Education is the means by which individuals are equipped with knowledge, skills and values that enable them to become productive citizens. Education is therefore very important in the development of both the individual and the nation. Ages 0-19 are critical formative years for the development of behaviour and skills in an individual. During this period, learners in pre-school, primary and secondary school, including those with special needs in learning, face varied challenges, which need to be addressed. These challenges include among others, negative peer pressure, gender bias, violence, early marriages, teenage pregnancies, indiscipline, career choices, early sexual onset, drug and substance abuse, rape, incest, and HIV and AIDS pandemic. These challenges are compounded by various factors, such as complex developmental changes during adolescence, lack of positive role models, negative mass media influence and inadequate and unreliable sources of information especially on human sexuality. A combination of these challenges render the youth vulnerable to social and health risks, such as HIV infection and other related sexually transmitted diseases.
In the African traditional society, proper structures and mechanisms had been put in place to help the children and the youth develop and grow as responsible and productive members of the society. Traditional education addressed the wholistic view of human personality through the informal education system. However, due to historical reasons, traditional family and educational ties have largely broken down thereby leaving young people vulnerable.
Throughout the Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), there has been a growing awareness that Life Skills Education for children and adolescents have for a long time been largely neglected in education programmes. The formal education system has to prioritize the imparting of academic knowledge. However, it has become increasingly clear that such prioritization of academic knowledge without acquisition of psychosocial skills is an inadequate way of preparing young people for the complex challenges that exist in our world today. Therefore there is need for the youth to be enabled to develop positive values, attitudes, skills and healthy behaviour in order to help them effectively deal with the challenges of everyday life.
The psychosocial challenges cited above can be overcome through Life Skills Education.
Life Skills Education can be defined as defined as abilities which enable an individual develop adaptive and positive behaviour so as to effectively deal with challenges and demands of everyday life.}}
Life Skills Education adopts a comprehensive behaviour change approach that focuses on the development of the whole individual. The Life Skills approach is an interactive, educational methodology that not only focuses on transmitting knowledge but helps the youth to explore their attitudes, feelings, opinions and values thereby developing psychosocial competencies to face life’s challenges effectively.
The main goals of the Life Skills approach is to
- enhance young people’s ability to take responsibility for making choices,
- resisting negative pressure
- and avoiding risky behaviour.
Through Life Skills Education, learners acquire and develop skills such as
- critical thinking,
- problem solving,
- interpersonal relationships,
- stress and anxiety management,
- effective communication, self-esteem and assertiveness. Teaching methods are learner centred, youth-friendly, gender sensitive, interactive and participatory.
The need to focus on Life Skills as a critical response to the challenges facing young people today, is highlighted in a number of international recommendations, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Conference on Population and Development, and Education for All. An example of one of these highlights is the UNGASS Declaration which states that; ‘By 2005, ensure that at least 90% and by 2010 at least 95% of young men and women have access to information, education, including peer education and youth – specific HIV Education, and, services necessary to develop life skills required to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection, in full partnership with young persons, parents, educators and health care providers.’
Some strategies developed to help equip the youth are: Print materials including student books and teacher's handbooks and Audio Visual materials
- HIV and AIDS Education content is infused and integrated in the existing curriculum.
- Sensitized Ministry of Education officials, Ministry of Health, Curriculum Developers, College Principals and personnel from related institutions and organizations to solicit their support and active participation in the project.
- Conducted training workshops for the National Team on Information, Education and Communication techniques in HIV and AIDS Education, equipping them with skills for facilitating the Training of Trainers at district and provincial levels.
- Dissemination of support materials (Good Health Magazines) prepared by UNICEF and Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to schools.
- AIDS education materials have been distributed and are being used in schools, churches and other organizations.
- In-serviced classroom teachers and education officers and equipped them with communication skills and methods of handling AIDS Education.
- Introduction of HIV and AIDS Education into the existing curriculum.
- Mainstreaming other pertinent emerging issues in the curriculum such as gender issues, child’s rights, child labour and drug and substance abuse.
- Provision of guidance and counseling services in learning institutions. The Government of Kenya recognizes guidance and counseling as an essential service that should be availed to children and the young people in learning institutions. In this regard, KIE has developed a Guidance and Counseling Teachers Handbook to equip teachers with knowledge and basic skills in guidance and counseling.
Subsequent to this a monitoring exercise on HIV and AIDS project has been done. The results indicated that there existed a gap between knowledge and behaviour change among the learners. Life skills education was seen to be the stop gap measure.? During the revision of the curriculum in 2003, Life Skills were integrated and infused into various subjects. Subsequently Life Skills was incorporated into the teaching and learning materials.
- Orientation of teachers on Mainstreaming of Life Skills Education to the curriculum
- So far orientation for 1140 trainers of trainers (TOTs) who include; teachers, Education officers, TAC tutors, and District Centres for Early Childhood Education (DICECE) officers on how to mainstream Life Skills Education into the regular school curriculum has been effected.
- Participatory story telling initiative
- The art of traditional story telling in Early childhood development program was introdused. A total of 53 trainers of trainers (TOTs) and 400 teachers have been trained on adaptation, dramatization and story telling aimed at instilling the essential values based on life skills. Approximately 4000 school children 3-6 year old and 16,000 standard one classes children whose teachers were trained have benefited.