Editorial: Include life skills in school curriculum
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has imparted some valuable lessons to citizens across the board - from throwing up challenges about work from home to balancing one’s personal, professional and academic lives while being confined within four walls.
What the crisis has also done is help us begin to appreciate the efforts of those responsible for keeping one’s home in good stead. Essentially, everyone - from electricians to bricklayers to plumbers, technicians, and mechanics, who were until now informally categorised under the ‘we-can bargain-with-them’ segment of workers, are now being recognised for the value that they add to our lives. It’s about time their skillsets became a part of the academic discourse in the country - to be inculcated in children at a formative age, no less.
In the backdrop of virtual education being thrust upon youngsters in various formats, the pandemic offers, in the Indian education space, an opportunity to revisit a subject that has been tossed away in the service of more important pursuits. That subject is Home Sciences, or as it used to be called in school - the SUPW period. Back in the day, SUPW stood for Socially Useful Productive Work. The subject was first unveiled to the school curriculum in 1978 by the Ministry of Education, following the recommendations of the Ishwarbhai Patel Committee (July 1977), which had coined the term SUPW for the first time. The objective of the programme, inspired by Gandhian ideals, was to offer students vocational training along with their academic curriculum - giving them exposure to areas such as carpentry, gardening, cooking, knitting, community welfare work, among others.
But when it came down to brass tacks, the 30-minute period was all about project work - how to build a rudimentary circuit board for a three-pin plug point or how to connect a musical doorbell. It also implied a mixed bag of arts and crafts based assignments, and home science activities. The subject was a staple in schools following the CBSE and ICSE boards. However, ignorance and the absence of qualified and cognisant educators led to the SUPW period being referred to as Some Useful Period Wasted. And there is a valid reason for the same. The DIY (Do it Yourself) aesthetic of this line of education, essentially required time-crunched parents and guardians to devote even more hours in activities that weren’t ‘directly’ related to the academic progress of their wards. To that effect, the subject became relegated to an afterthought - as most students and parents would throng local electronics markets to buy ready-made projects and crafts by the dozen.
A fallout of this attitude is that educational institutions around the country annually churn out lakhs of students who have been weaned on a rote-based methodology of learning. Devoid of any life skills per se, they are thrust into environments like hostels where they must learn many of these skills the hard way. And now, in a time such as a pandemic, many ‘well-adjusted’ adults are also discovering why it was important to have taken up those intermediate lessons in fixing a puncture, or a flat tyre, or replacing a burnt-out fuse or even repairing a simple valve in a faulty flush tank. More than anything, a leveller such as COVID-19 imparts in us the notion of the dignity of labour. Even as youngsters fumble with concepts such as robotics and AI, they must be also taught the basics of home science, carpentry, and electrical repairs. Such training will go a long way in keeping Gen Next safe and grounded.
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