Intending to support government agencies and education institutions by building a life skills platform that can aid in the transformation of India’s learning ecosystem, 18 organizations have come together to announce the launch of the Life Skills Collaborative (LSC). In the first phase, the LSC will work in tandem with state governments across Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, and Mizoram to bring contextual, social, and cultural inputs to the development of life skills among the young people of India.
India CSR interviewed Geeta Goel, Country Director, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation India, LLP and Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive Officer, Pratham Education Foundation on objectives, mission, activities and plans of the collaborative. Excerpts:
Can you take us through the genesis of the Life Skills Collaborative and its mission?
Geeta Goel: It started with a few funders discussing life skills in 2019. Specifically, how life skills are an important part of a child’s education and yet they don’t get due recognition for the role they can play in the holistic development of a child.
The state governments had started recognizing the need for life skills at the time. There was a buzz around it and some governments had also started running a few programs. But, there was no common life skills glossary. We realised that for the life skills conversation to grow, we needed a life skills glossary; one that created standards and allowed for comparability. As funders, we realised without a common vocabulary for life skills we were not able to compare the performance of one organization with another.
So, five funders got together with a clear objective of curating a set of common assessment tools and vocabulary that will help compare interventions in life skills. We recognized that it was important to get practitioners on board since we were not on the field implementing things. The Life Skills Collaborative (LSC) today has 18 collaborators and a few on-ground assessment agents.
Rukmini Banerji: I think this is the first step in the ecosystem in a very structured way. It was much needed because before this collaborative came into place, we were also trying to figure out what framework we should use. Whether you call it socio-emotional skills or life skills or anything else, we were doing quite a bit of that in our education programs. But, we felt the need to anchor it on something that offers a common understanding of the space.
And so, key people came together to invest a lot of time and energy in putting this together and also brought in an organization like Sattva that could build the Collaborative.
There was also a lot of bridging together to be done.
At the outset, there were three different domains. One was, clearly coming up with what is the framework, or what we call ‘glossary’ at LSC. This was about landscaping everything that exists internationally and coming up with something in the Indian context that could be a common vocabulary of life skills.
The second big domain was to assess what people think about the life skills space. It is fine to have academic work and to have detailed conceptual work done on this, but it is important to see what students, teachers and parents think about life skills.
And, the third aspect was that all of these have to go through an existing education system. So, what partnerships need to be created with that system to achieve the mission of this collaborative – these become important considerations.
As the Collaborative exists today, different collaborators play different roles to achieve the larger mission.
You talked about partnerships. Are you bringing in the government as well?
Rukmini: Yes, it is a very important part. I think many people in this collaboration have had long relationships with various members of the government and various government organisations. This should hopefully help in bringing these new messages into the picture.
Geeta: As part of the current mandate of the Life Skills Collaborative, the assessment tools being developed are being tested and validated in four states, with the full buy-in of the state government. These are in the states of Mizoram, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttrakhand. By April 2022, we should have assessments from a few of the districts in each of these four states. So, I would say there is significant participation and buy-in from state governments.
Who are the members?
Geeta Goel: LSC is a collective of 18 like-minded organisations with an inherent eagerness to bring about the positive changes that are needed to make the life skills ecosystem in India thrive.
The current collaborators include Breakthrough, Center for Science of Student Learning, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Dream A Dream, Echidna Giving, Gnothi Seauton, ICRW, Kaivalya Education Foundation, Magic Bus, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Omidyar Network India, Porticus, Pratham, Quest Alliance, Room To Read, Sattva Consulting, Shantilal Muttha Foundation, and The Teacher Foundation.
Rukmini Banerji: Together LSC members have a collective experience of over 300 years in designing and implementing programs as well as working in partnerships with the government. The members bring in national and international expertise in education, skill development, measurement, leadership, gender and understanding emotional wellbeing.
What are the skills we are talking about?
Rukmini: Life Skills, as now defined by the LSC team are vital processes that help a person navigate through familiar, unfamiliar and challenging contexts with a sense of personal confidence, social conscience and professional competence. These are a whole range of competencies or skills that could be considered life skills. On a whole, the website gives you a quick glimpse and allows you to go deeper. The glossary is the core from which the assessment teams will try to see what can be made into assessment tools.
Geeta: 51 life skills have been conceptualized for India. The team looked at 63 frameworks in India and across the world. Also, these are not technical or vocational skills, these are life skills.
Is this list of LSC partners going to grow or are you going to stick to this number?
Geeta: The collaborative should be open. We already invite partners every two months. Through LifeSkillsNet, LSC’s Open House series, we are engaging life skills practitioners and stakeholders and they also expressed interest in joining the Collaborative. The idea is to have an open ecosystem, which would continue to create standard assessment tools and vocabulary.
What is the age group that we are targeting? Do we have a sufficient number of trainers and practitioners to take this up?
Geeta Goel: The age group to begin with the assessment tools is 11- 14 for the junior tool and 15-18 for the senior tool 18. These tools help to assess future-readiness and emotional and mental wellbeing in students.
As for the number of trainers, I do not think you can separate life skill delivery from education. If you need to do this at scale, it has to be done within the school system. Yes, we have a teacher shortage, but again teachers and trainers have a very critical role to play in life skills adoption. We will first have to train them so they can train the children, similar to a ‘train the trainer’ model.
And I think this is not an impossible target to achieve. If you know ‘what’, ‘how’ of it all, it can be done.
What do you intend to achieve in five years or ten years down the line?
Rukmini Banerji: Today life skills are at a point of inflection in India. There is a lot of good work that is happening. The Life Skills Collaborative (LSC) is working on creating a structure that will act as a catalyst in transforming learning ecosystems to facilitate children and young people to thrive. Put simply, LSC’s role is catalyzing life skills for children and young people in India.
In the future, LSC will create a space to facilitate and make available credible and evidence-based assessment tools for the life skills ecosystem. We will collect and share voices on life skills from the ground up. This will provide very relevant and contextual inputs to the governments and civil society organisations on what the young people, parents and teachers in India think about life skills. LSC will also drive and inform government action by providing in-depth inputs on a standard vocabulary on life skills and robust, contextual and validated assessment tools.