Measuring Life Skills: Towards a Transformative Vision of Education
Life Skills and Citizenship Education in the Middle East and North Africa
We live in a high-speed world that is facing multiple new challenges, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which brings us to the question: Are we equipping the next generation – children and young people –with the proper skills and tools to better deal with today’s world?
Today’s rapidly changing social and economic life should be met with a transformative, holistic, lifelong and rights-based vision of education. In the digital era, advances in technology call for new skills seemingly overnight. Therefore, teaching and learning life skills – also called 21st century skills – is incredibly important for empowering children and young people to achieve success in education, employment and personal goals. Nevertheless, few education systems have integrated life skills into their education systems. One of the reasons for this is challenges concerning the lack of knowledge as to how life skills can be measured, assessed and evaluated.
For that reason, the Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) framework has been developed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Launched in 2017, the LSCE framework aims at better equipping children and young people to create meaning out of knowledge, and to face the transitions from childhood to adulthood, from education to work, and from unreflective development to responsible and active citizenship. The past three years’ efforts went into developing an instrument to measure life skills identified within the framework. The instrument enables the evaluation of education systems, through identifying the national level of students’ scores in eight life skills and distribution across the school-aged population.
“LSCE is a starting point towards reviewing the educational policies and changing textbooks, their contents, and school curriculum. This will enable our students to enhance their critical thinking, creativity, coexistence and get used to diverse contents from an early age.”
The Journey of Three National Research Coordinators
Souad is one of the three National Research Coordinators (NRC) who have been engaged and contributed to developing and field-trailing the LSCE Measurement Instrument. Souad have been overseeing the implementation of the field-trial of the instrument in Tunisia, making sure the instrument is adapted to and relevant within the specific context in her country. A similar role Abdallah Bsharat played in the State of Palestine and Khaled Alsied in Egypt – supporting the development and field-trial of the LSCE Measurement Instrument within their countries.
Those three champion countries – Egypt, State of Palestine and Tunisia – have been selected for the field-trial of the LSCE Measurement Instrument, in order to represent much of the diversity across the region so that the final instrument can be used widely across all countries in the region.
“I participated in several meetings in Jordan to review the instrument, along with the NRCs from Tunisia and Egypt. In the beginning, we reviewed the instrument completely, and the content was agreed upon after ensuring its adaptability with the Palestinian, Tunisian and Egyptian context, and we are always following closely the progress of the operation and its results." explains Abdallah Bsharat, the NRC of the State of Palestine.
The LSCE Measurement Instrument has been designed and tested to assess eight life skills – Creativity, Problem-Solving, Negotiation, Decision-Making, Self-Management, Respect for Diversity, Empathy, and Participation. Measurement instruments for the remaining four life skills of the LSCE framework – Critical-Thinking, Cooperation, Resilience, and Communication – are currently under development.
“These life skills are crucial for today’s generation.” says Khaled Alsied, the NRC of Egypt. “We need to use this instrument because it is built according to a scientific way, and its results will be very useful to improve the educational system and build a better school curriculum that respects this generation's needs and hopes,” he adds.
First step towards developing this instrument was rigorous research on measurable definitions of life skills, and existing approaches and instruments to measure life skills.
Applying the LSCE Measurement Instrument has several benefits and can contribute to and inform:
- Improving life outcomes through education policies and targeted interventions, requires an understanding of life skills scores and their distribution across the school-age population.
- Integrating life skills into national education systems and targeted interventions, through the teaching and learning content and process, requires alignment with average life skills scores.
- Monitoring life skills acquisition, and hence the effectiveness of education policies and targeted interventions, requires regular assessment of life skills scores and the trend over time.
“I strongly believe that it is a mistake to focus only on the academic skills, because the students of today and the citizens of tomorrow need to have the critical thinking, creativity, negotiation, problem-solving, and communication skills, in addition to their need for mathematics, science and the other academic skills.” explains Souad.
Enriching Experience with a Diverse Team
Developing the LSCE Measurement Instrument requires important teamwork – at regional as well as country level – which makes it an “enriching” and a great learning experience for the three NRCs. “We are working with a big team and interacting with people from different countries to develop and improve this instrument, and that’s why it was a fruitful experience.” says Khaled.
In the same context, Abdallah adds “From this great experience, I developed an overview on the level of the students' knowledge in terms of life skills and citizenship education in the State of Palestine, and I also learned about the cultural and social contexts of different countries, especially Egypt and Tunisia. I also gained an understanding of how to conduct a very large survey and how to enter and manage data.”
The Application of the Measurement Instrument
Assessing learning and understanding the state of play on life skill scores in a country is the first step towards realizing an education system’s full potential to enhance the learning experience. Once a country has applied the LSCE Measurement Instrument, the findings will inform policymakers and educators towards:
- Understand levels and distribution of life skills across the school-aged population,
- Inform the nature and scope of required interventions to foster life skills teaching and learning,
- Track the progress of policies and interventions designed to enhance life skills.
The instrument can be applied in every country in the region. The developed instrument is not based on any national curricula as it focuses on measuring life skills scores regardless of disciplinary content.
Those interested in conducting the LSCE measurement study by applying this LSCE Measurement Instrument, are encouraged to reach out to Country Offices of UNICEF and The World Bank in the respective country, or contact the UNICEF MENA Regional Office through firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I believe it is important to measure life skills, and it will be great to use it to improve the education curriculum in Egypt.” says Khaled – echoed by Abdallah saying “It is important for us as Palestinians to bring life and citizenship skills into the school curriculum.
Developing the LSCE Measurement Instrument for the MENA region is a joint initiative of UNICEF and The World Bank with support of Roehampton University, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
About the interviewer/interviewees:
Yasmine Oubahi is a Social Media Officer at the UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office.
Abdallah Bsharat is an Assistant Professor at the Birzeit University in the State of Palestine.
Souad Abdelwahed is a Research Professor at the University of Tunis El Manar in Tunisia.
Khaled Mohamed Sayed is a Researcher at the National Center of Examinations and Educational Evaluation in Egypt.