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The Children in India 2012 study found that approximately 48% of India’s children are “stunted” and 20% are “wasted.” It also showed that 40% of children between the 5th and 7th grade dropped out of school. Most of these children come from vulnerable backgrounds and experiences of adversity, says Vishal Talreja, Co-founder & CEO of Dream a Dream, which “affects their ability to engage with the world, complete education, make healthy life choices and lead fulfilling lives.” Talreja’s organization was started in 1999. Its goals are to empower youth and equip them with the skills to succeed in a fast changing world. Since 2012, this work has already impacted the lives of over 87,500 children. The main focus is to provide safe, caring environments in which youth can develop life skills, defined as “abilities for positive and adaptive engagement that enable individuals to deal with the demands and challenges of daily living.” The organization’s Core Programs are the After-School Life Skills Program (ASLSP), the Career Connect Program (CCP) and the Teacher Development Program (TDP). Students are assessed on their work using the Dream Life Skills Assessment Scale (DLSAS), the first impact measure tool in the world “to measure improvement in life skills among disadvantaged children.”
The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Vishal Talreja.
Vishal, your teacher development program has not only helped many teachers find more productive life skills to teach their students, but has also helped these teachers learn about their own capacities. How does the program select the kinds of exercises and life skills to implement in these workshops to produce these results? What’s your process?
Our Teacher Development Program is specifically aimed at enabling adults to empower young people with life skills. It is based on the premise that true transformation happens with the presence of a caring and compassionate adult in the young person’s life. When a teacher, a key influencer in the young person’s life, plays the role of a caring and compassionate adult, children engage actively in learning, they feel inspired, and they transform.
In order to help build these skills in teachers, the program was adapted from the Creative Community model developed by PYE (Partners for Youth Empowerment). The approach of working with Teachers uses experiential techniques to nurture empathy, expand creativity, develop listening and validation skills, and develop the ability to share feedback authentically and learn facilitation skills.
The Teacher Development Program consists of 4 modules that are spread over 6–8 months. In each module, the participant progresses through stages of expressing your own creative potential, engaging young people with empathy, understanding how young people learn, developing facilitation skills and celebrating your role in a young person’s life.
What are the major challenges/obstacles that Dream a Dream has had to face and what have you learned from each of them?
One of the major challenges, especially in the Indian context, is that of equity in the education system. It is most often that schools aimed at high-income groups are the only ones pioneering modern teaching methods such as life skills education. However, the need is exponentially higher in more difficult social and economic backgrounds. With this in mind, we strive to keep all our innovations accessible to everyone. Our programs are designed to work at low costs within the means that are available.
Given the rapidly changing technological advancements impacting education and learning globally, how will the Dream a Dream program modify their workshops to keep up with the learning that matters most?
Dream a Dream’s programs have already geared up for the advancements that can be expected from the Information and Digital Age. With the advent of the internet, accessibility of information and knowledge has never been easier. As a result, teachers are no longer an authority on information. Students have the internet to answer their questions. This has driven us to re-imagine the role of a teacher.
We believe that the teacher would now have to move towards being a facilitator of learning. Can they build the skills of self-directed learning in students? Can they help students understand the gaps in their knowledge so that they can then seek the right answers? Can they nurture curiosity and creativity in children? Can education be geared towards building the life-skills for young people to succeed in the new global workplaces, such as the ability to collaborate and innovate and be flexible? This is the focus of Dream a Dream’s program.
What are the positive and negative impacts on the child when considering new technological advancements, whether it be with AI or other forms of technology? Additionally how will this impact the teacher’s role and the teacher’s interaction with the child?
New technological advancements occur at a rapid pace and are inevitable, and it certainly will have a huge impact on the future. We believe that the education system needs to adapt and respond to these changes to prepare our students with the skills to navigate through the 21st Century. Here, the role of the teacher is of the utmost importance. However, the understanding of this role needs to change from what it currently is. If the education system continues to prepare students for an Industrial Age, they will only gain outdated skills. The more we invest in building skills required for the Digital Age the more chances that students will succeed in the 21st Century.
For example, could we rely on technology for the learning of academic subjects, while teachers help students understand how to apply their learnings? For students to be prepared for this new world, the role of the teacher has to be in building the life skills of critical thinking, higher-order analysis, problem-solving, collaboration amongst students and others. Teachers will need to engage with students in a way that creates spaces of learning that are non-judgmental, caring and compassionate. This then fosters creativity, nurtures empathy, and prepares students to be highly adaptable to a fast pace of change.
Thinking 5 years or 10 years from now — what are your goals for Dream a Dream and what do you see as the important next steps to achieve them?
Our scale strategy for the next 5 years broadly focuses on four aspects of our work. Firstly, Direct Delivery. That is deepening our insights and impact on young people through our innovation hubs, School Life Skills Program and Career Connect Program. Secondly, Replication. That is enabling over 15,000 teachers/educators/youth workers to empower 400,000 young people though the Dream a Dream’s creative life skills approach. Thirdly, Systemic Change. That is investing in and continuously building evidence of the impact of Life Skills in helping young people overcome adversity and be prepared for the 21st century; movement building through champions, influencers and change-makers to voice the criticality and urgency to integrate life skills within learning environments; building an eco-system of practitioners, organizations and stakeholders integrating life skills within education reform. Finally, a Framework Change, and that is transforming society by influencing policy, changing education paradigms, and re-imagining learning through a multi-stakeholder approach using evidence-based research and advocacy.
Thank you Vishal.
(All pictures are courtesy of Dream a Dream)