• project-jagriti

    Why Design Thinking is essential in Education

    In order to understand Design Thinking better and evangelise about it, I deconstruct it based on these five attributes.

    1. Being Empathetic about the System
    2. Embracing Ambiguity
    3. Practicing Divergent-Convergent Thinking
    4. Building Things
    5. Being Iterative

    In a recent visit to IDEO in Palo Alto, I presented how we have used Design Thinking principles to build the non-profit organization Happy Horizons Trust, working in education in rural India. All the aspects of Design Thinking mentioned above can be applied here.

    Being Empathetic about the System: The system comprises of its stakeholders and its institutions. So, in the case of education, it is important to think of how all the stakeholders (School administrations, teachers, parents) are empathetic towards each other. Being empathetic leads to Trust. Systems designed on Trust, welcomes a larger responsibility of collaboration to succeed. Being Empathetic allows one to be human-centered in their approach.

    Embracing Ambiguity: A complex system comes with a lot of challenges and ambiguity. One gets to know about the different facets, only when digging deeper into the problematic aspects of the system. A key aspect of Design Thinking is to embrace ambiguity and spend considerable time in understanding and defining the problem. A complex system like Education in India has a lot of problems and ambiguity.

    Practicing Divergent-Convergent thinking: We keep talking about the need for out of the box thinking and innovation, but we often constrain the thinking process of the child in the school by promoting rote learning. By introducing Design Thinking in schools, we can promote the notion of Divergent – Convergent Thinking. Divergent Thinking allows the learner to think about the possibilities and be more open to imagination. Most of the times we are so limited in our imaginations. Adopting Divergent Thinking will allow students to express their opinions freely, without fear of being judged. Similarly, Convergent Thinking allows one to being more critical about what one is thinking. It allows one to bring a strong rationale behind any position taken.

    Building things: As aspect of Design Thinking is to get the hands dirty and build stuff. The notion of prototyping, i.e., when one sees the ideas come to life; gives an amazing high. If this is introduced more in schools, students will be in a habit of building stuff from an early age. They are also likely to accept failure and try to build again.

    Being iterative: Testing what one has designed, with the actual users provide the necessary feedbacks and encourages people to rework on things. Getting students to believe that they can work on something after feedback becomes a huge motivation for them to continue trying. In our school education system, the notion of feedbacks and iterative design is almost non-existent. Through the of School Management Committees, we can bring about the notions of Iterative Design, in a way that the school continuously keeps evolving about the learning experience of students.

    When we talk about the 21st century skills (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving), I feel Design Thinking is best suited to promote it. Through the Happy Horizons Trust, we spend a lot of time engaging with teachers and students in the Design Thinking process.

  • Whose fault is it?

    The sorry state of education in India and challenges as an edupreneur

    As I received the Young Entrepreneur Award at the end of last month in Patna, I was also asked to address the audience on my views on entrepreneurship. The 800 strong audience comprised of mainly youth from the state of Bihar, and the event was aimed at encouraging more of them to become entrepreneurs.

    Here is an English transcript of my talk from the event.

    My name is Kshitiz Anand, and I run an organisation named Happy Horizons Trust in Saharsa, which is affected by the Kosi floods every year. We work a lot with the youth, and we are trying to improve the quality of education in the government schools. We run a scholarship program for the youth, and with it, there is a certain economic development that happens for the family. In our work, we have a lot of importance to storytelling. We firmly believe, that whether it is a child or an elderly, they have a keen interest in stories. All of you like to listen to stories?

    (Audience: Yes)

    Let me tell you a small story. A few months ago, I was traveling across the village called Chakbharo in rural Bihar. This is a community of extremely backward people (the Musahars, the rat eating tribes), and I met one such family, where a lady (the one in red in the below photo), must be around 35 years of age, had eight children. That was a turning point in my life so to say, and I still get goosebumps everytime I tell this story. And in all probability, that lady by the time she is 40, she would become a grandmother.

    So deep within me, everyday I have this one pertinent question, that whose fault is it anyway? This is something that I want everyone attending this seminar today, at the end of the day, that whose fault is it? Because we are very skilled at that. We always like to point fingers at the others. Its due to someone else, and he could not do it so it did not happen. This did not happen for so and so reason.

