In July 2018, the AAP Government’s flagship scheme ‘Happiness Curriculum’ won commendations from different corners of the globe. This scheme, intended to transform school education completely, tries to shift focus from the fierce competition and marks-oriented teaching-learning that dominates the Indian system, to cognition, language, literacy, numeracy, and an arts-based learning model.
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Happiness Curriculum is a scientifically-designed curriculum based on the principles of the “Happiness Triad” model given by philosopher Agrahar Nagraj Sarman. It aims to make the learners more aware, mindful, and focuses on how we can bring sustainable happiness in children’s lives which will eventually result in happier and content adults.
From nursery to the eighth grade, every day the first 25 minutes of school hours is dedicated to the implementation of this curriculum. The Happiness period has three main pillars that start with mindfulness activity, then moves to inspirational stories and ends with activity-oriented discussions.
Today, when the whole world is facing the biggest public health crisis in generations, leading to huge challenges in education and mental health of students, the claims and aims of the Happiness Curriculum are what generates ‘hope’ for the Indian education system. Since March 2020, people are stuck inside their homes, with no or very less exposure to the outside world. People are losing their jobs, families are losing their loved ones, and the constant fear of the novel coronavirus creates huge mental stress among people of all age groups.
Children, in particular, are in the most vulnerable conditions. They are not allowed to go outside to play or to study with their friends, and with so much uncertainty about the opening of schools and other spaces, children are losing interest and focus. Since June 2020, teachers have been conducting activities with students, to keep them engaged in the learning process. Online lessons via the Zoom platform have also started from September.
From launch till date, Delhi government school teachers have played an indispensable role in the delivery of this curriculum. It has been more than two years that this curriculum has been running in schools, and teachers spend a good amount of time imparting this curriculum. They are the key stakeholders of this curriculum and the only group of individuals who work with both students and the state.
How happy are the Happiness Curriculum instructors?
To understand the role of teachers in this curriculum and its impact on students, I did a research study on ‘Happiness Curriculum’, in the North West A district of Delhi government schools, where I interviewed more than 35 teachers to seek their perspectives about the Happiness Curriculum.
During the research, it was found that most of the teachers viewed this curriculum as one that emphasises the distinction between good habits and bad habits, which help students become better human beings. Some others said that it tries to inculcate moral values in students, which in turn helps children to deal with stress levels in varying situations, so that they can focus on their studies more.
One of the reasons for the different perceptions among teachers involved is that there appears to be very little training provided to these teachers. In the span of these two years, the happiness teachers only went for one workshop which happened in early 2018 during the time of launch. All new teachers, or those who were newly inducted into teaching this curriculum in subsequent academic sessions, weren’t given any training.
Although there are Happiness Coordinators, School Mentors and Teacher Development Coordinators (TDCs), who get more frequent training than the teachers themselves, the data collected suggests that due to academic pressure there have been few meetings convened to focus on the happiness curriculum per se. This has resulted in a gap between teachers and the government.
Even today, teachers are not getting any training or guidelines on how to implement this curriculum in practice in the present scenario, to help their students navigate these difficult times.
Hurdles to bringing happiness into the class
The question that arises therefore is this: If teachers don’t get proper training, then how do they facilitate the Happiness curriculum? The answer to this lies in the ‘Teacher’s Handbook for Happiness Class’. This is a handbook designed by teachers, government advisors and non-Governmental organizations to guide teachers to actually take these classes. Although it should not be so in the ideal situation, at present, it serves as the only major source of guidance which Happiness teachers have at present.
New teachers follow this handbook to a T. They ask the exact questions written in the Handbook and say that they feel a lack of autonomy or scope of self-innovation in this curriculum.
Teachers share other logistical or administrative issues too. For example, it becomes very difficult sometimes to manage these classes, as they are invariably scheduled for the first period, and they also have to take attendance at the same time. This reduces their actual interaction time with students. By the time they are done with attendance for the large number of students, there is only 10-15 minutes left for the class. In which case the only thing they can do is carry out the mindfulness activities and skip the others till the next day.
Another major issue that teachers face is with the large number of students in small classrooms. In one of the classes, it was observed that the strength of the class was more than 85. It becomes difficult to conduct any hands-on activity in such small, cramped rooms.
Special challenges in times of a pandemic
In COVID times, the curriculum has been particularly difficult to implement because it was not meant for online lessons. All the activities and discussions listed in the handbook are specifically designed for physical classrooms. For now, the Directorate of Education of Delhi sends activities to Happiness coordinators of each school on a regular basis, and those coordinators forward these activities to the respective Happiness teachers of their schools.
These activities are designed in such a manner that a child can do these even at home, such as:
- Write down the most memorable event of life, which you want to share with your friends.
- Try to make something unique from old items such as a toy car, mask, puppet and use it (as a prop) to tell your siblings/ parents a story.
The change in students
But what changes has this curriculum brought in children in these last two years, if at all?
It has been found out that there is a visible positive impact on children. Despite the inadequacies mentioned above, teachers responded that this curriculum has helped them and children to bridge the teacher-student gap. Incidences of violent behaviour by children have reduced, especially in boys’ schools. Children now share their personal stories and experiences with everyone, which also leads to the creation of a safer and non-judgmental space in school.
There has not been much visible difference in students’ academic performances, in terms of average marks scored in examinations, though teachers aver that this curriculum helped children increase concentration. But, now when it’s been almost six months that the children are not coming to schools, and only writing and submitting their homework as compulsory tasks, the essence of the curriculum is lost somewhere.
The government has given instructions to teachers to give homework to students regularly through the use of technologies like WhatsApp, phone calls, etc. In this, however, teachers face the problem of personally reaching out to every student, because not all have a smartphone and even when they have, it is usually a shared device that is used by all, most definitely siblings. Clearly, under the circumstances, there is a big cloud over the fulfilment of the original, real objectives of the Happiness Curriculum.