By Gurinder Gulati
Inquisitive gestures, eyes wide open - unblinking. Curiosity is writ large on the faces of children of Class III in a far flung primary school located in Patanka village of Gujarat bordering Pakistan. The children have lots of questions about the story on the snake and the mongoose, just narrated by Vaishali Ben, their class teacher. Sensing their curiosity, Vaishaliben asks them to get into a group to discuss the story and try to find answers to the questions they have.
Without wasting a minute, the children start the discussion. Every child is given a chance to speak and the ones who do not speak are gently motivated by the teacher. After the lively exchange, the children are encouraged to present their thoughts on the story.
The most striking thing in this scenario was that learning was taking place in a non conventional manner. Children were given the opportunity to think critically and resolve the problems on their own. Vaishaliben encouraged them to open up and share their views. She had just returned from a training organized by UNICEF on encouraging life skills education in the classroom such as In collaboration with the Education Department of the Gujarat government, UNICEF launched the Life Skills training programme for teachers in three districts of Gujarat - Patan, Chhota Udepur and Valsad covering about 147 schools.effective communication, interpersonal relations and creative thinking, and so on and was inspired to practice her learning with her pupils.
Life Skills training is already showing its impact by turning classrooms into child friendly spaces, where there are no barriers between the teachers and students.
A total of 243 teachers were trained. The four day interactive training program covered the basics of life skills theory. Says, Mahendrabhai, a teacher from Chhota Udepur, “I have started understanding my students better. The classroom has become a joyful place of learning. Students have become more participative, creative and interactive. They have started developing healthy interpersonal relationships instead of quarrelling with one another.
The training equipped the teachers to acknowledge and develop the ten basic life skills of self awareness, empathy, problem solving, decision making, effective communication, interpersonal relations, creative thinking, critical thinking, coping with emotions and coping with stress, among their students.
Virambhai, a teacher from Jhekda Primary School had this to say, “Had I not attended the training, I would have missed something good in my life. I always had the notion that children do not know anything. But I have been proved wrong. After the training, when I gave a word building exercise to the children, they worked in groups and came up with a large number of words. I was astonished at the creativity the children had and the different ways in which they could think.”
The students’ outlook towards the life skills approach is equally positive. Kajal a student of Motaponda School in Valsad says, “Our teacher has become more affectionate and caring. I wish this positive environment prevails all through.”
Vinod, Shailesh, Kavita and Suneeta also share these feelings and say, “this way school is fun and we can learn so many things from them, like how to be brave, solve problems and understand others etc.”
Life Skills training is already showing its impact by turning classrooms into child friendly spaces, where there are no barriers between the teachers and students. Whereas the training is helping the teachers to enhance their effectiveness in classroom transactions, it is also turning the children into independent thinkers, who have the capacities and competencies to learn and grow on their own terms.