UNITED NATIONS GENERAL
E/ESCAP/HRDY(3)/6 AND 17 May 2001
SOCIAL COUNCIL ORIGINAL: ENGLISH
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
Third Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on Human Resources
Development for Youth
4-8 June 2001
LIFE SKILLS FOR YOUTH IN THE ASIAN AND PACIFIC REGION
(Item 9 of the provisional agenda)
Note by the secretariat
The present note reports that the challenges facing youth in the region have become more
complex. It notes that the prevention of risks, such as sexually transmitted diseases and drug use,
requires effective life skills among youth to make the right choices and protect themselves. The paper
then analyses the life skills approach and stresses that to have an impact among youth, information
needs to be complemented by attitudinal and interpersonal skills. It reviews different areas of life
skills and takes the prevention of HIV/AIDS as an example. The paper concludes by underscoring the
importance of life skills training for youth in Asia and the Pacific in order to develop positive and
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Introduction ................................................................................................................................. 1 A. What are life skills? ............................................................................................................. 1 B. Conclusion .......................................................................................................................... 5 References ................................................................................................................................... 6
1. The increasingly complex challenges faced by youth in the Asian and Pacific region require skills in decision-making and problem-solving. Many young people in the region daily tackle new
and intensified challenges, such as the risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS and other sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs), substances abuse, and vulnerability to unemployment, war and political
instability, discrimination, and sexual and other forms of exploitation. In order to protect themselves,
young people require skills enabling them to make the right choices.
2. The multifaceted nature of these challenges is increasingly being recognized. Furthermore, research is showing that information is necessary but not sufficient to develop or change risk
behaviour, and that information-based approaches need to be combined with attitudinal and
interpersonal skills, known as “life skills”. As part of a comprehensive, multi-strategy approach, a
life-skills methodology is increasingly being used to help reduce the harm associated with these issues,
and to develop protective behaviour among youth.
3. Life skills are useful in many contexts, and an important influence has been adolescent health
behaviour research and practice. This paper focuses in particular on life skills for youth related to
HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and substance abuse.
A. What are life skills?
4. The life skills approach has developed from a number of influences, and the basic approach is
used under a variety of names. The simplest adaptation of the approach would be an interactive
educational approach, which focuses on more than strictly information. UNICEF refers to the
following definition of the life skills approach:
The interactive process of teaching and learning which focuses on acquiring knowledge,
attitudes and skills which support behaviours that enable us to take greater responsibility
for our own lives; by making healthy life choices, gaining greater resistance to negative
pressures, and minimizing harmful behaviours (UNICEF, 2000).
5. The life skills approach encompasses three aspects: knowledge (K), skills (S) and attitudes (A). These three components are combined to provide young people with not only information but
also methods of processing the information, and using it in everyday life. This involves translating
knowledge and attitudes into safe and adaptive actions.
6. The term “life skills” is becoming used increasingly in the context of youth issues, and it is important to ensure a common understanding of its meaning. Life skills comprise interpersonal,
attitudinal and psychosocial aspects, and include such skills as communication, decision-making,
creative thinking, negotiation, stress management, values analysis, and confidence-building. The
following example outlines some of the skills the approach entails:
Social Cognitive Emotional coping
o Communication skills o Decision-making/ o Managing stress
o Negotiation/refusal skills - Understanding o Managing feelings, e.g.
consequences of actions anger o Assertiveness skills - Determining alternative
solutions o Self-awareness skills, o Interpersonal skills including awareness of
o Critical thinking skills, influences, values, o Cooperation skills including analysing attitudes and rights
influences such as the
media o Self-control skills
o Goal-setting skills
Source: UNICEF, 2000.
7. An important aspect of the life skills approach is that information, while a necessary
component, has proved not to be enough by itself to change behaviour. Information must be
combined with other skills, including attitudinal changes and methods of interpersonal relations.
Simply using a “fatalistic” approach, which focuses on a purely negative message (such as “drugs
kill”) has, in particular, not proved effective. Recognizing the complexity and challenges facing young people, the life skills approach seeks to move beyond simplistic messages and discuss issues in
a more open manner. The life skills approach does not tell young people what is right and what is
wrong. Rather, through the provision of options and choices, young people are empowered to make
the choices that are best for them.
1. Life skills for youth in the Asian and Pacific region
8. Like all youth, young people in the Asian and Pacific region need life skills in order to make
the best choices for themselves. For example, young people need to know how to deal with the
pressure of sexual relations or peer pressure to use substances, how to negotiate protected sex, how to
care for people with HIV/AIDS, and how to negotiate in potentially violent situations.
9. At the Round Table on Life Skills Education for Youth in The New Millennium, organized by
ESCAP and held in Bangkok in January 2000, youth representatives identified four main areas of life
skills: (a) interpersonal skills; (b) personal development skills; (c) social awareness skills; and (d)
technological skills. Young people emphasized the importance of improving “soft skills”, such as
attitudes and emotional development, in addition to learning traditional “hard skills” in specific vocational fields. Young people also noted that life skills were learnt through their peers and the
media, not just through the education system.
Interpersonal skills. Three main skills were mentioned: (a) communication skills; (b) empathy; and
(c) emotional development. Young people noted that those skills were important in order for them to
live independently, and be able to impart their ideas effectively. Respect for other cultures and
religions in the region was stressed as an essential life skill.
Personal development. Young people noted many diverse skills under this heading, including (a) critical thinking; (b) self-protection; (c) self-confidence; (d) health and hygiene; and (e)
professionalism. These skills were seen as important as they allowed young people to improve
themselves and society, get out of difficult situations and lead healthier lives.
