Life skill education needs a software update 

Earlier this week, we were talking to one of our students about life skill education classes in school. He told us that more often than not, life skill education class is a free period.

One teacher explained to him that the 'life skills' syllabus includes teaching students about gratitude. How can a teacher teach 17-year-olds gratitude? And how is that life skill education?!

It got us thinking about life skill education and what life skills really are. We asked some of our students what they considered a life skill. Answers differed, as we expected them to. But that's the thing about life! Everyone has a different set of skills they consider essential.

But we compiled some of the answers from our students below.

  • Cooking: This one is a no-brainer. Everyone should know how to cook and feed themselves. Your children don't need to be Michelin-star chefs, but can they make a sandwich? Do they know how to make rotis? If not, now is a good time to start teaching them!

  • First aid: In the movies, it's funny when people faint on seeing blood. But in real life, fainting is not always an option. Knowing to deal with medical emergencies is a life skill. Children should know how to stop a wound from bleeding (to press it down so that blood clots) and how to dress a wound. Or to know that when a dog bites, you're supposed to let the wound breathe. (We didn't know. We wish we had.)​​

  • Communication skills: Consider Martin Luther King Jr. and his 'I have a dream' speech. It was about racial equality in 1960s America, far from our lives and our reality. And yet we remember that speech. At best, that's the impact good communication skills have. If you think about it, everything really boils down to communication. Let your children speak at the dinner table and let them disagree. Listen to them and engage in a healthy discussion. Good communication starts at home.

  • Organizational and time management skills: Okay, maybe we don't need to tell you about this one. We're quite sure that you keep telling your children to organize their desk, or closet, or their room. If you're looking to inspire your children, maybe try with an episode of Marie Kondo's show on Netflix.

And you know that time is money. Not for your kids. Yet. But you can get them started with a few TED talks on time management.

  • Resilience: If living through a pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that resilience is a life skill. The ability to recover from setbacks, to learn from problems and to not give up is necessary to survive because life will always be full of setbacks and yet, all of us need to keep going. Children observe their parents and pick up behaviours from them. The best way to make them resilient is to show them the way.

  • Empathy and emotional intelligence: There's a lot that is wrong with the world - hate crime, intolerance and political discord. But it becomes better when we listen to each other and when we make an effort to understand them. If we cannot feel empathy, then we live in our own worlds, distant from everyone else. And the world is worse for it. We don't have a recipe for empathy, but learning to listen is a good place to start.

  • Financial literacy: Money makes the world go round. Understanding money is a life skill, no doubt. Teach your children the value of money and the necessity of saving it. Include them in conversations about money so that they can learn about ways to save and invest.

  • Creative thinking: In 1999, the World Health Organization named creative thinking as one of the many life skills. It is the ability to think in unusual ways, make connections no one else does and generate new ideas. We aren't surprised that creative thinking is a life skill because all of us practice it everyday, some more than others. So when your children have a crazy idea, don't shut them down. Let them think, test whether their idea would work or not and figure it out.

There isn't a formula to life skill education. For us at Openhouse, our children are more than just students in a classroom. The Openhouse experience is about developing all aspects of a child.

For us, that means that we regularly give our students group projects so that they learn to communicate with each other and learn to listen to each other. In our classes, we don't spoonfeed an answer or a concept. Through experiments and activities, we let them arrive at it themselves. It makes them think and make connections. In myriad ways, we ensure that our students learn life skills.

The classroom is important. But the classroom isn't life. For that, good life skill education is necessary.