names – “life skills education”, “social and emotional learning”, or skills-based health education” – the central notion is the same: education that helps young people develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, that builds their sense of personal worth and agency, and teaches them to interact with others constructively and effectively, has transformative potential. Whether as individuals or nations, in both the developed and developing world, our success as human beings and as democratic societies depends on how well we are able to manage challenges and risks, maximize opportunities, and solve problems in cooperative, non-violent ways. Life skills are defined as a group of cognitive, personal and inter-personal skills that enhance such abilities.
As an international child rights organization whose mission includes the goal of expanding children’s opportunities so that every child can reach his or her fullest potential, UNICEF welcomes (and has done much to encourage) the growing enthusiasm and support for the potential of life skills development. Life skills education, however, is not some kind of “silver bullet”. Life skills learning – whether formal or informal – does not take place in a vacuum, and the ultimate expression of life skills learning – adaptive and positive behaviour – is greatly influenced by the environment in which individuals live, learn and act. This is a key concept that those who champion life skills education, those who develop life skills education programmes, and those who evaluate (or criticize) such programmes, must take into account.