Dream a Dream
Empowering vulnerable children with life skills to leapfrog over adversities
20 years ago, 11 persons came together with just an idea to volunteer their time to engage children who were terminally ill, abandoned and HIV-infected, with games and activities that could help them feel joy and hope again. The idea was to bring together children who needed support, with people who could care and create meaningful engagement. However, when they worked with young people from vulnerable backgrounds who experienced extreme adversities in their daily lives, they realized that merely engaging with children was not enough, especially, when the intent was to help them leapfrog into an unpredictable and complex future successfully. Dream a Dream believed that the life skills interventions could become a critical ingredient to help young people navigate challenges arising out of adversity and build their ability to thrive. Started as a volunteer effort to spend their weekends meaningfully, it has turned today into an organization that is considered a pioneer in the life skills space in India.
At the centre of Dream a Dream's approach are the young persons who have the potential to overcome adversities and thrive in an unpredictable world by developing life skills. Next are their closest influencers — their parents followed closely by teachers. And then is the education ecosystem around the children. Starting with direct interventions of life skill programmes in Bangalore, where more than 2,00,000 children were impacted, the most notable achievement has been with the Delhi government to implement the 'happiness curriculum' across public schools of Delhi. An impact study by Brookings Institute, USA, showed better relations with teachers, increased participation in classes and increased focus and mindfulness among students. Since then, Dream a Dream has worked with four other state departments to implement life skills-based curriculum for students in government schools impacting over three million children
One of the biggest challenges faced early on by Dream a Dream was quantifiable assessment of life skills programmes. The team looked at global standardized scales around the world which either measured only specific life skills or were not contextual to disadvantaged communities. Dream a Dream explored the idea of developing an assessment scale of its own, and with the help of two UK-based clinical psychologists — Fiona Kennedy and David Pearson — built the Life Skills Assessment Scale (LSAS) to measure life skills in disadvantaged children in the developing world. After eight years of the effort, the scale was published in the international journal named Social Behavior and Personality in 2014. The LSAS was downloaded over 6,000 times by researchers across the world, and in 2018, was selected by HundrED as one of the most innovative, impactful, and scalable solutions in K-12 education globally.
In 2010, they set up the After School Life Skills, Career Connect and Teacher Development programmes in Bangalore and have trained around more than 10,000 educators impacting over 2,00,000 children. The After School Life Skills Programme is leaving no stone unturned in developing life skills of the youth by leveraging sports and arts as a medium of learning, thereby, making learning more experiential. The Career Connect programme uses its signature Life Skills Approach to conduct career awareness workshops, run short-term modules in English, communication skills, money management, and career guidance helping youth make meaningful transitions to work and life as adults. The Teacher Development programme engages adults to deepen impact on and unlock the potential of young people. The teachers and facilitators are trained to nurture empathy, expand their creativity, develop listening and validation skills and understand the role of a facilitator.
The organization has seen its efforts fructify with the systematic investment in life skills across the education ecosystem, especially, in public schools across the country. As mentioned earlier, it collaborated with the Delhi government to introduce the 'happiness curriculum' in 2018 and also witnessed other state governments recognize the importance of integrating life skills-based pedagogy within the school curriculum. Soon, there was a surge in schools reaching out to Dream a Dream to build the capacity of teachers on the Life Skills Approach and add to the contribution to new researches coming out of the global south on the impact of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and life skills-based interventions.
Over the last 20 years, Dream a Dream has realized that there needs to be a widespread buy-in among government stakeholders for the purpose of education to shift towards thriving children. Since then, Dream a Dream has had over 240 employees who have been a part of its team. The team has engaged over 10,000 volunteers and a host of advisors, mentors, board members, donors and consultants and impacted the lives of over three million children and young people. But most importantly, the organization has continued to be an advocate for young people and stands proudly today besides them as they show the way forward.
Laurels aplenty have come Dream a Dream's way with the organization being recognized amongst 10 champions in the world that are "re-imagining learning through play" by Ashoka and Lego Foundation in 2015. Dream a Dream is now certified as a Great Place to Work (2021-2022) along with being a three-time regional finalist of the India NGO of the Year Award, runner-up at the GDN Most Innovative Project Award and winner of the 2020 Football for Good award by Common Goal. Today, Dream a Dream is building a world where all children can thrive within the existing education systems by reframing the purpose of education and the definition of success through redesigning curriculum, pedagogy, training and assessments. It is working to bring together players in the education ecosystem to shift the narrative towards thriving of children as the purpose of education.
Dream a Dream, under the inspired leadership of Suchetha Bhat has proved that life skills approach to learning has the capacity to transform school education. They have also demonstrated that such models can also be scaled through public-private partnership in the true spirit of Nexus of Good.
Views expressed are personal