In times, when humans have become machines, and life is programmed to function in a defined framework, the basic question that arises is, "Do we want our next generation to lose the essence of empathetic values further?"
"Education Through Empathy, Critical Thinking"
Ever since we started this fellowship we kept visiting schools regularly and what we noticed was that the inter and intra-relational coefficients between teachers, students and local communities seem to have undergone drastic transitions from times we both were in school. Some of our prominent observations from the field have been listed below:
Firstly, the pupil-teacher relationship remained unidimensional in which teachers seldom took a keen interest in the emotional wellbeing of students. Their relation started with classroom and ended with syllabus.
Secondly, within the students, constant societal hegemonic nomenclatures fed by the society has built unsaid divisions and fault lines based on skin colour, gender, socio-economic status, students' educational performance etc.
Lastly, it was noticed how violence and abusive language had been normalised in the lives of these torchbearers of our nation. How multiprong socialisation that we all are part off, had begun to manifest itself in these young children. Insensitive acts of hurting animals, damaging plants, and teasing co-fellows were considered as enjoyable pastime.
Both of us through our years in School had constantly faced bullying on many counts that had led to diminished level of confidence. Though over the years with a constant supportive ecosystem, we have slowly and steadily attempted to move off that pain and self-loathing that follows, the shards of those experiences remain. It took us years of persistent effort to break the cycle of low self-esteem. Indeed, at most times, even today speaking eye-to-eye remains a constant struggle. Depicting how difficult it remains to undo just 10-15 years of school bullying from our lives. The battle to rebuild means many who don't find a healthy ecosystem to completely lose emotional and psychological balance, while other who do like us have to work hard for countless years to undo the haunted memories of past.
During the initial months of our fellowship Imad was selected as a part of the flagship first World Youth Conference on kindness and became a steering lead for "Global Youth Alliance on Kindness" anchored by UNESCO-MGIEP. His learnings from the same made us think of a mechanism that we as part of our core work as consultants/fellows to district administration could pilot. Perhaps, a working model, that could build strong intra-inter pupil-teacher relationships as well as contribute to growing their proximity to nature. We hoped that our intervention would lead to a constant decline in acts of bullying in schools that we hope to take on board. This was how the idea of Empathy Clubs was born.
The Indian education system, right from the "Gurukul" system of education, aims to propagate the idea of affective education, which focuses on enhancing a student's development in terms of his/her attitudes, interests, character, values, and other areas within the social-emotional domain. Although the central and various state boards of education often create well-structured plans to include all the above categories, the transformation of the same in the school curriculum is often fragmented in an inequitable balance. The result is mass production of individuals who may have advanced academic skills to pursue their careers further but do not have adequate empathetic, and pro-social (E & P) skills to adjust well into the society at large.
According to the Deputy Development Commissioner, Anshul Kumar I.A.S. the need, therefore, is to develop a curriculum which takes into its fold the categories as mentioned earlier with equitable balance. Only then it can be claimed that schools focus on all aspects of human development which includes cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.
While erstwhile District Magistrate, Shri Rahul Rajan Mahiwal kickstarted the program, it was the newly appointed Deputy Development Commissioner Anshul Kumar who spearheaded and anchored the entire initiative. It was his dynamic forecasting and inputs that further strengthened the initiative and constant engagement with the fellows that ensured the initiative was able to deliver the desired results.
"What Are Empathy Clubs?"
TADP Cell Aurangabad strongly believes that Kindness, Compassion, and Empathy are three magical words that could accelerate voyage towards the emotionally resilient world. Taking this resolve to the remotest part of the Naxal hit regions, district administration aspires to ensure emotional resilience and kindness towards fellow humans, animals and nature become the core value of the students. The idea is to encourage and support students to narrate stories of the smallest acts of kindness and empathy that they are part of in their day-to-day lives. Making them aware of their feelings, personal satisfaction that follows and consequently multiplying the acts of kindness and empathy that can make a tangible difference. Thus, enabling young torchbearers to realize how acts of kindness add value to our work.
To realize this project 30 schools from Kutumba block were selected under the leadership of Mr Chandra Shekar Prasad Sahu, Principal of Girls Middle School Kutumba. Following this, a workshop with 30 nodal teachers was held on 1 February 2020, which was also attended by us Aspirational District Fellows and Assistant Program Officer Om Prakash.
There, a bottom-up approach was used, and teachers were encouraged to come up with ideas. Brainstorming led to creation of fresh engaging innovative models to teach age-old wisdom which would inculcate various socio-emotional values among the children. Hence, "Empathy Clubs" was born, as a programme which aimed at including empathy-building activities in the schools.
"The ADF duo had inspired the teachers that in today's time, tolerance is being lost within the human being and we've become more and more aggressive on small and simple matters. In such a situation tolerance is important and necessary in modern times. If we develop empathy in children from the school level, then they will be sensitive as well as efficient. For this, children should be encouraged to express empathy in consciousness sessions. Sometimes children do something good, sometimes they do bad, its feeling should be expressed in a consciousness session. Through this, children will be able to understand and differentiate between good and bad feelings or emotions." ~ Chandra Shekar Prasad Sahu
Following this orientation session, a series of follow up sessions were taken up which enabled setting up a teacher-driven roadmap for 'Empathy Clubs'.
Firstly, all the schools began to conduct "Consciousness Sessions" where the nodal teachers promoted discussion on empathy through poems, stories, role plays and other innovative methods. The students were also encouraged to discuss issues and their inhibitions so that they become more confident and comfortable with their own body and self. It was done to enable students to feel and respect their classmates, and schoolmates.
Secondly, in all these schools an "Empathy Box" was created, in which students were encouraged to drop in their small acts of kindness. The stories were then collated and displayed in the Empathy Corner at the school.
Thirdly, some of these stories were read out loud in weekly classroom sessions to encourage more and more students to take part in the initiative encouraging them to learn about these important values.
Finally, the nodal teachers and students from some schools also organized rallies to widen the impact in the immediate community around the school.
"Experiences for the Ground"
Teachers shared that this program had built a spirit of empathy among the students, teachers, and communities. Even though the program was halted unexpectedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers look forward to restarting this program with enhanced vigour and zeal. Below are some experiences shared by students and teachers from the schools where this program has been piloted:
"A feeling of cohesion among children is developing through this program. This is drastically reducing the problem of bullying in school. We wouldn't be surprised to see an end to bullying in our schools, all thanks to this program." – Poonam Upadhyay, teacher, middle school Kutumba.
"Nowadays I get more help from my fellow students in doing homework and understand difficult topics in math and science." – Ram Uday Sinha, 7th Class Student, Middle School Dadhapa, Kutumba.
The Samanubuthi Darpan program has helped improve the interactions and understanding between girls and boys. Nowadays the boys are more cooperative and helpful to us in all school-related activities. We are given more chances to speak in the decision-making processes related to various group activities in the school. We feel like us girls are no less but equal to boys in all aspects." – Kalma Devi, Class Representative 7th Class, Middle School Sanda, Kutumba.
Moving forward, the current District Magistrate of Aurangabad Shri Saurabh Jorawal has visions for introducing this program across all the government schools of Aurangabad, Bihar. He has handed over this responsibility to the young and dynamic Deputy Development Commissioner of Aurangabad Shri Anshul Kumar. Being a young I.A.S. officer Anshul Kumar has exciting plans for this program. In collaboration with TADP Cell Aurangabad, a roadmap has been developed which envisions this program going through 4 phases that focus on formation, development, delivery enhancement and public convergence of the program. We are hopeful that this program gets implemented on a larger scale and thus impacts more and more children through the incredibly healing and nurturing effect of Empathy.