Useful soft skills for students during COVID-19 pandemic

September 3, 2020

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Academic achievement has often been the main measure of learning and success, forgetting that we also need other non-academic skills to help us maneuver the myriad of challenges in life. Such skills are known by various terms – such as life skills, soft skills, social-emotional skills, and psychosocial skills – but they all refer to competences that are needed to overcome the challenges and demands of everyday life. For the purposes of this article, I will use the term ‘soft skills’. Existing research evidence from studies conducted by the African Population and Health Research Center with adolescents and youth shows that the acquisition of soft skills is associated with positive academic outcomes, enhanced educational goals and future aspirations, good parent-child relationships, improved behavior, resilience to peer-pressure and positive coping mechanisms. The need to nurture holistic learners who are academically, socially, and emotionally competent, has been amplified by the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Self-directed learning

With school closures across Kenya, learning for most students now depends on one’s initiative. Students have been forced to decide the fate of their academics by deciding how, what, when, where, and why learning will be done. The abruptness of the school shutdowns made the situation worse, with most students finding themselves without enough or any learning resources. Even in instances where learning might be going on remotely, students still need to remain disciplined and motivated to effectively participate. It is therefore imperative that students are supported by both their parents and teachers to learn soft skills such as time management, planning, and objective setting to ensure that they can be able to effectively learn on their own while at home. One of the ways that students can remain focused and motivated to learn is having a timetable highlighting the activities and scheduled time – academic, household chores, play – for a particular day. To help students avoid engaging in random learning activities, which is very common, the timetable should identify the specific topic to be learned, the resources needed (e.g. textbooks, revision papers, internet), and the time needed for the learning activity. A further step of measuring the success of the learning activity could also be undertaken, for instance, through completing an exercise or drafting important notes on a topic.

Adaptability

Globally, education systems are changing and embracing the new normal. Governments are working around the clock to ensure that teaching and learning successfully continues during and post-COVID. Remote learning (online, radio, and television) is increasingly becoming a preferred option as compared to the traditional classroom. In the same breath, students and parents need to adapt to the new arrangements. While change may often be scary, students can enhance their adaptability skills by embracing the new ways of learning through doing away with the “that’s the way it’s always been done” mentality; learning from their mistakes; and seeking clarity in difficult situations from their teachers, parents, and peers.

Negotiation skills

Working and learning from home has resulted in increased tension in many households due to competition for limited resources, space, and distribution of household chores. To avoid such negative experiences, students need to learn how to ensure that their interests and needs are met through mutual agreement. The key aspect of negotiating is giving all parties involved a chance to make their case and consequently arrive at an amicable solution. Therefore, negotiation calls for clear communication and empathy.

Stress management

As a result of the uncertainties presented by the pandemic, the psychosocial wellbeing of most people has been negatively affected which is manifested through panic, anxiety, insomnia, stress, and depression. While maturity and lived experiences may enable adults to navigate some of these challenges, for many young learners, the added frustrations of school repetition, halted final examinations, the thought of finishing school older, reduced or lost contact with friends and restricted play presents a great psychosocial challenge if not checked. For instance, some students may result in dropping school, drug and substance abuse, and even suicide. According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the ways to reduce stress include keeping social connections with friends and family through phone calls and video charts, reaching out to people you trust about your worries, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising.

Self-assertiveness and resilience to peer pressure

School closure coupled with boredom and idleness during this pandemic are ingredients for negative peer pressure among students if unchecked. This pressure emanates from the influence of an individual’s peers to act, behave, think, or look a certain way. For instance, there could be a negative influence to engage in drug and substance abuse, drop out of school or avoid learning, run away from home, engage in risky sexual behavior, and evade household chores. This is perhaps why there have recent reports of increased teenage pregnancies during the pandemic. Peer pressure is even worse during adolescence (10-19 years), as this phase is characterized by experimentation, risk-taking and uninformed decisionmaking. Children, adolescents and young people should therefore be supported to learn skills such as self-assertiveness, which is the ability to stand for your rights, principles and opinions. In other words, it is the ability to say ‘NO’ whenever faced with undue peer pressure. One of the ways that parents can support their children is by openly and genuinely talking to them about the various social ills around them so that they are able to make informed decisions about their social interactions and behavior.

In conclusion

With the important role that soft-skills play in nurturing holistic learners, all countries should ensure that their education systems are able to produce students who are academically, socially, and emotionally competent. In the Kenyan case, the Competency-based Curriculum (CBC) has been lauded for promoting skills such as digital literacy, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity and imagination, citizenship, and learning to learn.

In addition, whereas there is no one definite set of soft skills that can help overcome the many challenges that we face in life, individuals (both children and adults) must be deliberate in learning different soft skills so that they can put them to practice whenever faced with difficult situations.


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