    So is it the fault of the child, who does not have the food. Some said, to make the schools, and get the midday meals started and children will come to school. The kids will get an education as well as the food. One arrow two targets. But even then, today in Bihar, almost 80% of the children are suffering from malnutrition. Whose fault is it?

    Children come to the school, teachers are also recruited and the funds are also alloted. But even then today, only 50% of the children in class 5 are able to read a class 2 text. And the areas where we work, Saharsa district, Supaul, Madhepura, Khagaria, the flood prone regions, students are unable to read even one sentence in Hindi even in Class 8 and 9. One sentence. Forget a paragraph. Whose fault is it?

    And there are many children who drop out after class 8 and 9, that is around age 14–15 years, take a Gareeb Rath (train) and go to Delhi and Punjab.

    Let’s have a look at the children who do end up staying in school. You all must have heard the story of the board exams toppers in Bihar state board. The whole country listened to it, so much that even people around the world heard it. Why does our blood not boil? Why don’t we ask ourselves, whether this situation can be improved or not.

    We have never emphasised on critical thinking. Infact, we have always criticised it. If a student asks a question, two lashes, if you shout and talk, four lashes. In this manner, we have killed the ability of students to ask questions and their desires. Whose fault is it?

    There is a rush to get a job. Whether it is a permanent job or on contract teaching. Come let’s become a teacher. When there is nothing left to do in life, lets just become a teacher. That is a profession that is always there. It is a safe bet. We can sort our lives, and that of our entire family as well. We will work for a few years, and then our lives are set. But even then we have a shortage of around 280,000 elementary school teachers. Just elementary schools. Forget middle and high schools. And then we say that we have a lot of youth and a huge population. Whose fault is it?

    And for the people who do end up finishing school, the very few that end up finishing schools, stats tell us that just around 20% of our graduates are employable in the country today. Whose fault is it?

    We have two choices, one is to just ignore all of this and leave the state in search of greener pastures, or get determined to change something. Thanks to the BEA (Bihar Entrepreneur Association) and the team, today we have an opportunity and a platform that we can leverage and do a lot of things. Just so that, tomorrow we do not say that fault was just mine to not have tried.

    — — — —

    A followup question that came up from the audience.
    “Don’t you think that the education in Bihar needs to be a systemic change and that it is too huge a task?”

    My Answer:
    Yes. Agree that there is a whole system level change that is required. You need to however start somewhere. Pick up any thread be it primary school education or teacher training or school infrastructure development. There is so much work to do in all of it, that a whole life can be spent. But the key is to start. That is my sincere request to all of you.

  • Reflections on 2017 and a great year at Happy Horizons Trust

    Mail sent to my team at the end of 2017.
    — —
    Dear Team,

    What a year it has been for us at the Happy Horizons Trust. We have been through a wonderful ride, and I am so fortunate to have you all in this amazing journey that we are taking forward. It is only with your commitments and support that we are able to do what we have been doing. I want to take some time to reflect back on the year that was and what the coming year holds for us.

    We started the year with the Fun with Typography workshop at the World Book Fair, and it was only due to the commitment of you all that we were able to deliver such an impactful workshop even within the 20 minutes time slot that we had.

    Later, we got the news of the selection to the Teach For India’s TFIx incubation program. Getting to collaborate with one of best non-profits in India working in the domain of education is hugely inspiring to all of us. The incubation program that started later in May turned out to be so beneficial for the organisation that we are forever indebted to them.

    Through the TFIx program, we attended numerous workshops in the past year. Our first learning circle happened at Munger in August in a residential program at the iSaksham premises and later one at Aavishkaar at Palampur in November. There is so much to learn from each of these organisations and other ones that are a part of the incubation program. TFIx’s interventions has helped us get a lot of clarity on our program design, budgeting, defining organisation values and key strategies. I confess that it was only during these learning circles that we flipped the conversation to keep the child at the centre of our work by empowering the local youth. We truly developed a sense of understanding what it takes for us to firmly believe in the vision that all children can one day attain excellent education. Through their support we are now soon going to operating in the entire Saharsa district working with close to 35 schools directly.