Social awareness. Young people reported that social consciousness, in terms of the global environment, was a key life skill. This was for the benefit of the sustainability of the environment in
the region, and society in the future.
Technological skills. Youth noted that an essential life skill in the region related to the use of information technology. Through life skills in this area, young people can become self-dependent,
access information in remote areas, and expand their employment opportunities.
10. While used in youth programmes, it is important to note that life skills are necessary for
everyone, and not only for youth. Just as with youth, campaigns focused only on health information,
such as the dangers of drunk driving or smoking cigarettes, tend to remain ineffective. Although
media campaigns are often carried out citing the negative consequences of the above, many adults
continue to drive while under the influence and to smoke cigarettes. Thus a more comprehensive life
skills approach is needed to change risk behaviour among adults as well.
2. Examples: life skills for HIV/AIDS prevention 11. Organizations implementing projects to prevent HIV/AIDS have been increasingly
incorporating a life-skills approach in their interventions. This has been due to the realization, as
mentioned earlier, that negative messages, or ones which seek to tell young people what is right and
wrong (such as “just say no”) have not prevented the spread of HIV/AIDS.
12. The Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre has, in recent years, incorporated a “facts for life”
approach in its interventions and programmes, integrating issues of HIV/AIDS with other “life
issues.” The addition of the “facts for life” component in the curriculum has further strengthened
interventions, expanding HIV/AIDS and STDs into everyday life issues. The approach seeks to
“normalize” HIV/AIDS and STDs as issues to be thought about automatically, and not just on specific
13. This approach evolved from the experience of the Centre working in Thailand on HIV/AIDS
issues since 1989. In the beginning, the organization, along with most other government agencies and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) used a pure information provision approach. As mentioned
earlier, this approach alone has not proved effective, and in addition, the scare tactics used appeared to
cause a sense of disbelief about HIV/AIDS and fuelled discrimination against people living with
HIV/AIDS. Curriculum components combating discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS
and information on sexual and reproductive health were also introduced. The “facts for life” approach,
however, has taken this curriculum further, by placing HIV/AIDS in a broader context, including
overall health and socio-economic aspects.
14. The Centre has used this approach in its work with out-of-school youth (as well as other
target groups). Life skills training has been used to promote reproductive health choices and prevent
HIV/AIDS, STDs and substance abuse, as well as to provide choices for education and employment.
A “Facts for life camp for the prevention of HIV/AIDS/STDs and drug abuse”, using the life skills
approach, is held for rural youth. The Centre notes that one of the positive outcomes of this training
has been the increase in self-confidence among youth.
15. To be successful, HIV/AIDS intervention programmes must thus deal with a wide variety of
issues, including combating stigma and promoting safe behaviour. As UNAIDS notes, “These can be accomplished cost-effectively through mass media campaigns, and through peer/outreach education
and life-skills programmes in schools and work-places. Programmes…have demonstrated the enormously positive impact of openness and honesty in facing HIV (UNAIDS, 2001)”. 16. The example below illustrates skills-based health education, developed by UNICEF, focusing
on HIV/AIDS and STDs.
Knowledge Attitudes Skills
about what? towards what? for what?
o Transmission and non-o Social justice/rights, Communication skills:
transmission gender, culture, norms, o Refusing undesired sex o Protection and discrimination o Resisting pressure to use
prevention o Attitudes and values drugs o Various types of about self, relationships o Refusing unprotected sex
research – prevalence, and sex, HIV+ people o Insisting on/negotiating
personal risk, impact of o Children affected by protected sex
HIV, what works? HIV, orphans Values analysis and o STDs, reproductive o Employment and clarification: health, general health conditions of people o Acting on human rights, o Care and support living with HIV/AIDS such as acting against
o Identifying consequences
of decisions and actions
o Demonstrating critical
Stress management and
o Seeking trusted person
o Identifying health
Source: UNICEF, 2000.
17. Peer-to-peer education (programmes in which young people engage other young people in discussion and information exchange) is often coupled with the life skills approach, and has proved to be an essential component of effective HIV/AIDS prevention interventions. Research further demonstrates that providing young people with life skills education tends to lead to their making better decisions and adopting safer behaviour.
18. Life skills training is an essential approach for developing and changing behaviour for the well-being and healthy functioning of all young women and men, including youth, in the Asian and Pacific region. It has been proved that providing information on, for example, protected sex or the dangers of substances is necessary, but not sufficient to prevent and reduce risk behaviour, or promote positive change. To have an impact among youth (and the population in general), information needs to be complemented by life skills, including attitudinal and interpersonal skills. For example, research has shown that life skills have helped young people reduce their risk of HIV/AIDS through the promotion of safer behaviour.
19. It is thus desirable for youth development programmes (and other programmes) to integrate a component on skills training and education. Young people should assist in the development, implementation and monitoring of such programmes, as they themselves know best what type of life skills they need. Formal and non-formal education programmes should emphasize what skills young people need to protect themselves from the risks they face, such as substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. Skills that must be incorporated in curricula include decision-making, communication, negotiation, interpersonal conduct and critical thinking.
20. Policy makers in the region must note the complexity of issues facing young people in the region today. It remains a challenge to discuss the risks to young people’s healthy development in an open and honest manner, in which youth are seen not as part of the problem, but as part of the solution.
UNAIDS, 2001. National responses to the epidemic: factors that make a difference.
UNICEF, Teachers Talking about Learning: Life Skills Approach (December 2000)