A recent Cedefop study highlights the benefits of increasing individuals’ skill levels in EU member states: higher skills levels are correlated to higher employment rates, but also to better health, wellbeing and life satisfaction, civic engagement and social inclusion. Investing in increasing individuals’ skills levels is interesting for the public economy as people with higher skills need less state support regarding health or benefits, and are less involved in criminal activities. They therefore cost less for the public economy.
Life skills provision as a key component of upskilling
A question which arises from the Cedefop study is: What kinds of skills should individuals then learn? What should “upskilling” consist in? According to the EU’s Upskilling Pathways, increasing skills levels means providing skills useful for employment, including the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and digital competence, but also on “a wider set of skills, knowledge and competences” allowing the individual to progress towards higher levels of the European Qualifications Framework.
The concept of “life skills” is an important contribution to the debate on which capabilities individuals should learn. This is a holistic approach to basic skills provision, aiming to expand it beyond its usual definition as literacy, numeracy and (more and more often) digital skills.
For the moment there is no unified understanding of life skills, although definitions by UNESCO and UNICEF exist. One of the aims of the LSE project has been to create a glossary to better define the field. The underlying question is: which capabilities are the most fundamental and necessary capabilities an individual should learn in order to live in society today?
Equipping people with skills of life – not just work
The life skills approach considers that many different kinds of capabilities are necessary to cope with everyday life. Financial capabilities are needed, such as understanding how credit and debt function or how to manage one’s own budget. Health capabilities are needed, for instance knowing how to maintain physical and mental wellbeing and how to access health care services. Understanding how government services and institutions function, being able to express one’s own views and listen to others’, being aware of the impact of your actions on the environment… These are all fundamental capabilities enabling individuals to live and work in a particular social, cultural and environmental context, and to be active members of society.
Such capabilities are useful for work, but not only for work. The overarching purpose of life skills training is to empower learners, to equip them with the capabilities required for real life situations they face. In terms of the benefits of life skills, learning life skills gives individuals more autonomy and self-efficacy. It also has a knock-on effect on participants’ communities, as participants can share the knowledge and know-how they have acquired with people around them and teach it to their children.
Learning life skills makes individuals better equipped to provide practical and emotional support to others. Life skills contribute to social inclusion. Learners are for example more likely to organise social activities in their community and mobilise around civic issues. They feel more included and see themselves as active members of society. Life skills give individuals a broad range of capabilities, and motivate them to engage in further learning.
Towards a provision framework for educators
The Life Skills for Europe project partners have learnt a great deal about how life skills are seen in different countries since the beginning of the project in early 2017, collecting numerous good practices and tools from across Europe. Along with the life skills glossary, the collection of practices and tools will be published in November 2017 as a report and an online database. The next step, discussed at a recent partner meeting in Leicester in September 2017, will be to create a provision framework for educators, giving an educator interested in life skills the tools to go on and design a course.
The framework will show different types of life skills educators should aim to provide learners, and the kind of progression there could be in acquiring each capability. The framework will convey the learner-centred approach of life skills provision: provision begins from the learners’ needs. Course content should be built around the needs of the group of learners, and the provision framework proposed by LSE will remain adaptable.
Text: Noora PuolamaaPhotos: EAEA