    It is always good to get the support of a leading corporate to believe in your work. I have always held high respect for Azim Premji and his vision of driving change in the society with the commitments that he has made towards philanthropy in India. So we were thrilled, when me and Vatsala were selected to the Wipro Seeding Fellowship program, and a part of the Wipro Applying Thought in Schools (WATIS) program. Through their support we are able to engage better with the teachers and drive our Teacher Training and Leadership Development Program in Bihar.

    Our collaboration with Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business will have students from one of the top 20 Business school in US work as consultants with the organisation. It is a matter of pride and honour that we are able to work in this manner. Starting mid January, two teams of 4 consultants each will be helping us in putting together a short term and long term strategy for our Marketing and Financial Planning and Strategy.

    Later in the year, our collaboration with the District Magistrate office and the District Education Officer, promises a lot more work in the field of education. It also provides us an opportunity to lead education reform efforts in areas where there is hardly any other interventions.

    The year end came with a couple of awards and that to me is a good way to end the year. It inspires us to a lot more.

    We were recognised by the Government of Bihar, at the Young Entrepreneurs Summit organised by the Bihar Entrepreneurs Association at Patna. We are in immense gratitude to Shri Sushil Modi ji, Deputy CM of Bihar for the award bestowed upon us. Myself winning the Young Entrepreneur Award will allow us to be more connected with key personalities in Bihar, and with the upcoming setting up of the Patna office, we have a task at hand already.

    As our organisation works a lot to empower girls, it was only befitting that our co-founder Vatsala was bestowed the Special Jury Award by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, through the WEE (Women Enterpreneurs and Empowerment) program hosted at IIT Delhi. The award was given by the director of IIT Delhi. Through this award we are hopeful of being able to collaborate more with IIT Delhi and the DST as highlighted by the Director Mr Rao at the prize distribution ceremony.

    We bid adieu to 2017 with an immense amount of gratitude for all the people who have believed in our cause, and supported us in different capacities. We thank everyone for the belief they have in us and our work. Whether it was a friend who hosted a fundraiser for us on his daughter’s first birthday, to friends who have helped in cash or kind, to someone who went all the way to speak to so many more people about our work to raise funds. There are countless number of people who have taken notice of our work, and are more than willing to help out more. That is motivating!

    The past year stretched us to come out of our comfort zones and challenge us in different capacities. Our reaching out to every block in Saharsa district for the 30 new champions, gave us a much better understanding of the socio-economic-cultural-political landscape of the region. The experiences of these travels are something we will cherish forever and use it to strengthen out our operations better.

    The year also got us immense publicity in terms of articles that was written about our work and the new education paradigm we are creating. Amongst others, the Better India and The Logical Indian wrote about us and through these articles, we developed new relations with people and they became our supporters. These further enhanced our self belief and the hope for the cause we are all working towards.

    The coming year 2018 promises to be more exciting for all of us for we will be working at the district level with support from state and central bodies, collaboration with a foreign university and more individuals on board. With more employees and a larger team to lead there will be more set of variables to think about. Very soon we will be a 40 person strong team and it scale comes with own set of challenges. We will need to remain humble, learn from our mistakes and execute our vision with an immense amount of passion and gratitude. In the journey, we will celebrate our successes and stand by each other in tough times.

    I am sure that the year ahead for us is going to be immensely fruitful. I wish you and your entire family a very Happy New Year 2018.

    Warm Regards,

    Kshitiz Anand

    CEO, Happy Horizons Trust

  • Teachers and System Design Thinking

    We have always believed that the teachers are perhaps the most important stakeholders in the education ecosystem. They are the ones who shape the future of the country and have such an important role to play in the development of the society. However, in India today we face a huge shortage of teachers. Even a lot of the existing teachers in the schools are not well qualified. While we face, 1.4 million teacher shortage in schools, we face another serious problem of low teacher quality. The problem is prevalent both in rural and urban areas.

    At Happy Horizons Trust, we launched the Teacher training and Leadership Development program called  Soochak, for teachers in schools. The program is designed to provide a 360-degree development of the teacher leading to their capacity building.

    We launched the Soochak project in July as a pilot with 2 schools. In August, we had a good opportunity to conduct the first part of series of workshops with the teachers of 2 different affordable private schools namely the Tagore Public School and the Rose Valley Secondary School in Simri Bakhtiarpur, Saharsa district. The first of the series of the workshops was around the theme of ‘System Design Thinking’.

