Life skills driving change in young people

Words: Slindile Xhakaza

Education should be made relevant to the lives and aspirations of the children it aims to teach. This is especially true for the South African youth. The reality for many young people in South Africa is that they may come from extremely different backgrounds and lifestyles but challenges are not exclusive to one group. Young people at some point in their lives experience a shift and change in behaviour as they familiarise themselves with the changes that are happening in their physical being as well as mental being. They are often at impressionable phases in their lives and this is when they experience a lot of change as well as become easily influenced, positively and negatively. They are also dealing with different stresses from the pulls of family, friends and school, each holding its own expectation for them to meet. It can be very challenging and can be overwhelming.

Given an opportunity to go back to high school, I would apply a lot of my teachings to young people to my younger self, namely – Not having to try so hard to be liked, I don’t think I struggled as much as other young people do, but I put so much pressure on myself to be likeable and given an opportunity I would relieve myself from that pressure. Fast forward to 2020 as an experienced Facilitator and Youth Mentor with over 8 years of experience of mentorship, I have been marveled at the high intensity of life for young people and what they are exposed to now compared to my days in High School. This has led to me an absolute conviction for the need for Leadership development and LO as practical subjects at school. I recognise how important LO is and a great opportunity it provides youth workers to equip young people to manage and handle the pressures they feel, the LO subject is highly beneficial, not as an assessment based subject but a life training subject that provides tools to manage life pressures now but also empowering with skills for their future and it being relevant to each grade. I do believe it is currently highly underused. There are so many opportunities to shape and change the mindsets of young people, to discover themselves and their unique potential.

We often think we often tell young people that they are great and that is good enough but I have found that young people crave mentorship, someone to just tell them about life, to genuinely care for their well-being and to also give them practical tools to handle pressure. If we can remove the assessment pressure to the subject we can create an opportunity for authentic connections between teachers and students but also an opportunity for young people to be taught about life and be ready to take on life in high school and beyond in the practical sense.

Today, education is touted as the single most important tool to transform the poorest countries in the developing world into prosperous economies — but the need is not just for schooling but for education that is appropriate to the challenges young people face in the 21st century. Again, our socioeconomic backgrounds in the country are so different but no one person is exempted from life challenges and that is why LO is relevant at all students and not for some, developing the leader in every young person and using the lessons to assist learners discover themselves and their potential.

Life Skills and development is important because it engages young people at their level and it provides them with unique opportunities to speak freely without being judged and we, as facilitators, teachers take the responsibility of being mentors, an aid and guide to help them navigate those challenges and even help them discover what they can be in the future based on their personal interest.

Life Skills for the South African youth is a necessity. Young people crave safe spaces to speak about their challenges, an opportunity to come up with solutions and someone who can offer insight into life. I hope in the future people begin to take the role of leadership development and life skill as an essential subject in schools, for its ability to facilitate the transformation of minds and the inspiring of young minds to dream beyond their environments and see beyond their challenges.

At TLT, we find this both an honour and a privilege to be able to be part of facilitating change in the many South African Schools and impacting so many lives. We find those spaces are not just beneficial for our students but for us as well. It gives us access to their brilliance and we get to encourage them to dream big and to pursue their goals. We get to be in a room with our future and it is an exciting experience for, one we will never take for granted.