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Five Essential “Life Skills” that students need to develop in order to cope with the 21st-century challenges

  • Sheikh Nahid Neazy

The term ‘life skills’ refers to a broad range of social skills – also called 21st-century skills –which often vary depending on our individual situations. For young learners, life skills might include numeric literacy and understanding how to share with others. But for university students, knowing how to manage different workloads and to meet the deadlines is essential.

21st-century education is much more about ways of thinking which involve creative and critical approaches to problem-solving and decision-making. It is also about ways of working skillfully and creatively, including communication and collaboration, as well as the necessary tools such as ICT and information literacy. Last but not least, education is about building the capacity to live in a multi-faceted and multi-cultural world as an active, responsible and engaged citizen.

According to Dr. Spencer Kagan, a renowned clinical psychologist and former professor of psychology and education at the University of California Berkley, we face a skills crisis. This crisis can be conceptualized as a catastrophic imbalance between supply and demand. Much is being made these days of the need to boost academic achievement. In reality, though, in terms of importance, the need to boost academic achievement runs a distant second to the need to boost life skills. For the happiness and success of our students and the productiveness and success of our society, as educators we need to admit, face and address the life skills crisis.

“Life skills education” is a structured programme of need or outcome-based participatory learning that aims at increasing positive and adaptive behavior by assisting individuals to develop and practice social skills so that they can effectively deal with the demands or challenges of everyday life. These skills are loosely grouped into three categories: cognitive skills for analyzing and using information; personal skills for developing personal agency and managing oneself; and inter-personal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others.

World Health Organisation (WHO) identified five fundamental “Life Skills” (21st-century skills) which are important in different contexts and essential for everybody irrespective of culture, education, race, religion and social or economic background. These life skills — far-reaching and deeply impactful — are crucial to cultivate and learn in order to lead a better and more productive life. So, these skills need to be instilled in our youth during their education and nurtured over a lifetime.

  1. Decision-making and problem-solving: Decisiveness is characterised by the ability to make quick and effective decisions, especially when under pressure. That does not mean recklessness or impulsiveness. When you have the ability of making decisions and dealing with problems at workplace or in a real-life situation, you can take responsibility for the consequences of the decisions made. Even you can adjust to the situation if any mistakes are made. Finding a solution to any problem is very challenging. And problems cannot always be solved alone. So developing a plan of action including the consequences, good and bad, is a must. Besides, having a strong teamwork can help you reach a better solution.
  2. Creative thinking and critical thinking: There are few domains that do not rely essentially on creative thinking. According to Dr Peter A. Facione, critical thinking is purposeful, self-regulatory judgement which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgement is based. It could also be defined as a self-aware, focused, analytical way of looking at things.
  3. Communication and interpersonal skills: In today’s competitive world, having good communicational skills is a must. Communication refers to one’s ability to disseminate information meaningfully to others, either verbally, in writing, or through body language. You need to be able to communicate effectively with your employers, colleagues, customers and clients at workplace.
  4. Self-awareness and empathy: Self-awareness and empathy are two sides of the same coin. It is about understanding of the experiences, emotions and thinking that takes place within oneself and in others as well. Practising mindfulness can help promote the critical skills which can combat drug addiction, reduce stress, and promote a better understanding of people around you in the society.
  5. Coping with emotions and stress: This is not unlikely that things will go wrong sometimes in our everyday life. So, learning how to face these inevitable challenges or stressful situations – particularly at workplace – with resilience and patience is essential. Making good connections with friends and family members will always help you to maintain a hopeful outlook and find a realistic purpose in life. Socialising with relatives and colleagues is also beneficial. Besides, learning to bounce back from life’s unforeseen challenges will also help you to accept that change is a part of life!

In conclusion, I would say that people with strong life skills are thought to be more mature, proactive and professional in dealing with different situations at workplace because they are less likely to be reactive, and they are aware of their surroundings. Students who are able to use these skills effectively along with their academic qualifications – no matter whether we call them “life skills” (social skills) or “soft skills” – will be better placed to take advantage of educational and employment opportunities. In fact, life skills are crucial to management and leadership positions.

 

The author is an associate professor & chair, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh. He also contributes to Times Higher Education (THE), UK. He can be reached at nahidneazy@yahoo.com.

 

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