    What is System Design Thinking?
    When working with fairly-complex systems, it is virtually impossible to get a deeper understanding of the system at one go. System Design Thinking allows one to have a very methodological approach to understanding better. It comprises of three main components.

    1. It allows the participant to break down the complex system into smaller parts.
    2. It identifies all the different stakeholders that exist within that system.
    3. It requires that the participant views the same system from the perspective of each of the stakeholder.

    A deeper understanding of the system results in a better understanding of the different challenges that come with the work. System Design Thinking forces the participant to put emphasis on things they would have easily ignored in the past.

    Introducing System Design Thinking to the teachers
    For the teachers in the workshops, the workshop on System Design Thinking was to make the teacher aware of the complexity of the education space. Often the teachers are under this impression that their role starts with the children and ends with the children. In reality; this is not the case. The responsibility of the teacher is to keep in mind all the different stakeholders within the system. It is therefore imperative that the teacher gets a deeper understanding of the system by viewing the same system from the different stakeholders’ point of view. It is only when the teacher has understood this, they are able to understand the enormity of the challenge that comes with the role of a teacher and the teaching profession.

    The Workshop
    The workshop was divided into three parts. The first was to highlight some of the issues that existed in Bihar and the challenges of working in it and the second was to reflect upon the role as a teacher and question (or reflect) on why they became a teacher. The third part of the workshop was to familiarize the participants with aspects of the Design Thinking Process.

    1. Understanding the context and challenge of education in India today
      We started with a lively discussion on the education system in India today. A healthy critique of the existing education system, compared with the earlier Gurukul education system in India, provided the much-needed energy in the class. During this we also presented some data points of low literacy rate, malnutrition, early girls marriage, scarcity of trained teachers in India. It was important to mention these data points, because most the problems highlighted during the workshop exists in the very place where the school is located. The data also allowed the point about problems in education in India to sink it amongst the participants.
    2. Reflective writing on ‘Why you became a Teacher?’
      The second part started with a reflective writing exercise on why each person in the room became a teacher. This was important, for many people end up joining the profession of teaching without any training. For quite a few teaching is more of a makeshift thing, and something that they started because they could not do anything else. There are very few teachers these days, who get into the profession of teaching, due to their passion of teaching. This needs to change, for the society to start believing more in the capacity of the teachers to shape the future of the society and country. Some of them also read their answers with excitement. One of them, Ms Prabha had written that she became teacher to teach her own children.
    3. Design Thinking – Empathy and Problem Mapping
      Post the reflective writing, the teachers were divided into groups and they were introduced to the Design Thinking methodology. One of the most important aspects of Design Thinking is to empathize with the users and get a deeper understanding of the problems that exists within the system. Sitting in diverse groups, the participants were asked to write down the problems (on sticky notes) they find in the education system. It could not just be about the problems that the teacher faces daily in the education system, but also what are all the problems they think exists. One the main aspects of this workshop was to work in teams, which teachers were not familiar from before. Also, only then the members of each group, started to view the same problem from the perspective of the different users, they realized the magnanimous nature of the education space. The teachers were introduced to the Divergent mode of thinking as opposed to the traditional linear way of thinking. Examples were shared on how they could adopt the same to encourage the children to speak up and develop their critical thinking.

    Observations
    It was amazing to see the response of the teachers and the cooperation they showed during the workshop. The feedback we received was highly positive, mainly because this was perhaps the first time anyone was attending any workshop of this kind. While at the beginning, the participants were a bit hesitant to speak, as the workshop progressed, we observed interactions happening within the teams. The more these interactions happened, the more post-it notes got filled out. In fact, we had a few teams ask for more post-its and chart papers.

    Conclusion
    At the end of the workshop, it was important for everyone to feel immensely positive about working in education.  These are health first signs that we have received from the teachers and their response. For the program to be successful, it is important to keep a regular check on the implementation of the learning from the workshop.

