In the late morning of November 20th, 2018, 34 parents and teachers from throughout Bangalore gathered in a circle under the thatched roof of a pavilion to talk about how much work there was left to do.
They spoke about the struggles they faced every day as they resisted an educational paradigm that didn’t support their students. It’s not enough to simply push knowledge, they said; there needs to be a focus on creativity and passion, entrepreneurship and leadership. Without it, students sink into disinterest at the expense of their academics, and both teachers and parents grow frustrated and mad.
“We need to give the children the choice of what to pursue,” said grandmother Kamalamma, her red and green saree glowing with energy. “If they themselves choose, they will learn more. If you limit their choices, it won’t be good” (Carpenter).
This focus on pursuing passion – on creativity and leadership and managing conflict – is the basis of the Life Skills curriculum that Dream a Dream has developed, expanded, and implemented for almost two decades. If looking at an effective education like a strata, the layer reserved for life skills would be at the core. These are the skills that inform our daily practices and enable us to overcome the challenges of everyday life. The five most definitive skills that Dream a Dream has established as the backbone of its curriculum and program – the skills the parents and teachers assembled under the pavilion that day agreed they weren’t doing enough to cultivate – are managing conflict, understanding and following instructions, taking initiative, interacting with others, and solving problems (Talreja et al.).
The reason for this meeting was that each had been invited by Dream a Dream to participate in the 2018 edition of its annual Life Skills Day, a coordinated, day-long symposium of skills that brings together a huge number of students from a wide spectrum of partner schools, Dream a Dream graduates, educators, parents, community members, and volunteers to engage with a substantial cross-section of the Life Skills curriculum in a safe space. The day aims to instill a foundational understanding of the curriculum in its participants so that they may return to their communities as practitioners of and ambassadors for Life Skills.
The activities of the day are designed with life skills embedded in them, wrapping practical applications in sport and fun. In one example, called “Voice of the Leader,” an array of items is spread around the playing field, each of the items falling into one of several categories. The participants are divided into teams which then elect a temporary leader and follower for that round. The follower is blindfolded, and the leader must guide their follower through the maze of objects to pick up those their team needs. The roles rotate through the entire team so that each participant has the chance to be both the follower and leader and experience the skills necessary to be effective at both. Folded into an energetic and rowdy game are the practices of listening to and following instructions, taking initiative to overcome obstacles, speaking loudly and clearly to guide others, and empathizing with others to discern what instructions would help them best. For many of the participants, opportunities to explore and exert these skills, especially in the form of activities that make them palatable and fun in a safe space, come seldom, if ever at all.
This lack of such opportunity is the paradigm that this community of teachers, students, and parents has inherited. As is said and said often, it presents both challenges and opportunities. It’s a challenge that the skilled facilitators of Dream a Dream, many of whom themselves graduates of the programs, are working to solve through their creative life skills approach. It’s also an opportunity – an opportunity for community members to gather beneath the thatched roof of a pavilion to express concerns, share hopes, and plant the seeds of ideas, because when discussing matters as important as education those seeds will always take hold.
The nature of the day is foundational – the activities unfold in quick succession with periods of reflection in between because the goal is to familiarize, to establish the skill and then let it crystallize. It’s presented in pomp and ceremony because we want the participants to take notice of what’s being said and to understand its potential impact. The Day itself is arbitrary; what matters is the message that Life Skills are necessary, accessible, and useful. Life Skills Day happens annually, yes; but the real takeaway is that, with work and guidance, every day is a Life Skills Day.
You can watch the recap video of Life Skills Day 2018 here:
- Carpenter, Christopher, director. Life Skills Day 2018. YouTube, Dream a Dream, 7 Jan. 2019.
- Talreja, V., Krishnamurthy, K., Sanchez, D.J.W., & Bhat, V. (2018). “Mapping Life Skills in India: Research, Policy and Practice.” Dream a Dream. Accessed at: http://www.dreamadream. org/reports/mappinglifeskillsinindia.pdf.