A few days ago I invited Swetha Ranganathan, Co-Founder & Director of Communications, Apni Shala Foundation for a guest blog. Here’s what she writes about a cause that’s dear to her team.
Should acquiring academic knowledge be the only aim of formal education system? Is learning in schools holistic for children? Is retaining information and memorizing the only purpose of schooling? These were the key questions we were grappling with before we decided to start Apni Shala.
Our chief cause is to develop a set of skills in children that will help them live their daily lives wholesomely, happily and deal with problems around them confidently. We call these skills ‘Life skills’. The current education system fails to deliver them through its curriculum. This problem is acute in government and affordable private schools where children from low income communities usually enroll. The purpose of our training programs is to cultivate social, emotional and cognitive development in our students. In our endeavor to reach out to them we collaborate with several NGOs like Vidya, Door Step School, Each One Teach One Foundation and Udaan India Foundation to name a few. We also work directly with government schools.
Apni Shala has 3 flagship programs for children.
Basic Life Skills Program: This is a year- long program and has been designed for kids between 10-12 years of age. It is based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) life skills framework and focuses on developing emotion management, interpersonal and critical thinking skills in children through games, art and drama.
Service Learning Program: This year-long program is based on the Gandhian philosophy of ‘Learning from Service’ with a focus on serving the community the children live in. Made for kids between ages of 12 to 14 years of age, this program encourages children to identify burning issues around them, find solutions through brainstorming and research over 6-8 weeks and to implement the solutions to yield intended results towards the end of their school year.
Hands-on Learning Program: This is a short term program for 10-12 year old children spread over 3 to 4 months conducted through project-based workshops with well-defined outcomes.
We understand that parents and teachers play a crucial role in a child’s life and hence have programs for them as well. Our team meets up with parents twice a year to discuss the importance of life skills with them and to hear their feedback. We even play games with them.
We have a well thought through program for teachers. Currently we are implementing this program for teachers at Vidya-Mumbai. It starts with a 3 to 4 day Orientation workshop followed by hand-holding for a month. Through this period the teachers are taught designing life skills session plans for their students and becoming role models for life skills for their students. Post this, we keep in touch with teachers through Google or Whatsapp and conduct 2 refresher courses after 6 months. Going forward teacher training programs will become increasingly important for us.
Since our inception 2 years ago, we have covered 2000 children across 20 schools and NGOs together. Our current staff is 8 strong. We intend to work closely with 200 teachers to reach 1700 children in 15 schools by the end of FY 2016-2017 alone.
One of our biggest challenges is scaling our reach in government schools. A plethora of permissions is required from officials to work in these schools, which considerably slows down our progress. We have to also battle established mindsets that don’t attach a lot of importance to life skills in education system thus undermining our efforts.
Also, one of the unintended side effects of scaling up is effect on quality of the program. This means taking extra effort in maintaining the spirit and purpose of our training. A challenge like this is real for any start up on the brink of growth.
Fortunately funding has been forthcoming from our donors like DBS Bank and others. We also have a few dedicated individuals who contribute to our cause regularly. In a recently concluded crowdfunding campaign we raised 89,580 Rupees for the cause which was in excess of our goal of raising 75,000 Rupees.
We want Government recognition for life skills in formal education. Although the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 mandates shifting learning away from rote method, the implementation of the policy at the ground level leaves much to be desired. Our vision is to eliminate the need for Apni Shala; Empowering teachers by equipping them to teach life skills to their students so that one day we are not required. This will happen only when teachers go beyond textbooks and adopt experiential learning as an effective way of bringing about holistic development of the child. Till then we have our hands full!
I would like to thank Rohan for this opportunity to talk about Apni Shala on his blog.