    Next steps

    The next in line is the workshop around ‘Classroom Culture’. The main emphasis on this is going to be understanding the psychology of the different stakeholders. The prime focus is going to be on children. We will have exercises and engagement on the things that the teacher should keep in mind from the child’s perspective to making his / own teaching experience memorable. If a teacher has been able to create a Classroom Culture that he / she is truly passionate about, it is definite that the students will have a great learning experience.

    The next workshop is scheduled for the first week of October.

    Kshitiz & Vatsala

  • The power of Free Thinking in education

    Free thinking : “The free exercise of reason in matters of religious belief, unrestrained by deference to authority.” – Oxford Dictionary

    The popular Wikipedia definition of free thinking- “Free thought is a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, revelation, or other dogma”, seems accurate and comprehensive. The free thought emerged as an opposition to the religious position imposed by non-secular institutions, an application of logic and skepticism and an attempt to break free of Orthodox, irrational and unscientific world views. The term first came into use in the 17th century in order to indicate people who inquired into the basis of traditional religious beliefs. In the modern context, the understanding of free thinking has expanded and does not merely signify religious dissent but is also associated with the ability to reason, debate, question and think unconventionally.

    “To be free is to be capable of thinking one’s own thoughts, not the thoughts merely of the body or of society, but thoughts generated by one’s deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self, one’s individuality.” – Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher

    Free thinking entails the power and the privilege to be able to generate ideas and thoughts of your own, undiluted by prejudices of society. It represents an ability to think without bias, question without fear and speak without regret.

    As is evident from many works of dystopian literature, any society or authority that discourages free thinking is often an autocratic, fundamentalist one that seeks to globalise its own ideas and cherishes anarchy and pandemonium. Free thinking is important to save oneself from the reins of dictatorship and to preserve the ideals of democracy. It is important to prevent oneself from falling prey to absurd superstitions and the building of a society on those very foundations.

    To accept without question, to not refute authoritative principles is dangerous and unhealthy. It can lead to the internalization of incorrect formulae and the perception of right as wrong and wrong as right. Even for subjective concepts, it is essential that people come forth to put forward their own opinions, arguments, and views, on a more representative and open minded platform.

    Free thinking is a necessary prelude to an open, progressive and accepting nation and society. Even if free thinking gives expression to seemingly absurd notions, it is essential to have a forum to be able to communicate them even if it is at the cost of being proved wrong. This would help people to think differently, expand the existing horizons of thinking and to be able to evolve innovative ways to refute or implement new ideas. A spirit of enquiry and a sense of inquisitiveness is important for any community, at an individual and collective level.

    “The free thinking of one age is the common sense of the next.” – Matthew Arnold

    There was a time when it was believed that the earth was flat and that the sun and other celestial bodies revolved around it. The free thinking of Copernicus and Galileo served to prove that theory wrong is now the ‘common sense’ of our age. It is because of free thinking that breakthrough discoveries and inventions occur. If it hadn’t been for the independent thinking of Newton, Edison, Tesla, Wright brothers, Stephen Hawking etc, we would still have been living in blissful ignorance of all that humanity is capable of accomplishing. It is not just scientists who have demonstrated the immense power and need of free thinking. Great artists like Mozart, Beethoven, authors like Orwell, Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Neruda etc; philosophers like Kant, Sartre, Marx; Freud have all contributed towards the holistic, cultural, scientific and spiritual development of humanity.

    Free thinking enables us to generate ideas that have the power and potential to transform the world.  Free thinkers also form more effective and efficient governments, teachers, scholars etc. They allow themselves to think of concepts not mentioned in textbooks, and thus, experience personal and social success.

    Open mindedness, liberalism, responsiveness, and flexibility are important traits to be embodied for free thinking.

    For an individual, free thinking is important for his/her intellectual and cognitive development. Any person should be encouraged to think extraordinarily and unconventionally. Free thinking is important to preserve one’s own sense of identity and utilizes one’s intellect, instead of merely accepting whatever one is told. It is important that no child swallows whatever is taught to them hook, nail and sinker; but has the ability to refute, debate, understand and then accept. It is hazardous to the mental health of a student to accept what he/she is told without question. As the philosophical proposition, “Cogito Ergo Sum”, effectively communicates, “I think, therefore I am”.  Only in the act of thinking, does one truly leave an indelible imprint in the cosmos of his existence.

