Basic education and gender equality

Life skills based education

© UNICEF/2005/ Cambodia/Stark-Merklein

Today’s children face daunting challenges: violence, environmental degradation, disease, discrimination, poverty.

Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, a child’s ability to navigate this increasingly complex world requires a broad set of competencies: cognitive, social and practical.

The term ‘life skills’ refers to a broad group of psychosocial and interpersonal skills that can help children make informed decisions, communicate effectively and navigate their surroundings. By weaving life skills into the fabric of our educational systems, we equip children with the necessary tools to cope with challenge and confidently make their way in the world.

Life skills education is particularly important in such critical areas a HIV prevention, care and support, child protection and emergencies. The goal is to arm children with every available weapon for their defence in the face of potential harm.

At UNICEF, we believe that life skills are part of a rights-based approach to learning. Children are fundamentally entitled to quality education that respects their dignity and expands their abilities to live a life they value and to transform the societies in which they live. Child-friendly schools promote and enhance life skills.

These skills are firmly positioned within the context and framework of several recent global agreements and documents, including the World Programme for Human Rights Education, which began in 2005, and World Development Report 2007, published by the World Bank, which identifies “enhancing capabilities through life skills education” as one of the three policy directions recommended to assist youth in developing and contributing to society.

Recognizing the critical importance of these skills, the 164 nations committed to Education For All have included life skills as an essential learning outcome for all adolescents and young people. Today, life skills education is offered as part of the formal school curriculum in at least 70 developing countries.

In 2004, Bangladesh established Basic Education for Hard-to-Reach Urban Working Children, a programme that teaches life skills along with such conventional subjects as reading and arithmetic.

Azerbaijan has introduced life skills education as an optional subject within the primary school curriculum, addressing topics including health, nutrition, gender, human rights, peace and tolerance, environmental sustainability, personal development and interpersonal communication. Older students learn about sexual and reproductive health issues and drug abuse.

In Malawi, life skills are taught as a stand-alone subject as well as part of classes in health, science, social studies and religion.

In an effort to offer guidance on implementing life skills-based education, UNICEF has created a special website. It showcases promising examples of life skills-based education around the world, catalogues studies that have evaluated skills-based programmes, and provides practical tools and materials for those ready to implement such programmes. We want to ensure that these essential skills – aptly named for their ability to prepare children for life – have a valued place at the top of every country’s educational agenda.

Our young people, and especially our girls, regularly face risks that threaten their health and safety and limit their opportunities for learning.

By teaching children how to make informed decisions and navigate their way in a world beset by challenge, life skills equip, enable and empower tomorrow’s leaders.

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