Building Youth Life Skills: Lessons Learned on How to Design, Implement, Assess, and Scale Successful Programming

Building Youth Life Skills: Lessons Learned on How to Design, Implement, Assess, and Scale Successful Programming

Published: Jun 30, 2019
Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica
Associated Project

Advancing Learning Around Secondary Education in Africa and Asia

Time frame: 2014–2019

Prepared for:

Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education


Poonam Ravindranath

Emma Pottinger

Clemencia Cosentino

Key Findings

Key Recommendations:

  • Systematically diagnose the life skills youth need. The life skills developed by a program or policy depend on the goal of that program or policy. For example, to reduce secondary school dropout levels, programs or policies would develop personal strengths such as self-esteem and confidence and interpersonal skills such as negotiation. Programs designed to help students transition into the workforce would cultivate a broad set of cognitive skills, personal strengths, and interpersonal skills. To identify the skills to focus on, stakeholders can conduct needs assessments and develop theories of change by mapping backwards from goals to intermediate outcomes to the skills youth need to achieve those outcomes.
  • Have teachers of core subjects change their classroom practices to strengthen life skills across a large population, but consider stand-alone life skills sessions for vulnerable youth. Teachers of core subjects can help their students develop cognitive skills and certain interpersonal skills like communication by using learner-centered methods. This approach is easy to scale; teacher trainings on new methods can be offered in many classrooms. The strategy might be less effective when it comes to building personal strengths and other interpersonal skills such as self-awareness and negotiation, which are of paramount importance for vulnerable youth. For them, mentor-led, stand-alone life skills sessions might be a better fit.
  • Give teachers a strong incentive to cultivate life skills while teaching core subjects. Examinations that assess student learning are a strong vehicle for change in teachers’ mindset and pedagogy. Because teachers are held accountable for examination results, modifying these exams to test for higher order thinking skills can motivate teachers to cultivate these skills—through active learning methods or other techniques.

Stakeholders in the field of education are increasingly recognizing that young people need more than academic knowledge and technical skills to succeed in the workplace and lead productive lives. They also need “life skills,” which encompass personal strengths such as self-worth and confidence; interpersonal skills such as the ability to effectively communicate and engage in conflict resolution; and cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. This study, which analyzes 18 youth skills programs in India, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, offers practitioners, policymakers, and donors actionable lessons around the design, delivery, measurement, and scale-up of life skills programming for youth in developing countries. The study draws on in-depth interviews with grantees, document review, and a scan of the literature and policy context.

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