My Four Day Sojourn in India

‘What are you going to do in India? When do you want to travel? When are you coming back...?’

The questions came in quick succession from my interviewer at the Indian High commission office on Harambee Avenue Nairobi. I was calm. I answered each of them.  He perused through my Visa application documents one more time. ‘Collect your Visa on Monday afternoon between 3-5 pm’, he said. I left smiling.

Wednesday 7th February 4 p.m.. I was aboard Emirates Airlines. I arrived at the Chaudhary Charan Singh international airport in Uttar Pradesh India at Lucknow the following day shortly after 9 a.m. in the morning. Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, which is a state in northern India. (“Uttar” means north, and “Pradesh” means state in HIndi).

I walked out of the airport tensed. I wanted help to get to my hotel. Unfortunately majority of those I tried speaking to couldn’t speak English! I walked back to the airport staff. Before long I was relaxing in Room No. 3 of the Meadows Inn Hotel.  I was attending the International Conference on Life Skills in Education (LSE) co-organised by the Indian Association of Life Skills Education (IALSE), the Shri Jain and Lala Madev Post Graduate schools and the Circle for Child and Youth Research Cooperation in India (CCYRCI).

The Life Skills Education conference brought together academicians, researchers, scholars, counsellors, trainers, students and other professionals from more than thirteen countries. Africa sent three delegates: Two  males from South Africa and one female from Kenya. I was the Kenyan delegate.

The theme of the three day fully packed conference rotated around Life Skills Education and the Well-being of Children and Youth in a Digital World. In total there were 5 plenary sessions and 19 technical sessions which were chaired by eminent persons in the field of Life Skills Education.

What is Life Skills Education? The World Health Organisation defines Life Skills as the abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with demands and challenges of everyday life (WHO, 2007). These skills have also been referred to as 21st century skills, non-cognitive skills, non-academic skills, character skills, soft skills, social and emotional Learning (Singh & Menon, 2015). The origin of Life Skills Education may be traced to the works of Dr. Gilbert Botvin, a behavioral scientist and professor in the field of psychiatry ( who in 1979 came up with a Life Skills program that would be used to build student strategies, enabling them to refuse drugs by improving their assertiveness, decision-making and critical thinking skills. Dr. Botvin’s program focused on students between grades 7-9. In Kenya, the history of teaching Life Skills Education in schools dates back to 2003. During that time, it was infused and integrated into various subjects as a way of addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic (Republic of Kenya, 2010). However since 2008, it has been offered as a standalone albeit non-examinable subject.

The conference noted that the youth and children are facing immense challenges in the digital era which required Life Skills Education. Dr Vinod Chandra, the conference chair, argued that these challenges emanate from the increasing digitisation and industrialisation that characterises contemporary society. This was placing immense pressure for functioning independently a priority.  He observed that Life Skills Education has now become a requisite for well-being. He reiterated the need for the growing youth population to acquire basic Life Skills Education for a healthy transition from childhood to adulthood. The same message was echoed by Anie Wierenga a Professor in Sociology from Melbourne University, Australia. Prof. Wierenga is also the chairperson of the International Sociological society.

My paper on the challenges facing Life Skills Education teaching in technical education institutions underscored the need for Kenya to train facilitators if the its objectives were to be met. The Valedictory session on Sunday at 4 p.m. was graced by the Principal and Proprietor of Shri Jain Post- Graduate College.

As the conference drew to a close I could not help but thank the heavens as the conference had provided for me a rich forum for networking, sharing challenges and best practices in Life Skills Education teaching besides forging friendships for posterity. I flew back to Kenya on Monday the 12th February determined to return to India for the 2019 Life Skills Education Conference.