    Through the power of free thinking, we get the confidence to fearlessly examine and explore ideas, to dispel misconceptions and superstitions which hamper human progress. It resonates with the hope for liberation, change and the possibility of freeing those trapped as a consequence of dogma and superstition.

    Due to the immense benefits of free thinking, it is necessary to establish a structure of education that vigorously promotes the same.

    One of the vital features of such an education system would be to actively discourage rote learning and encourage critical thinking. The purpose of education should be an acquisition of knowledge and to enhance a student’s skills rather than scoring high marks and doing well in exams. Merely memorizing facts and cementing them in one’s memory is not effective education. Imparting education and knowledge implies facilitating students to understand the larger rhetoric instead of mugging up insignificant details.

    Students should be encouraged to think for themselves, come up with their own understanding of historical events, causes, impact; should be able to identify patterns and links themselves, instead of being spoon fed the information and being expected to replicate it perfectly on answer sheets and assignments. Rote learning is hazardous for a child’s intellectual development and prevents him/her from being independent minded, taking decisions and trains them to accept subjective truths as fact instead of evolving their own versions of the truth. Rote learning leads to stunted intellectual capacity and meddles with an individual’s cognitive abilities. It robs one of the capacity to think, reason, debate, and question. An education system of this type has an adverse impact on students and should be eradicated.

    Happy Horizons understands what true education means and seeks to promote and implement it. The teachers here use innovative methods to drive home concepts and phenomena. Children are encouraged to think unconventionally, ask questions and seek answers. More importantly, free thinking is not only tolerated but also encouraged. Thoughts and ideas of children are not undermined but actively entertained.  Its campaigns for digital literacy, learning through videos, learning with arts and crafts and Project Jigyaasa (Storytelling and book designing) are all aimed at encouraging free spirited and thought to provoke teaching and learning.

    Free thinking is an entitlement available to all free humans. It should be exploited as well as it can. It should be inculcated in young minds and encouraged in Orthodox ones. It’s ideas should be embodied, transferred and endorsed. The power of free thinking should not be undermined or taken for granted. Mountains can be moved, history can be rewritten, territories can be conquered if only one thinks, and thinks freely.

    Article by Kashish Komal, Volunteer, St Stephen’s College, Delhi.

  • HHT Annual Meetup at Delhi, 2016

    There’s a saying by Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Keeping these words in mind, our organization and it’s members thought to plan a meet-up wherein everyone can share their experiences and challenges which they face while working in different fields of education in India.

    On 11th December,2016 we organised annual meet up at our Delhi HHT office which brought forth the participation from every member of Happy Horizons Trust. The event was aimed at sharing stories, experiences and challenges in working in field of education which gave chance to every member to come forward. Also, the purpose of this event was to give a better exposure to our Champions working in Bihar, who visited Delhi for an educational trip.

    Meeting started with the welcome note, followed by the general introduction of everyone present at event. With the short speech about HHT and it’s activities, there were also brief success stories of HHT in Simri Bakhtiyarpur, Bihar with its different projects like LTV(Learning through Videos), Project Jagriti, Digital Literacy & Internet awareness Program etc. HHT Bihar team includes our Champions along with Project Manager Vinay Kumar and IT instructor Sonu Kumar. Champion Nigar, Jyoti, Komal and Neha were given chance one by one to share their experiences. While sharing her experiences, Nigar talked about how she use to take example of ganesh ji ne kitne laddu khae to make the procedure of addition and subtraction funny and engaging. Champions also thanked HHT for providing them a platform that helped them in self-evolution, confidence building and showing a way for better future.

    Session followed by a presentation on child psychology and importance of education by volunteer Pooja Kumari, which invoked a new enthusiasm in champions to enhance their skills, followed by a brainstorming interactive session. Core team member Rakesh Ranjan, along with Rashmi and Rekha Yadav gave some suggestions to enhance the teaching skills, to provide quality education and fruitful environment to students at primary schools. Also highlighted the importance of education at primary schools as foundational level. Members from Pratham infotech shared thoughts on Digital Literacy and ways to enhance learning through videos.

