Children and young people from vulnerable backgrounds come from experiences of adversity. Adversity affects their ability to engage with the world, make healthy life choices and be successful. Adversity comes in many forms – abuse, abandonment, neglect, rejection, war experiences, extreme poverty, poor care, poor nutrition and violence. When a child misses out on sensitive periods or opportunities for social and emotional development due to adversity, development stops; resulting in stunting or failure to thrive. This is prominent and pronounced amongst children from vulnerable backgrounds.
Educational systems today don’t understand adversity. Once children enter the school, they are expected to perform – sit in a classroom, pay attention, make friends, listen to the teacher, understand the lesson plan and be on their own. This is overwhelming for children who come from spaces of adversity resulting in over 50 per cent dropouts by Grade 5.
On the flip side of the coin, the world today is changing at a frantic pace and requires very different skills to survive, live and succeed in this fast changing, complex world. The 21st century will bring new social, economic and environmental challenges, so the next generation need to be equipped with the confidence and adaptive skills to effectively tackle them. The education system does not understand the new world and its changing role – today, teachers are no longer the owners of information and knowledge, technology has broken that barrier.
With this being the case, what roles do teachers and schools play then? We believe it’s a critical role. Teachers can help children build the skills to understand and filter information, to use knowledge for making healthy choices and build the life skills to succeed in the new world. A city like Bangalore, with nine million people, is running out of fresh drinking water. When that happens, we hope our children will respond with empathy to find solutions that work for everyone and that education can help develop this empathy in children.
What are the skills a child needs to master to become an active changemaker?
Changemaking comes from a space of the “Being”. An individual’s ability to accept everything and everyone for who they are, irrespective of their backgrounds; the ability to understand without judgment; the ability to reflect constantly on one’s intentions and actions; an ability to affect change within oneself – all of these are key skills to be an active changemaker. Essentially, when a child learns how to learn they become an active changemaker.
Why is it essential for children to learn through play?
In our experience, we have learnt that play is an amazingly powerful medium for transformation – as demonstrated by the below stories.
We had an 11-year old with learning difficulties who struggled in his classroom and his teacher didn’t know what to do. Participation in table tennis under an empathetic and caring coach helped build his concentration skills and attention span. In six months, his learning levels in the classroom improved much to the surprise of the teacher.
A 13-year old who came from a violent family background beat up another child when given a hockey stick. A caring coach decided to give him a unique punishment. He gave him 30-minutes extra practice every session; pushing him to hit 25-30 balls and ensure all of them went into the goal post. In a year, this young man channelled all his aggression into the sport and became the best team player. Today, this young man has completed his college, works with Dream a Dream as a Life Skills Facilitator and is transforming over 5000 lives a year.
A young man learnt to recognise and express his emotions while clay-modelling portraits.
A teacher discovered her deep sense of empathy when she drew her life as a river on a canvas inspiring her to share her journey with her students.
A teacher discovered the power of listening with his heart through a playful activity when a student who was consistently late to school started coming on time when the teacher just sat down and listened to her.
Children learn best when the space is safe, and there is trust, acknowledgement, validation and deep listening. Play creates and nurtures this, thus helping children learn. (Collected)