Opinion: Children account for 13 percent of suicides:
Scrapping Life Skills from syllabus: Is it a wise move?
Thirteen percent of the suicides reported in Sri Lanka every year are
committed by children under 18 years of age. Suicide - the act of taking
one's own life - is a serious issue and according to statistics, Sri
Lanka is ranked 11 out of 193 countries in the rate of suicides.
A typical classroom in Sri Lanka
Roughly, 24 out of 100,000 people commit suicide annually and 13
percent of them are below 18 years. Another 10 percent of children have
admitted that they have felt suicidal at some point of time.
Regarding child abuse and crime too, we have an unenviable record.
Children get killed, raped, molested and harassed every day. What has
gone wrong with the system? Where can we start inculcating good morals
and valued behaviour? The school? Yes, that may be the best option, yet
the training needs to come before children reach adolescence or the
success rate may be lower. Unlike adolescents, youngsters don't defy
Society is currently going through a roller-coaster of change. The
children have been thrown into this nerve-wracking roller-coaster with
adults pinning on them sky-high expectations that the children neither
wish for nor could cope up with. A raging society could also be the
result of children growing into adults with these unrealistic
With both parents away at work and grandparents living in elders’
homes, children look for alternative means of guidance, which is
extremely dangerous. Drug addiction among adolescents is no lesser an
issue in Sri Lanka.
A new subject - Life Skills - was introduced to the junior secondary
syllabus in State schools by the Health Education Bureau and the
Education Ministry to inculcate these much-needed values and life skills
in children, sometime ago.
To train them into positive thinking adults, who don't shy away or
look for shortcuts when faced with challenges and the demands of living,
was the objective.
The aim was to minimise social discord and unrest, to teach them how
to say no when a difficult request is made by a pervert, to turn down a
proposal by a boy or a man in a manner in which he will not feel
dejected and resort to murder and/or suicide; basically, to protect
human life and teach children to lead a happy and successful life.
Alarmingly, Life Skills, which used to be an important subject in the
junior secondary curriculum, has been discontinued from last year.
This short-sighted decision is a fatal blow to society and the
consequences may be seen before long, the Head of the School Health Unit
of the Family Health Bureau, Consultant Community Physician, Dr. Ayesha
Already, the country is burdened with certain doctors, engineers,
lawyers, teachers and politicians who are worse criminals than criminals
themselves, she pointed out.
The World Health Organization defines ‘Life Skills’ as the ability to
adapt to the challenges and demands of daily life and positive behaviour
that enables individuals to deal with them.
The subject in schools was a welcome step by the UNICEF, which
supported a study among adolescents between 10 and 19 years carried out
by the Family Health Bureau in 2004. The study highlighted many flaws in
the education system that lacked features to produce ‘balanced
The study revealed that 53 percent of children thought that finances
were important for success and social status while only 10 percent
believed that good social conduct was an important feature in life.
Among them, 75 percent said they had a mind-disturbing problem and
one fifth said they did not have a close friend.
Disturbingly, 14 percent of the sample group said they smoke (32
percent of those between the ages of 17 and 19 smoke) while 24 percent
of boys and 10 percent of girls have taken alcohol at least once in
their life. They had picked up the habit of smoking or drinking at the
age of around 14-15.
The study also covered child molestation and the revelations were
It showed that young boys were more prone to sexual abuse than girls
and also that boys in pre- or post-adolescence were more sexually
active, which increased their exposure to sexually transmitted diseases
such as HIV/AIDS.
Of children between the ages of 14 and 19, six percent have had sex
with people of same gender while 10 percent had carried out sexual acts
with members of the opposite sex.
Ten percent of students in the pre-adolescence age group have been
sexually abused while this figure is 14 percent for adolescent and
post-adolescent students. Almost all of them have been abused by a close
The study prompted the introduction of Life Skills-based education in
schools. The subject was later combined with ‘Civics’ which is taught to
students in grade six, seven and eight. Last year, it died a natural
death. It has been completely removed from the syllabus.
Practising life skills lead to qualities such as self esteem, the
lack of which leads to suicides. It also helps sociability and tolerance
and teaches children how to generate change and be what one wants to be
instead of being backward, unsocial and subject to victimisation.
The subject strove to impart skills such as self awareness, facing
emotions, coping with stress, inter-personal relations, communication
skills, critical thinking, analytical thinking and decision making - the
10 life skills identified by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
These represent the psycho-social skills that determine valued
behaviour. Given that the values and morals of Sri Lankan society have
deteriorated to an unthinkable level, the decision to remove Life Skills
from the junior secondary curriculum and replace it with highly popular
subjects such as IT need to be reviewed.
This doesn't mean that teaching IT should be discontinued.
According to experts, Life skills are an important component of
learning and are distinctly different from physical or perceptual motor
skills, such as practical or health skills. They are also different from
livelihood skills, such as crafts, money management and entrepreneurial
Children learn life skills as group work and it helps timid children
to share experiences with more outgoing children, who always have a
ready answer for any issue. For example, Dr. Lokubalasooriya said, once
children discussed a situation when one is in a bus with only a few
What would they do if a man makes an indecent proposal and try to get
them down at the next bus-stop? When some students stumbled for answers,
others came up with many tactful solutions.
The discussions vary from topics such as identifying and avoiding
child molesters, HIV/AIDS, physical and emotional changes during
adolescence, smoking and drinking habits and drug abuse.
Dr. Lokubalasooriya said the education authorities should seriously
think of re-introducing Life Skills-based education, for literacy levels
of the population alone will not contribute to the success of a country.