    At concluding session, HHT Managing Trustee Kshitiz Anand narrated about the foundation story of HHT as an organization. The journey started with an the idea of enhancing quality of education in rural areas in 2008 to finally giving it a shape of an organization in 2012 with his wife and President of HHT Vatsala Vikram. Initially, the program started in Bakhtiyarpur in Bihar, then taking lead in Bangalore widen the program. Although the aims were high but there were many criticisms from people around. But Hurdles at path made the intention even stronger to make a difference in society. He also described about the education chart of India where about 75% of population lives in villages and 25% in town. India, despite being high at population, is very low at education chart. And to overcome that situation and increase the education rate in India, we need to work on the quality of education provided at primary level. Although this dream seems hard to achieve but education is the only key for a better future and a better nation, and that’s what we at HHT through our event aim at.

    ———
    – Post by Puja Raj with contributions from Ritu Singh, Pooja Patel. 

  • project-jagriti

    Champions of the HHT

    It is a widely accepted fact that the education system in India needs an overhaul. We face a lot of problems with the quality of education. In the course of our work at Happy Horizons Trust, we have observed that many times the teachers are not adept or motivated in engaging with the children. Even though this is perhaps the most critical of tasks that a teacher has, the teaching quality and as a result, the learning experience falls short.

    In such circumstances, there are people who often act as the bridge between the teachers and the students. Some call it tutors, some call it mentors. In our work too, we realise that to motivate the primary school students towards education, such people are required. We call them as CHAMPIONS.

     

    For us, these champions are the one who eases out the complications of classroom, bookish world (which we all hate as a kid) and makes the process of learning fun and engaging. The children in the classes are really motivated by the presence of the champions, for they are able to relate to them as one of their own and from their own society. Through the storytelling sessions conducted by the champions, the students are able to engage in multiple fun sessions, ask more questions and also expand their thinking.

    Champions, unlike others, don’t just bring the change, but be the change. They get involved in adopting and implementing everything they learn and bring it forth for benefit of others. The intent of the program is also that gradually these champions turn out to be a leader and join the schools as a teacher or are more inspired to work in the education landscape themselves.

     
    Over the years we have observed that the champions gain in confidence by spending more time amongst the children and then later on become attractive candidates for joining in schools as teachers too. Their self-confidence is immensely high after the association with the trust.

    The champions are the real changemakers working in the society and we salute them for their courage and determination.

    ——

    With inputs from Pooja Raj. 

  • project-jagriti

    Learning Through Videos 2016

    Learning has always been into frame, though the medium differed with innovations and technology. To enhance the effectiveness and usability of knowledge, new and alternative ways have been adopted now and then. In early 1940s, it was print media and radio. Now, with latest technologies and explorations, Learning through Videos has been brought up as one of the prominent pedagogical method.

    Among different projects of Happy Horizons Trust, Learning through Videos has been the most successful and outreaching project. But the question is, “Why are we doing it?”, “How learning through videos would help children?”, Or “How is it beneficial in education?”. Answer to this lies in the very motto of our organization, i.e., to improve the quality of education.

    Visual media or video has a greater and wider impact than printed books. Sight and sound of videos stimulates our sensory motor and captures quick attention. Unlike any other method of learning, Learning through videos keeps maintaining interests of students for longer period of time, rather than getting distracted. Videos related to educational fields like science, history, geography, mathematics, etc. or films related  to children, social, cultural and moral issues are been screened to simplify the complicated mechanism or ideas.

     

    With development in technology, Learning through videos provide the flexibility to stop, start and rewind the video, so that the part which has been missed for any reason whatsoever or not properly understood, can be replayed and watched from the same section. Also, pausing the video for pointing something important or briefing some related ideas helps in clicking reasoning of students. The child needs to get engaged in and enjoy what they are studying and learning to pique their interest. Watching a film, undoubtedly, is something that every child enjoys.

    In May 2015, we, at Bihar branch of Happy Horizons Trust, started the project of “Learning through Videos” in collaboration with Children’s Film Society of India, Mumbai. During our 4 month session of this project, we outreached to over 25000 students. Projecting the films that are aimed at cultural sensitization, knowing about different cultures of the world, storytelling and building in students a sense of inquisitiveness towards how to do things. To encourage more public participation, screening were done either in classrooms or at public spaces.

