Education

Happy classes

March 20 is celebrated as International Day of Happiness. Questions about education being a joyful experience, the happiness quotient and prepping for exams continue to remain unanswered. So, what is the way forward?

The term ‘happiness curriculum’ has been in the news in the recent past,and almost everyone in Delhi is familiar with it. The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), Melania Trump, during her maiden visit to India, attended a ‘happiness class’ at a government school in Delhi and interacted with its teachers and students. While the FLOTUS and other guests were watching a cultural performance happening on the stage, a little boy in the audience started dancing and won their admiration. Witnessing the jolly kid’s impromptu dance, Mrs. Trump too smiled at the student, applauded and expressed her joy. It was an incident of joy in action.

The Aam Aadmi Party government’s ‘Happiness Curriculum’ scheme launched in 1,030 Delhi government schools in 2018, has been hailed as a major school education reform in the country. The scheme that targets students from kindergarten to class VIII is seen as a shift from exam-and-marks-oriented education to holistic education with the focus on cognition, literacy, numeracy, values, and learner well-being.

Is learning a joyful experience for learners in India? Do children really learn what they need to, in order to lead a happy life? What are the factors that affect effective learning and act as hurdles for joyful learning? Does our education system prepare students for life or for exams and career? These questions arise when we think of ‘happiness curriculum’ and ‘happy schooling’.

Why ‘happiness curriculum’?

The World Happiness Report 2019, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which ranks countries on citizens’ well-being, ranked India 140 out of 156 countries. Finland topped the list for the second year in a row whereas India slipped from 133rd position in 2018 to 140th position in 2019. This gloomy picture makes us raise questions: Why are Indians not happy? Is there any link between our education system and our happiness quotient?

The purpose of education is to prepare students — to lead a joyful and purposeful life. To translate this vision into action, the system should have sound curriculum and educators. The moral responsibility of such educators is to produce happy individuals who find joy in what they learn and meaning in what they do. The purpose of such curriculum is to help students develop self-awareness, boost confidence, improve mental wellness, build character, and instil values in them in order to enable them to encounter problems boldly and face challenges confidently. To achieve this goal, moral/value education, self-awareness exercises, mental health activities, and social awareness programmes should be given more importance and incorporated into the curriculum. This should be done on a regular basis at the primary and secondary levels of education.

Education for happiness should be one of the aims of primary and secondary education. Learners who are happy will be able to develop a positive attitude towards life. One of the reasons given for Finland’s high level of happiness is the country’s high-quality education system which aims at improving learners’ well-being. Finns guided by the slogan “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes”, learn to do the right thing at a young age.

There are various factors that kill learners’ happiness and make them behave like machines. One of the factors is the hidden agenda of our education system: “education for exams and career”. In the book Creative Schools, Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica (2015) stress the need for shifting away from ‘exam-factory’ education to developing creativity among students. According to the authors, the eight core competencies (8C’s) that education should develop in students are: creativity, curiosity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship. The UNESCO Happy School Framework (2014-2015) also highlights the need for recognising values and competencies that contribute to enhancing happiness. In this context, it is good to look at two models of happiness curriculum: Delhi and Finland.

Delhi model

The Delhi government’s Happiness Curriculum was designed with an attempt to find answers to the question “What makes a good life?”

Forty teachers were chosen and trained in “co-existential thought” which is based on understanding spiritual, intellectual, behavioural and material aspects of life. Dream a Dream, an NGO, trained the teachers to become educators so that they can nurture empathy and develop their creative and critical thinking skills. The teachers were encouraged to undergo a paradigm shift and apply empathy-based pedagogy and a life skills approach in the classroom. These teachers, who later became mentors, were involved in designing the happiness curriculum that focused on addressing learners’ emotional and mental needs and developing their self-awareness, creativity, critical thinking and a few other life skills.

Finland model

Is happiness a skill? Can it be taught? The answer to these questions can be found in the motto of the Happiness School of Finland: “Finnish happiness is a skill — and it can be taught”. The Finnish education system encourages learner autonomy and creativity. It does not pressurise students by giving them meaningless homework and unproductive tests. Teachers too enjoy autonomy. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Finnish teachers are happier than teachers in other countries. In Finland, it is not easy to be certified as teachers. Only those who have the aptitude for teaching and teaching skills are certified to become teachers. Teachers in Finland are highly respected and trusted. They enjoy a great deal of autonomy to plan lessons and run classes. Granting autonomy to teachers results in producing happier teachers who, in turn, play a vital role in producing happier students.

Sue Palmer, literacy specialist and author of Toxic Childhood, in an interview to CNN says, “My admiration for the Finns is for their education in general and the trust they put in teachers...” She also attributes Finland’s success in education to the later starting age. In Finland, no parent expects their children to be reading and writing formally until they are seven.

Governments and educators

Education should enable the all-round development of individuals. It is possible only if joyful education is promoted and joyful environment is created in educational institutions.

Happiness curriculum is based on the belief that the emotional well-being of learners is linked to their successful life. It is a major shift from teacher-centredness to learner-centredness, teaching to learning, textbook-based learning to experiential learning, unhealthy competition to happy collaboration, teacher domination to learner participation, rote learning to activity-based learning. Happiness curriculum can enhance learner motivation and result in positive learning outcomes. It is high time our governments introduced ‘happiness curriculum’ in schools.

The writer is an academic, columnist and freelance writer. rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:01:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/happy-classes/article31126290.ece

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