Supporting India’s children to dream big

“At the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, I had seen four to five children in my entire career whose physical and emotional development was severely stunted due to family circumstances, neglect, and adversity. In my work with Dream a Dream in India, every second child I see is stunted.” Dr. David Pearson’s reflection left a strong impression on me as I thought about how childhood development is a key factor in improving education and classroom learning in India. Dr. Pearson is a consultant clinical psychologist specializing in child and adolescence mental health, who spent many years in National Health Service hospitals, providing and managing services.

Dr. Pearson explained how the physical stunting in India’s low-income children has a direct correlation to a child’s social, mental, and emotional skills development. At Dream a Dream, these skills are called “Life Skills.” Dream a Dream was founded in 1999 with the objective of finding relevant, effective and scalable solutions to develop life skills in children from underprivileged backgrounds. Because neither schools nor communities are traditionally oriented towards developing and nurturing these skills, children are frequently getting older, but not developing to their full capacity. But, a change is coming.  

As Dream a Dream identified solutions that led to improvement in confidence levels, problem solving skills and social skills, they did not have a consistent tool to assess whether the children’s life skills were really improving and if so, by how much.  Dr. Pearson and Dr. Fiona Kennedy helped Dream a Dream develop the Dream Life Skills Assessment Scale (DLSAS). It works like this:  

  • Each child working with Dream a Dream facilitators gets an individualized skills profile  
  • After the baseline assessment, children attend programs that help build skills where they are behind other children in their age group  
  • The assessment allows the children, their parents and teachers, and the Dream a Dream team track progress and evaluate challenges 
  • The Dream a Dream team can also track how each Life Skills program is performing as more children participate 
  • The team regularly evaluates results and strategizes ways to improve their programming and opportunities for children 

In 2018, the DLSAS was selected by HundrED as one of the most innovative, impactful and scalable solutions in K-12 education globally. It is the only known measurement scale for ‘Life Skills’ for children who are overcoming significant adversity.  

When you meet the children who work with Dream a Dream, it is easy to see how inspired and confident they become because of the program. Team sports like soccer and art programs help them learn how to plan, strategize, and work through challenges – individually, and with the other children around them.  

But the hard work of improving life skills is not just for children. Inspired by the success of their students on the Life Skills Assessment Scale, Dream a Dream experimented with training teachers to infuse empathy, creativity and appreciation into their classrooms and teaching materials, so that teachers can be effective conduits to pass on life skills to their students.  

Recognizing the success of this program, the Delhi Government selected Dream a Dream as a partner for their Happiness Curriculum, which was introduced across all secondary schools – over 1,000 schools – in the state. This is the vision of true scale. Based on our experience from the systemic K-12 education reform work across the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, we see the power of government school systems to deliver scaled impact as they make key changes in curriculum and monitoring systems of the education department.  

That’s our vision for Dream a Dream – to help create a standardized curriculum and methodology for teachers to advance Life Skills in their classrooms. We believe this training should become an essential aspect of the qualification, professional development and assessment of teachers across the country.  

At the foundation, one of our goals is to support over 500,000 classrooms globally with high-quality tools, technology, and resources to deliver effective instruction. Our work with Dream a Dream is an opportunity to think about the context of children facing significant adversity, and how we can help them develop social, emotional and life skills to help them thrive, and create a pathway for their future.  As Dream a Dream student Sanjay says, “Dream a Dream – meaning we’re dreaming ahead.”