Life Skills To Tackle 21st Century Challenges
Why We Invested: Dream a Dream
By Sarvesh Kanodia, Associate, Omidyar Network and Namita Dalmia, Principal, Omidyar Network
Anitha’s life changed when she scored a goal in a football game where she was the only girl. Today, at the age of 22, the self-admitted sports fanatic has certification from the All India Football Federation. For a child from a conservative, underprivileged home, she’s overcome many difficulties to get to where she is now.
Harshvardhan changed several schools before the age of 12 because he always seemed to get into trouble. It took a chance performance in a creative skills class to discover his singing abilities. Today, the 14 year old composes lyrics and raps in his mother tongue Kannada.
Both Anitha and Harshvardhan are first-generation learners in their family. Their households are part of the 182 million in India that are low income, where parents are usually small farmers, rural artisans, security guards, vegetable vendors, and domestic help. In many cases, the family income is just enough for basic survival. Most of these children grow up in an environment of adversity i.e. lack of love and care, malnutrition, abuse etc. This ultimately affects their development, resulting in low cognitive skills and life skills such as the ability to build relationships and overcome difficulties. To add to the challenge, these students face a frantically changing world.
There is growing evidence coming from various fields that apart from cognitive development, life skills are important for building emotional strength and maturity to handle difficult situations and thrive in changing environments. And yet, the education ecosystem is not connected with real life requirements and does not help them in building the critical skillsets and mindsets. As a result, many of these students drop out of education and are unemployable. A 2016 study of employers indicated that 80 percent of graduating engineers in India are believed to be unemployable for current job roles. The problem will only get more acute in the future as these students move into jobs that are yet to be created today.
The ‘Dream’ movement
While there is no standard definition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has defined life skills as: “The ability for adaptive and positive behavior that enables individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.”
Dream a Dream is among the pioneers in the life skills field that are building a movement in this space. Their aim is to integrate life skills into the broader education system, thus helping millions to thrive and achieve their full potential.
Anitha’s life changed after she came across Dream a Dream. She soon inspired other girls around her to join the game. Not only did she learn how to play football as part of Dream a Dream’s program but gained critical life skills such as communication and handling difficult situations. These skills came in handy when she tackled a critical moment in her life and was forced to quit school and begin working to support her family.
Harshavardhana is no longer an aggressive, ill-tempered boy but has improved academically and socially.
Thousands of stories like theirs have been made possible through the after-school life skills program that focuses on 8–15 year olds and leverages experiential learning through sports and arts to develop interpersonal, cognitive, and creative skills.
Dream a Dream also runs a Career Connect program that focuses on the ages of 14 to 19, to make them career ready by teaching life skills through computers, spoken English, and workplace readiness training.
Ambika, an assistant chef at the baking and dessert department at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bangalore, discovered her love for cooking at one of the skills development programs run by Dream a Dream. After trying a few programs, she realized her talent lay in cooking. In addition to training, she also learnt basic computer skills and English literacy. She credits the organization for changing her life, helping her appreciate the importance of family and now dreams of opening a bakery which she will name after Dream a Dream.
The criticality of the teacher
Based on the learnings from years of work, Dream a Dream runs a Teacher Development Program that focuses on building empathy, creativity, interpersonal, and facilitation skills. They take teachers through a transformative experience using their “Arc of Transformation” framework to build the necessary skillsets and provide tools for these teachers to then in turn impact their students.
Asha, a teacher at an affordable private school who underwent a training program with the organization speaks of her learning during the session: “The Dream a Dream training took my confidence to a whole new level. It helped me get a step closer to understanding people around me. Getting kids to pay attention is a big challenge. The training, however, came handy and has helped me innovate and bring more creative ideas into the classroom.”
Mainstreaming life skills education
At Omidyar Network India, we believe that imparting life skills training to young students is critical to prepare them to thrive in the 21st century. Non-cognitive skills like empathy, communication, conflict resolution, relationship building, and creativity will play a key role in helping individuals to leverage their full potential.
Dream a Dream has extensive experience in building life skills in children especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are excited to support the organization in its goal to make life skills a part of the mainstream education narrative.
Leveraging their experience of nearly two decades in directly delivering life skills training to young people, Dream a Dream is now working with central and state governments and other education organizations. The organization has been working closely with the Delhi state government in formulating and supporting implementation of the “Happiness Curriculum”, which is expected to impact approximately 1 million children annually. These efforts are now generating interest from other state governments to introduce life skills as part of their school curriculum.
Its annual “Change The Script” conference brings together key stakeholders in this space and focuses on research to build qualitative and quantitative evaluation methodologies. Dream a Dream is engaging with the wider ecosystem and trying to build a common understanding around this space which otherwise tends to be amorphous.
Delivering on the intended impact
Anitha is today a role model for her younger peers. A facilitator in Dream a Dream’s after-school football program, she recently went to Russia as a young leader for the delegation that was participating in the FIFA Foundation Festival. The life skills training at Dream a Dream proved critical in helping her convert the difficult situation into an opportunity. She now dreams of opening her own football academy, and is finally accomplishing her dream of completing her education through a long-distance course.
We are excited to partner with Dream a Dream and work with them towards the mission of bringing a framework change in society and re-imagining the education ecosystem to help millions of future Anithas and Harshavardhanas thrive in the 21st century.