The term ‘life skills’ can be broadly interpreted, and is often assumed to

Life skills. The term ‘life skills’ can be broadly interpreted, and is often assumed to include such topics as health, hygiene, etiquette, and vocational skills. In UNICEF, however, life skills are defined as “psycho-social and interpersonal skills used in every day interactions…not specific to getting a job or earning an income”. The definition also explains … Continue reading “The term ‘life skills’ can be broadly interpreted, and is often assumed to”

Life skills.

The term ‘life skills’ can be broadly interpreted, and is often assumed to include such topics as health, hygiene, etiquette, and vocational skills. In UNICEF, however, life skills are defined as “psycho-social and interpersonal skills used in every day interactions…not specific to getting a job or earning an income”. The definition also explains that “a wide range of examples exist under the UNICEF working definition of Life Skills, such as assertion and refusal skills, goal setting, decision making and coping skills” (UNICEF, 2000). Life skills curriculum focuses on attitudes, values and behavioural change, rather than seeking to provide young people with a body of knowledge about a set of topics. As with literacy, age-appropriate life skills can be incorporated into other areas of study. For example, educators in Rwanda teach life skills as part of courses on conflict resolution, self-awareness, cooperation and communication. In Zimbabwe, aspects of life skills come through HIV/AIDS courses (UNICEF, 2000). Other countries may address some aspects of life skills through community-based learning. Still others approach life skills topics in courses such as health education, education for development, global education and peace education.

As quantitative data become increasingly prevalent in many societies


As quantitative data become increasingly prevalent in many societies, the concept of numeracy seems to be evolving. Also known as ‘quantitative literacy’, numeracy


encompasses a range of skills from basic arithmetic and logical reasoning to advanced mathematics and interpretative communication skills (Steen, 1999). Numeracy differs from mathematics; while mathematical skills support numeracy, the latter represents the ability to use a range of skills in a variety of contexts. Because mastery of many curricular areas requires numeracy — from geography and social studies to science and vocational training— many mathematics educators advocate teaching numeracy skills in an integrated way rather than as an isolated subject in a mathematics course (House & Coxford, 1995). Numeracy skills not only give people more control in their daily lives through, for example, more informed management of household or small enterprises, but also allow for more effective participation in communities and nations, since understanding many collective issues requires an ability to make sense of financial and other quantitative information.



Literacy, or the ability to read and write, is often considered one of the primary goals of formal education. Policies and practices in education for literacy vary significantly among countries. A recent UNICEF study on curriculum showed that in some cases, literacy skills are taught as a separate subject, in a language course, where the instruction tends to focus on teaching the language as an end in itself. Such an approach tends to be linear — first teaching aural skills, then speaking, reading and writing skills. Alternatively, literacy skills may be developed through other subjects such as social studies or science. The UNICEF study found that in these cases, there is a greater focus on language as a tool for social development; situations from daily life are incorporated into activities that foster the acquisition of reading and writing skills (UNICEF, 2000). Attention to the way literacy is developed is critical since research has shown that language learning cannot be separated from content. The learning context and agendas people have for learning to read and write have an important impact on the development of literacy skills (Furniss & Green, 1993).

Uniqueness of local and national content.


The specific content of school curriculum, however, depends on local and national values. In the main subject areas of primary education, which include language, math, science and social studies, little variation is found among different regions in the developing world. Nation states, however, “tend to have a high degree of consistency in curriculum emphasis over time, but differ sharply from each other, reflecting unique historical patterns” (Benavot & Karmens, 1989, cited in UNICEF, 2000). Local level interests may also have an impact on and contribute to the quality of educational content. Based on community priorities, the Mali Community Schools project, for example, successfully incorporated local knowledge into traditional subject areas (Muskin, 1999). In all countries, however, quality content should include several pivotal areas. These include literacy, numeracy, life skills and peace education — as well as science and social studies.

Quality content refers to the intended and taught curriculum of schools.

Quality Content

Quality content refers to the intended and taught curriculum of schools. National goals for education, and outcome statements that translate those goals into measurable objectives, should provide the starting point for the development and implementation of curriculum (UNICEF, 2000).


Student-centred, non-discriminatory, standards-based curriculum structures.

Research on educational practices and projections about future needs in society contribute to current understanding of the structure of school curriculum. In general, curriculum should emphasize deep rather than broad coverage of important areas of knowledge, authentic and contextualized problems of study, and problem-solving that stresses skills development as well as knowledge acquisition. Curriculum should also provide for individual differences, closely coordinate and selectively integrate subject matter, and focus on results or standards and targets for student learning (Glatthorn & Jailall, 2000). Curriculum structure should be gender-sensitive and inclusive of children with diverse abilities and backgrounds, and responsive to emerging issues such as HIV/AIDS and conflict resolution. In all content areas, curriculum should be based on clearly defined learning outcomes and these outcomes should be grade-level appropriate and properly sequenced (see, for example, Kraft, 1995).

Service delivery Provision of health services.


The school service environment can also contribute to learning in important ways. Provision of health services and education can contribute to learning first by reducing absenteeism and inattention. Sick children cannot attend school, and evidence from China, Guinea, India and Mexico shows that children’s illness is a primary cause for absenteeism (Carron & Chau, 1996). Today, the potential of school-based health interventions in improving academic performance is becoming increasingly clear as problems of protein- energy malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency disorders, helminthic infection and temporary hunger among children continue to plague developing countries (Levinger, 1992). School-based deworming programmes in Guinea, for example, led to increased achievement outcomes — failing scores fell from 32 per cent to 23 per cent over three years while passing grades improved markedly (Williams & Leherr, 1998). Maximum benefit-cost ratios have been achieved when deworming is combined with sanitation, a clean water supply and health education (Lockheed & Vespoor, 1991). School-based programmes that address other major health and nutrition problems that can decrease cognitive functioning including deficiencies of iron, iodine and vitamin A have also been shown to be effective (Dolan, Drake, Maier, Brooker & Jukes, 2000). Guidance and counselling services, the provision of extra-curricular activities and the provision of school snacks are other examples of service provision that contribute to quality school environments.



War and other forms of interpersonal and group conflict clearly have an impact on children’s mental health and their ability to learn. Many young victims of violence suffer lasting physical, psychological, social-emotional and behavioural effects. Although it is difficult for schools to provide safe havens from some forms of violence, other forms can be effectively prevented through interventions (World Health Organization, 1998).

Inclusive environments.


Reducing other forms of discrimination is also critical to quality improvement in learning environments. Most countries, in all parts of the world, struggle with effective inclusion of students with special needs and disabilities. An examination of special education policies and practices in China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam found that although most educational policies include some philosophy of inclusion, significant gaps between policies and actual practices in schools and classrooms exist (Mitchell, 1995). Children of ethnic and language minorities, politically or geographically disfavoured groups, and groups at low socio-economic levels may also suffer from discriminatory policies and practices that hinder the advancement of quality education for all children. This can occur by excluding such children from school

Effective school discipline policies.


Well-managed schools and classrooms contribute to educational quality. Students, teachers and administrators should agree upon school and classroom rules and policies, and these should be clear and understandable. Order, constructive discipline and reinforcement of positive behaviour communicate a seriousness of purpose to students (Craig, Kraft & du Plessis, 1998). It is important not to mistake small group cooperative learning for disorder, however; although noise levels may increase, task-orientation and focus on learning signal effective practices. Policies are also needed on bullying, harassment, drug and tobacco use, and anti-discrimination with regard to disabilities, HIV/AIDS and pregnancy.