Life skills and Values: What is measured counts by Purity Ngina

For the last one year, I have had the privilege of sitting as part of  many job related interview panels; just lucky enough to listen to many young men and women share their cognitive skills or technical expertise. However, the interviewers always take a different route, where the candidates are required to think out of their comfort zones or out of the obvious-out of their academic achievement –as to how they would solve problems when faced with a diversity of difficult situations; how they would work collaboratively with others; an interrogation of their communications skills; an evaluation of work ethics; a test of their resilience and commitment to a cause.  Unfortunately, many of the interviewees usually have no idea how to respond to such critical themes. They often lack the necessary skills needed to communicate, think critically, solve problems, collaborate with others, manage a crisis, lead a team, among other important skills. This is a serious indictment of the education systems that have not effectively prepared the individuals.

Noteworthy, the world faces many challenges, and the education process must evolve and adapt to the changing times and develop a holistic person. A person who is curious, empathetic, resilient, creative and innovative. These qualities will make the person thrive in the 21st century and live an effective and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, our education systems in East Africa have not yet evolved to the level where learners learn beyond academic knowledge and hence into the arena where life skills are nurtured, ideas contested and knowledge evaluated.  For most teachers, parents and policymakers, priority is rather generic, only to the things that are examined or assessed.

“What is measured counts”.

 Additionally, life skills and values as critical components of a learning process are a “fairly new” concept to many East Africans. Many people are still grappling with nomenclature confusion; they ask, “is it similar to social-emotional learning or 21st-century skills or Transversal skills”. Faced with this reality, a team of 25 organizations under the Regional Educational Learning Initiative (RELI) set a roadmap to conduct a sensitization campaign in East Africa on the need for acquisition of values and life skills as part of the educational process, bring more clarity to the definition in context, and develop metrics for assessment. Following numerous consultative meetings and deliberations, the Assessment of Life skills and Values in East Africa (ALiVE) project was born. This aimed at developing metrics for assessing life skills and values, assessing adolescents aged 13-17 years at home, using the data generated to advocate for systematic change as well as creating awareness on the importance of these competencies to the  21st-century child. Additionally, the project aimed at bringing the voice of the global south to the global space where Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) discussions take place.

This three-year project is the most ambitious and one of its kind in East Africa. The process, especially of assessment tool development, will take at least 34 weeks where 50 committed East African’s-Educators, curriculum developers, assessment officers, teachers, civil actors, ministry of education representatives, youth, creatives-are working to develop contextualized tools. So far, the members have been working for around 28 weeks, and four workshops on the cause have already been held.

In a survey done recently, several participants noted that supporting children in East Africa as a vision for the ALiVE projects had potential positive development outcomes for the education systems in the region, thus motivating and attracting them to work in the collaboration for 34 weeks even when the work demand was high. I cannot agree more. Personally, the late-night exchange of information and ideas, the complexity of the process as well as working in a collaborative atmosphere is what I love the most. For instance, in August 2021, we set out to test the tools with adolescents by conducting Oral Think aloud sessions. This was not only interesting, but indeed also very complex, especially for collaboration which is one of the competences ALiVE is seeking and developing tools to assess; the others are Problem solving, Self-awareness and Respect. There is also the paneling process and the revision of tools.

It is important to note that Collaboration is the future. Zizi Afrique is committed to this collaboration; the Executive director is the Principal investigator to this project under the auspices of Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI). Working in concert there is every confidence that so much will be created. In fact, this effort echoes the words of Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb who recently said that “when people collaborate, they create an intellectual heaven.”

We, therefore, towards this cause, invite you as we launch our 2021-2025 strategy. Join us to create our intellectual heaven here in East Africa on life skills and values.

Writer-Dr. Purity Ngina, is a Research and Assessment Manager at Zizi Afrique Foundation. For feedback, send an email to

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