LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION AS A MEANS OF EMPOWERMENT FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: A CASE STUDY FROM ROMANIA
Access to education is often the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion. However, as a recent study by the OECD showed, access is not enough if quality education is not granted (2015). In his ground-breaking meta-analysis Visible Learning (2009), Hattie was able to show that positive teacher-student relationships are crucial for student achievement. At the same time, they can be regarded as one of the fundamental pillars of quality education.
This paper illustrates how a life skills-based approach to teaching can have a positive effect on this fundamental relationship. In its project “FACE – Families and children in education”, the centre International Projects in Education (IPE) of the Zurich University of Teacher Education developed a set of teaching materials aimed at supporting children from disadvantaged families to discover their potential. Inspired by the WHO’s life skills approach for child-friendly and health-promoting schools (2004), FACE intends to support children develop their self-esteem by tapping into pre-existing competences and to broaden their self-competences and life skills. In cooperation with two pilot schools in rural and urban Romania, three booklets for the pre-school, lower and upper primary level were developed and tested. To facilitate the implementation, three introductory trainings were offered to the teachers.
The Romanian school tradition, as so many others, is characterized by a deficit-oriented approach to teaching. Despite reforms, schools failed to include all the children, particularly those from the Roma minority. A World Bank Study (2010) showed that Roma exclusion can be measured in terms of economic costs which have a negative effect on the overall development of the country. One of the reasons for this situation, is the fact that most Roma children are born into families without or with only little formal education. As a consequence, the attitude towards school is characterized by mistrust and anxiety. In FACE a particular emphasis is therefore placed on the involvement of parents.
This paper argues that teaching based on life skills could promote a more inclusive and sympathetic classroom, and more generally, a school culture beneficial not only to the students but to all the actors involved (teachers, students, parents and schools in general). Using a grounded theory approach, it will describe what the positive effects on students and teachers were and what factors were conducive to bringing about these changes. Indications in this sense could be gathered through the analysis of teachers’ portfolios and during feedback sessions of the FACE trainings. Teachers reported that working with the FACE materials had made them discover unknown competences and aspects of their students. Life skills education also introduced them to a variety of teaching and learning methods, such as e.g. cooperative and task-based learning, creating a classroom atmosphere based on partnership and respect. Peer review during their daily teaching routine and the meetings with teacher colleagues during the FACE workshops, were viewed as precious and unexpected opportunities to broaden their professional repertoire. In the framework of a small-scale research, data are also being collected from the pilot students by means of the Tennessee Self-concept Scale: 2 (TSCS:2) and House-Tree-Person test. These are hoped to provide additional evidence.