A Policy A Day: Life Skills

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is written by Elina Ashimbayeva

Life Skills, or “Being Competent At Life And Not Being A Dick”

The Opening (just in case I go on a tangent and it might take some time to understand what this article is about)

  • Teaching life skills at schools and at home should be as important as teaching our kids how to read, write, and hate our “favourite” neighbours’ children who leave their toys on our lawn
  • It is crucial to have politicians as leaders to embody the change towards happier lives and to help people help themselves
  • Politicians should be talking about job enjoyment, life choices, empathy, respect, and decision making and not just about getting “damn immigrants” out of our country or how mining will definitely kill all the dolphins in the nearby gulf

The Tangent

All of us, A Policy A Day authors, wrote so many wonderfully worded, life embedded, issues-and-actions-focused articles coming up to this election. We had people talking about immigration, poverty, education, job markets, disabilities, and other massively important things to consider. We have tried to provoke your thinking, to make you smile, to make you angry, to take responsibility for your choices. Oh, and we tried to show you how our political parties are doing on each front!

A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with my boyfriend when he said: “if we keep propelling the economy forward (whether it is launching cheaper rockets or building more green cars), humanity will follow that economy and it will eventually have to thrive.”

My response to that was: “who cares about the economy when people are miserable?”

Don’t you think if we put more strength and determination into helping others be more life-equipped, the economy would propel itself forward because now people who were hungry have “more exciting” things to do?

When reading this article, you won’t see many references to the political situation in New Zealand, but I hope to provoke your thinking and take responsibility, to hopefully intertwine politics and life.

The Body (section where I explain the situation or possibly go on another tangent)

Being competent at life, in my definition is: to be able to thrive and search for happiness (in any shape you see fit) and not only manage to not hurt others in the process but maybe even help them to thrive for their definition of happiness too.

Introducing an educational standard on life skills would be a great first step to a more wholesome society.

We spend hours, days, years of our life being educated. Educated by our parents, by our teachers, lecturers, bosses, ourselves. As kids, we learn how to count, how to dress ourselves, how to throw a ball, which are all undoubtedly very important. But do we learn how to be proud of our own and others’ achievements? How to empathise? How to live a life where Friday is just another awesome day amongst other 6 awesome days? How to be compassionate? How to respect and admire someone? How to accept people’s sexual choices? How to accept yours?

So, Elina, what should we be teaching and who should be teaching this?

Empathy, communication, goal setting, decision making, conflict resolution, knowing how to ask for help, compassion, gratitude, ecological responsibility – all these skills are critical for living and leading a more mindful life.

I am not minimising the task that is changing a school curriculum, but no big challenge is an easy one. The good news is we have plenty of examples to learn from and research to support this. The Greater Good Science Centre in Berkeley is a leader in this space. They have created an entire community that promotes ‘happiness’ education: research driven and practical examples of how to appropriately incorporate emotional well-being and growth focused approaches into schools and the broader community.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education and multiple other research facilities have shown that teaching positive life-skills to young people at any level not only correlates to their overall better mental state and well-being but even improves their grades.

The job of encouraging our younger generation and thus, our entire generation to be more life-skilled is not on one person’s or one group’s shoulders. We are all responsible, but starting from teaching basic human skills at schools would be a great first step.

What can we do now?

Selecting and more importantly, being leaders of change. As a country, we are far from the idyllic curriculum described on The Ministry of Education’s website. Nevertheless, we are making great progress.

Among many programmes that I might be not aware of or haven’t listed here, we are already doing some wonderful things:

  •  Attitude is an awesome community involved in giving talks on resilience and direction at schools
  •  We have organisations like RainbowYouth that attend schools to promote mental well-being of LGBTI youth and to promote awareness and empathy among students
  •  The Shadow a Leader programme gives opportunities to students (school and University) to learn and connect with people from outside of their environment and get to know more about life ‘after studying’
  •  Motivational festivals like Festival for the Future that bring together many young minds together to inspire and motivate and lead
  •  Great online resources like this one for parents to actively participate in their children’s mental health and well-being

Let’s continue developing these programmes and make them more accessible to all youth in New Zealand. All the initiatives mentioned above operate privately and are not governmentally enforced, advertised uniformly throughout our schools, or part of our curriculum. The government has a role and responsibility to do more.

Yes, yes, we are putting tablets and all that digital stuff into our classrooms, but this holistic view is way more encompassing than that. Imagine having an hour a week when teachers talk about the importance of values and decision making. Or kids doing empathy exercises and talking about the emotional aspects of life.

What about a country wide approach to happiness? The NZTA managed to run one of the best social campaigns ever (“Bro…Monique says you are dumb”) – what about having national campaigns promoting well-being and fulfilment? Imagine what effect that could have on New Zealand!

For some of you reading this, the concept of having a “holistic” education or well-being or life-skills or happiness will sound not only foreign but in a way, offensively hippie. I am writing this because I see people every day who know they could be happier (whatever it means for them) but they are not always equipped to explore it. I grew up amongst beautiful smart individuals, but half of them are taking antidepressants. Most of them chose a job as if they just threw a dart into the air and they feel trapped in their careers. I read case studies from social workers that describe a very different world from what a lot imagine New Zealand to be… We are investing into degrees, cancer treatments, and better roads. What we should be also investing in more is happier people.

This year’s election showed many policies proposed by different parties around funding and quality of education. They are all great policies and this election doesn’t have to answer every single issue we are facing, but happiness is something that all of the parties have been conspicuously silent on.

The Closing Paragraph (so you know you can finally go back to memes)

I hope this article didn’t sound too hippie or too unrealistic, and you are a bit encouraged to go out in the world and advocate for better leadership and human-ship in your life and the lives of others. I encourage you to go and watch at least one YouTube video on life-skills or well-being education, and learn a bit more on how you can be the change we all need.

Elina Ashimbayeva pretends to like exercise, consulting, and science. At night, she laughs at Facebook memes while eating too much chocolate. Cries when sees bunnies.

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