Why we need to nurture skills among adolescents

Rose S. Akongo

What you need to know:

Developing 21st-century competencies holds the potential to empower and actively engage young people...

Over the past three years, 20 organizations and members of the Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) within the Values and Life Skills (VaLi) cluster have engaged in collaborative learning. Their focus has been on developing and utilizing contextualized assessments for 21st-century skills through the Actions for Life Skills and Values in East Africa (ALiVE) Initiative.

This journey commenced in August 2020 when 47 East Africans dedicated over 18 months to crafting contextual tools and conducting assessments in over 100 districts across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The results revealed that most adolescents were at the emerging level of acquiring these skills and were far from being proficient in them. For this reason, assessments must facilitate change to achieve better policies, better integration of 21st-century skills in the curricula, and better instructional and modeling approaches.

Driven by this concern and a commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4, particularly in aiding children in acquiring 21st-century competencies, RELI-VaLi member organizations across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are intentionally implementing diverse models and approaches to nurture 21st-century skills.

The goal is to equip young people to navigate the challenges of our increasingly complex societies and to thrive in the 21st century. In these diverse and intricate societies, developing 21st-century competencies holds the potential to empower and actively engage young people, helping them recognize their capabilities and drive positive change for social inclusion, harmony, and equal opportunities. Competencies like resilience, personal agency, and self-confidence can act as shields against the vulnerabilities of various social environments and risky behaviors, as well as a path out of poverty.

It is imperative to offer young people the chance to acquire knowledge and cultivate values, attitudes, and skills that enable them to fully participate in society and continue their learning journey.

The essence of RELI is anchored in learning. Across all the initiatives, models, and approaches undertaken by the 20 members of the VaLi cluster, RELI’s primary focus is to learn and document “what works” in nurturing 21st-century skills both within classrooms and in standalone life skills development programs.

In the spirit of continuous learning, our recent visit to Oyam with the Foundation for Inclusive Community Help (FICH), an indigenous organization and VaLi cluster member, allowed us to gain insights from their LEAD programme.

FICH’s LEAD programme is dedicated to empowering girls in Northern Uganda, providing them with the resources needed to cultivate a generation of healthy, innovative, productive, and self-reliant youth and women. The program offers educational opportunities and mentorships to help girls develop Social and Emotional Learning Skills.

Our visit focused on the discovery boot camp, which brought together 170 girls from Atapara Secondary School, Acaba Secondary School, and Everest High School in Oyam District. The 10-day boot camp commenced with assessing these young girls using the ALiVE tool, followed by a series of teaching and mentoring activities to enhance their skills and competencies in communication, teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, self-awareness, and empathy.

Our participation in the classroom, along with interactions with the girls and their facilitators, illuminated the fact that the discovery boot camp serves as a beacon of hope, nurturing not only competencies but also the minds and hearts of these girls in remarkable ways. The girls exhibited confidence and active engagement in class activities, spoke eloquently and enthusiastically about their future goals and aspirations, and demonstrated a passion and motivation that left no doubt about the transformative impact of the LEAD discovery bootcamp on their growth journey. It naturally led me to contemplate the potential impact of such a boot camp on girls in pastoral communities like Karamoja or in refugee settlements such as West Nile and Palabek.

Ultimately, it underscores the need to bolster the focus on holistic learning with robust and comprehensive approaches that ensure alignment, timeliness, engagement, and institutionalization.

Ms Rose Stella Akongo Principal-Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education- ALiVE Learning Coordinator