C P Joseph, Principal, The Gera School, Goa

Mr Joseph has been in education for thirty years in schools of great repute across the breadth of India: St Paul’s School (Darjeeling), Wynberg-Allen School (Mussoorie), and Indus International School (Hyderabad) to name a few. He has spent about half of his career in Leadership positions in Educational administration. Mr Joseph’s vertical and horizontal range of experience in traditional and International curricula (IB and CAIE) across different levels has helped him immensely in understanding the requirements of students at different levels and in deciding benchmarks for the students. As a result, he has shaped institutions and their systems to achieve demonstrable outcomes in Academic Discipline, Staff Teaching Standards, Pastoral Care and Whole Education.

 

Education – it must be a given – must prepare us for life and for living. It prepares us for life for it gives us the probably the first in the list of wherewithal for doing well in life and fully utilising the potential we have. (If present day education does not do that, we’ll remember Mark Twain, but still give education the primacy it deserves; for education that does not deliver what it should, should not be called education so that the word rightly recalls associations of nourishment, nurture, and bringing up with care.

Education prepares us for living since education must surely mean more than academic or technical qualifications. Education must prepare us for what a VUCA life – forgive me the cliché! –  brings us. And that’s where Life skills come in.

But what are life skills? A good working definition is provided by Wikipedia: Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life.

Life skills help you to get the most out of life because they are the skills and competencies that help you navigate life’s journey successfully and provide you with happiness, contentment and fulfilment.

Life Skills can mean different things to different people. So right from tying shoelaces to being able to cook a decent meal, from learning literacy and numeracy skills to learning to avoid sinking into depression in a crisis, Life skills can change according to the person and change according to the time in a person’s life. Each phase may require its own unique set (and some common ones).

In 1999, the World Health Organization identified six key areas of life skills:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Creative thinking and critical thinking.
  • Self-awareness and empathy (they themselves being two important parts of emotional intelligence).
  • Assertiveness and equanimity, or self-control.
  • Resilience and ability to cope with problems.

But while these social, individual and reflective skills help us lead meaningful lives, they also can actually be Life-saving skills.

Let me give you a few examples:

a) Aron Ralston was trekking in Utah, USA, when a huge 800 lb boulder pinned his right arm and had him trapped. Aron had with him only one litre of water, two burritos and a few chunks of chocolate and a video camera but no way of contacting anyone. Aron refused to consider suicide though he spent five full days in that state. Finally, he used the boulder to snap the bones in his shoulder, and walked to his rescue.

b) When Nokia led the mobile markets and, later, when it diversified into being a successful service provider, design thinking was one of the key factors responsible for its success. Design thinking was also instrumental in Tata successfully bringing out the Nano. (Subsequent unsatisfactory responses to design flaws and the flawed advertising should not detract from the achievement of the Design and production teams.)

c) Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech played a big role in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act being passed by the US Congress.

d) During the COVID lockdown, those people who survived it – and helped others through it – at professional, mental and emotional levels were ones who showed empathy, positivity, adaptability, resilience, creativity, and personal belief.

In each of these situations we see different skills and competencies being used effectively to benefit oneself and others.

a) Ralston displayed grit, belief, purpose to stay alive. He has been an inspiration to many others. When Viktor Frankl and Elie Wiesel (Read the books ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and ‘Night’) were at Auschwitz (and Buchenwald), they never gave up hope. They showed enormous tenacity and courage to survive their heart-wrenching ordeals but went on to display empathy, forgiveness and determination to be magnificent examples of what it means to be human and help others heal, and ensure widespread awareness of the depths of human cruelty. Both were separately awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

b) (Nokia and Ratan Tata) – Steve Jobs, Dhirubhai Ambani, JRD Tata, leaders (at different levels) of successful companies and organizations displayed an entrepreneurial mindset and demonstrated qualities of motivation, grit, innovation, critical and divergent thinking to lead teams and create not just wealth but opportunities and a host of tangible and intangible benefits for others.

Often, we see people without technical expertise in one particular field still lead a team of teams splendidly. Their academic learning in school and at their professional training institutes helped but it is their Life skills that prove decisive in a crisis, in planning for the future, and in day-to-day functioning.

c) Consider communication skills. Are we not using some sort or degree of communication skills and more pertinently persuasive communication every day, and many times a day. One word in anger or impatience or immaturity or impulse, and the damage could be irreparable.

What use of all the qualifications and other impressive credentials if we have not one of the basic competencies needed to get along and do well: effective communication? (Watch the film ‘12 Angry Men’ to see a classic example of persuasive communication.)

d) An education that provides one with (only) the technical knowledge required to do one’s work (e.g. that of a doctor, engineer, artist, HR manager, writing for media, software development) is not to be entirely discounted. But life is nothing if not unpredictable. And since they are no birds in last year’s nest, we must be able to adapt.

How does only academic proficiency (School education + an IIT degree / degree in Medicine / MBA, etc.) help us to successfully woo someone and then keep the marriage stable yet fresh over a lifetime, build loving relationships with children and family members and others, death, divorce, loss of a loved one, a personal crisis, retrenchment, non-success at work, a terminal disease, build a personal vision for oneself, keep one creative and innovative, help one to be a servant leader or discover one’s ‘true North’…? It simply can’t. Academic proficiency is good but if that is the only string in our bow, it will prove very inadequate in a world as complex and diverse and ever-changing as ours. Think about this: What use learning the mysteries of the atom but not the wisdom to harness its energies for the good of men and mankind? Has not history taught us this stern lesson?

It is this education that is holistic and prepares one for life and for living that must be taught in every school everywhere to give every child the wherewithal to make human potential flourish.

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