Interpersonal and intrapersonal skills for youths | Maud Muscat

When students embark on a B.A. (Hons) in Youth and Community Studies course, the Personal Skills course is one of the first units they come across

Maud Muscat, Department of Youth and Community Studies

In 1973 Rev. Dr Alfred Darmanin introduced a programme for the Development of Skills (PDS) since he maintained that an education based on savoir (knowledge), savoir-faire (skills) and savoir-être (attitudes and values) is important. Later on, in the early 1980s a great deal of concern was felt in the Maltese Islands over a report about drugs drawn by Nick Dorne. There was an awareness that drugs had become a social problem. It was this that prompted the first training course for teachers to deliver Lifeskills in schools. The course was held in 1986 by Caritas as part of their drug prevention programme. It was facilitated by four persons coming from different backgrounds of social work, psychology and education. The course was coordinated by Prof. Maureen Cole who eventually was the first Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing.

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The subject known as Lifeskills was then introduced in two Church schools and later on in state and private schools. At present, it is a compulsory subject on the curriculum and the training of Personal and Social Education skills teachers has been ongoing at University since 1992. Interpersonal and Intrapersonal skills courses also form part of the component of other courses. A crucial aspect of the practice of Personal and Social Development (PSD), as the subject is now called, is that students have the opportunity to reflect upon and clarify their own attitudes and values. At times it also facilitates seeking professional help in dealing with issues which surface due to the greater self awareness promoted by personal skills sessions.

When students embark on a B.A. (Hons) in Youth and Community Studies course, the Personal Skills course is one of the first units they come across. This is no coincidence as one of the main aims of the course Core Skills 1 is to enhance personal growth and to promote group cohesion. In fact, I retain that the course on core skills is for life not just for youth work. Hopefully, the students will integrate skills which will empower them and help them to cope better with life’s challenges.

The methodology used in Core Skills 1 has strong democratic roots and embraces empowerment at every stage of learning. The learning takes place through an active process and involvement of the whole person. The participants are learning from experience. This course, because of its very nature, promotes emotional literacy as well as examining attitudes and skills. These are skills we use every day to survive better in a healthy democratic community. This has always been stressed upon and sessions are held in groups of not more than 15 students in order to ensure that students are given the environment to truly learn experientially. The classroom is arranged in a circle or a horse-shoe formation such that each participant can view each other and will equal time and attention to individual participants.

Each session consists of stage cycles: the choice of activities that students are interested in throughout the educational experience, a general problem to address that choice develops in the session, information and observation to deal with the problem is provided and presented, suggested solutions elicited and opportunity to test, to clarify and to discover for themselves the validity of a solution. This elicits learning from the participants’ own experiences, be they real or simulated through an activity – for example – role play.

The exercises would be pointless if not followed by and incorporated within reflection and discussion, which we call processing.

Any exercise or activity carried out during a personal skills session needs to be followed and concluded by processing. Without correct processing, the students would not be able to integrate and internalise what they have experienced during the particular exercise, and hence will also not be able to transfer the learning to real life. This would impede true personal growth and change, thus defeating the aims and rationale of a personal skills session.

Moreover, students participate and enjoy the sessions. If students do not enjoy what they are doing they will not benefit fully from the teaching.