Creativity, or being creative, is the ability to generate, articulate or apply inventive ideas, techniques and perspectives (Ferrari, 2009), often in a collaborative environment (Lucas and Hanson, 2016). In conjunction with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to which it closely relates, creativity is a major component of purposeful thinking, i.e., a non-chaotic, orderly and organized thought process. Further, being creative is to a large extent connected to the learners’ cognitive abilities, including their analytic and evaluative skills (Sternberg, 2006). Ideational thought processes are fundamental to creative persons (Kozbelt et al., 2010), but creativity also intersects with social and personal management skills. Therefore, creativity, while also related to the arts, is a pre-condition to innovation and adaptive behaviours and solutions in all life settings, among them in learning settings and in the workplace (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015). Creativity is linked to the effectiveness of other life skills, in particular critical thinking, problem identification (Sternberg, 2010), problem-solving (Torrance, 1977) and self-management.
Critical thinking, an instrumental life skill conducive to academic achievement, is a long-standing life skill, which allows ‘reflective thinking’: By thinking critically, children, youth and all individuals who learn to assess situations and assumptions, ask questions and develop various ways of thinking. Therefore, critical thinking involves higher-order executive functioning: This is a ‘meta-skill’ through which one learns to think about thinking and develop purposeful thinking processes, such as being able to discern and evaluate whether an argument makes sense or not.
A problem-solver has the ability to “think through steps that lead from a given state of affairs to a desired goal” (Barbey and Baralou, 2009). Another essential aspect of purposeful thinking, problem-solving is a high-order thinking process inter-related with other important life skills, such as critical thinking, analytical thinking, decision-making and creativity. More specifically, being able to solve problems implies a process of planning, i.e., the formulation of a method to attain the desired goal. Problem-solving begins with recognizing that a problematic situation exists and establishing an understanding of the nature of the situation. It requires the solver to identify the specific problem(s) to be solved, plan and carry out a solution, and monitor and evaluate progress throughout the activity (OECD, 2015).
Cooperation, i.e., for an individual being cooperative and acting cooperatively, is the act or process of working together to get something done or to achieve a common purpose that is mutually beneficial (Tyler 2011). It can involve teamwork and active collaboration, which is a form of cooperation and is often used as a synonym. Cooperation is central to many activities in the everyday world encountered by children, youth and all learners in school, at home, at work, in the community, and at national and regional levels. Because cooperation is useful for problem solving and forms the basis for healthy social relationships, it is a core life skill directly related to family, social and political conflict management and resolution in MENA.
In its simplest form, negotiation can be defined as a process of communication between at least two parties aimed at reaching agreements on their “perceived divergent interests” (Pruitt, 1998). Therefore, while the core life skill ‘negotiation’ relates to a process, it translates into the ability of an individual to interactively and effectively partake in a negotiation process until its conclusion by and among others, respecting others while being assertive, being cooperative, using communication skills, showing leadership skills while being civil, saying no when one’s wellbeing is threatened, etc.
Decision-making skills, or the ability to choose between two or more courses of action, relate to “one of the basic cognitive processes of human behaviour by which a preferred option, or a course of action, is chosen from among a set of alternatives based on certain criteria” (Wang, 2007). Decision-making is used by all individuals on a daily basis, as they are regularly faced with situations in which they have to make a judgement about how best to proceed, and also when it is most appropriate to do so. Notably, decision-making has consequences on all individuals’ wellbeing through the effects of the choices they make (WHO, 1997).
A core life skill, highlighted first in its Individual Dimension towards personal empowerment, self-management, or both self-managing and being self-managed, is the individual ability to regulate and monitor one’s behaviours, emotions, feelings and impulses. Thus, it constitutes a broad category of related skills that includes self-control, self-efficacy and selfawareness, as well as positive attitude, reliability, self-presentation and is strongly linked with the core life skill of resilience. These have wide applicability in all domains of life, from personal relationships at home to peer-relationships at school, and have been identified as common employability skills applicable to a range of jobs (Blades et al., 2012).
Consensus on the meaning of the term resilience has yet to emerge (UNESCO, 2015b), and that may be largely due to its recent broadened use, referring to contexts as varied in their intensity as coping with stress at work to the grave psychosocial impact of child abuse, extremism, violent conflict and displacement, in particular on children and youth. Because it is highly contextualized, ‘being resilient’ will have different levels of depth for the individual developing and/or displaying that core life skill, especially in MENA. In all cases, however, the life skill of resilience shall be understood, in general terms, as the constructive, personal ability to navigate changing circumstances successfully (American Psychological Association, 2010), thus beyond the restrictive understanding, according to which resilience is constrained to the capacity to survive, accept or resign oneself to an unacceptable situation.
Communication, or being able to communicate, involves the sharing of meaning through the exchange of information and common understanding (Keyton, 2011; Lunenberg, 2010; Castells, 2009). It takes place in the context of social relationships (Schiller, 2007; Castells, 2009) between two or more individuals and is considered an interpersonal skill. While communication enables human interaction and participation in society, the prevalence of new technologies and social media, particularly among youth in MENA, indicates a strong human drive for social communication (Kuhl, 2011; Dennis et al., 2016).
In the context of the LSCE Initiative, ‘respect for diversity’ – or being respectful of diversity – is conceptualized as a key interpersonal life skill. It is based on the understanding developed by moral philosophers that acknowledges that human beings are equal participants in a common ethical world by virtue of their human status (Janoff-Bulmann et al., 2008). In this composite life skill, the concept of diversity means understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing each other’s individual differences. These can be defined along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other characteristics. Respect for diversity thus implies more than just tolerance, which is related to accepting differences passively, it means acknowledging and promoting the equal worth of peoples, without condescension (UNICEF, 2007b).
Empathy, or being empathetic, is “the ability to comprehend another’s feelings and to re-experience them oneself” (Salovey and Mayer, 1990), while never being judgemental. A key construct in social and developmental psychology as well as in cognitive and social neuroscience, the ability to empathize is important for promoting positive behaviours toward others, and facilitating social interactions and relationships. Empathy is involved in the internalization of rules that can play a part in protecting others, and, it may be the mechanism that motivates the desire to help others, even at a cost to oneself. In addition, empathy plays an important role in becoming a socially competent person with meaningful social relationships (McDonald and Messinger, 2012). Consequently, empathy motivates altruistic behaviour and has the potential to enhance the process by which rights are realized, which is as important as an outcome (Jönsson and Hall, 2003).
In its most basic sense, participation or being participative, can be defined as partaking in, and influencing, processes, decisions and activities (adapted from UNICEF, 2001). Therefore, both a contextualized process as well as a core life skill, participation is an action of empowerment in relation to the individual and the community. Consequently, being participative, which is interlinked with to the core life skill of creativity, is the contrary to remaining passive at school, at work, and, above all, in society. More than being engaged, learners and individuals who are participative, especially in MENA, actively contribute to a democratic society, by the people, thus exercising their human rights.