Hong Kong schools and parents need to emphasise life skills teaching

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 8:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 8:04pm

Students who have recently graduated from school are preparing to embark on their college careers made possible by the grades they have received at their secondary school-leaving exams. But how prepared are they for the next chapter in their lives?

Most students will be 18 when they start their university education - the age they are regarded by the law as being able to "manage their own affairs". But how do we know if they can actually do that?

If there was a life skills report card, would we as parents be as impressed with their life skills grade as we are with their academic grades?

Life skills, unfortunately, is an abstract and broad term for the abilities one would need for full participation in everyday life. And the World Health Organisation informs us that these are comprised of adaptive and positive behaviours that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. While they can be taught and learn through experience, their context is shaped by the society to which students belong.

Social, thinking and emotional skills are considered as core life skills and a number of international agreements and conventions directly and indirectly highlight their learning. In fact, the World Development Report from 2007 identified "enhancing capabilities through life skills education" as one of three policy directions recommended to help young people develop and contribute to society.

However, a Google search for life skills returns 240,000,000 hits, including "7 essential life skills", "12 life skills students need to succeed", or "27 skills your child needs to know that she's not getting in school".

So I did a casual survey among friends and family members. I asked how they would determine whether an individual has, say, good social skills. One said the language of such individuals would be grammatically correct and they would enunciate their words well. Good diction helps others listen better. Another said good eye contact was imperative. Yet another believed manners and being courteous was intrinsic to having good social skills.

Our son Akhil, a doctor who administers critical care, adds to the list the following criteria: "The ability not to get fazed; to get along with people whether or not you agree with them; not to take things personally and the ability to listen to and help others."

If most adults have difficulty articulating the positive behaviours that are necessary to life skills, how do we know if students have acquired them the way I can gauge and describe on a report card?

Marlaine Paulsen Cover, founder of Parenting 2.0 and author of Kissing the Mirror: Raising Humanity in the Twenty-first Century, has done just that.

Cover created a communication tool called the Life Skills Report Card (LSRC). Similar in format to academic report cards, the LSRC divides life skills into five primary categories: personal care, organisation, respect for self and others, communication, and social. Sub-categories on the LSRC include: sleep, exercise, spirit, safety, time utilisation, finances, ownership in problems and conflicts, altruism, and environmental consciousness.

She found that societies around the globe routinely supported children's active learning from third party instructors for music, sports, and academics. When it came to the critical arena of life skills, however, the popular perspective was simply "children learn what they live".

"Yet when children are deficient in certain life skills, society is quick to pass a whole person judgment," Cover says.

Parenting 2.0 is LinkedIn's top ranked parenting group with over 5,000 members in more than 70 countries, all sharing Cover's vision that "one day, children's LSA [Life Skills Average] will be as appreciated as children's GPA [Grade Point Average]".

Life skills are necessary, because - to quote Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson - "to be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, that is the only end of life".

Anjali Hazari teaches biology at the French International School