     

    Anew, without any collaboration, this year we started this project of Learning through Videos in October to drive students motivation, knowledge and curiosity. With the help of laptop, projector and few volunteers, targeting 1600 students a week, we are doing this through school wise and community wise screening of the videos. Project will continue in different schools of selected districts of Bihar till December 2016. But just projecting videos or films is not what’s been aimed for. As a follow up of these screenings, we open discussions on the ideas and morals of the video to bring the student’s participation.

    Truly said by Seth Gordin, “Learning is not watching a video, Learning is taking action and seeing what happens.”  As video learning triggers the long-term memory, it helps in explaining complex concepts and ideas in easier terms, and improves overall learning experience. Providing a means of interactive instruction, learning through videos helps in critical thinking of children furthering the Quality of Education.

    And that’s what we aspire for.

     

  • Making education engaging and fun II

    Remember the days when all students learned the same thing in the same way? These days’ educational innovations are set where you must teach to each individual learning style, and create differentiated learning plans for each student.

    For times like when you just can’t make a lesson fun, follow-up the lesson with some fun activity. These activities which includes art and craft sessions, storytelling, fun games etc., allow the students to build self-confidence, and get better at presenting themselves, engage with an audience and improve on their motor skills. Art and Craft sessions are integral to our endeavor to improve the quality of education.

    As our nation is full with festive seasons, we at Happy Horizons trust are trying to make every festival a fun activity based learning process. These process involves giving knowledge about the festivals through story telling workshop followed by some activities related to the festival. Apart from several sessions we conducted, we hosted two major festive events in Bihar this month.

    Cap Making workshop and stories of independence as a part of Independence Day Celebration and Rakhi making workshop held at Saharsa district as a part of Raksha Bandhan festival were the two small step taken to build up, the skills and knowledge among students. These workshops help the students to build knowledge about the festivals, enhance their creative skills, leadership quality and their motor skills.

    In storytelling session for Independence Day, champions explained the students how our leaders came up for the freedom of India and why 15th August is so important for us. In Cap making session students used white thin sheet for making Nehru cap which they painted in saffron, white and green color. These students wearing Nehru cap painted with the colors of Indian flag are the future of India. They need to be educated in the right direction for the betterment of society and as nation whole.

    Raksha Bandhan is a bond of love between brother and sister. On this occasion we conducted a storytelling session and a workshop which were monitored by champions.  They used silk thread for making Rakhi, as it is considered best in Raksha Bandhan festival traditionally. For decorating Rakhi they used small glittery jewelries. Our Champions were monitoring and helping them. Craft activities helps the students to enhance their motor skills and they all enjoyed it.

    The workshops act as a training for our champions and a learning for the children as well. As a part of this endeavor to make education more interesting and fun, we at the Happy Horizons Trust are constantly looking for different ways of engagement with the children. These activities allow us to bring smiles to children and have a long-lasting impression on them, for something that they will cherish forever.

    Earlier, we had written about “Making education engaging and fun,” in which we gave emphasis on children faster learning and entertaining mediums like cartoons, visuals or videos in comparison to text or theory. Later, with some more observation about children’s interests and psychology through organizing sessions of creative activities, we come up with Making Education Engaging and Fun II.

  • Annual Report 2014-2015

    It has been quite some time that we had released the last Annual Report for the FY 2014-2015. But many say that they have not seen it. So we present it here again for those who may missed have seeing this.

    The last year was special for us, as we grew our team. More people who believed in our vision joined us and got associated in different capacity. We started our office in Delhi as well. The projects in Bihar started to bear fruit, as our alumni of the programs got recruited as teachers.

    Once again, we would like to thank everyone who has helped, contributed in whatever manner. It is with your wishes and blessings that we continue to move forward and attempt to improve the quality of education in the schools.

     

     

  • Inauguration of Computer Center

    It was a landmark moment for us as the last month, we inaugurated a computer centre that will serve as the home to the Digital Literacy and Internet Awareness Course. The guest of honour was the Sub divisional Officer Shri S K Shah and Shri Mahendra Narayan Prasad.  This would allow us to also launch multiple new programs and raising the digital literacy level in the area.

    The beneficiaries of this centre would not only be school students, but also farmers and other citizens. Agriculture being a primary source of livelihood in the area, we feel it is important that the farmers are made aware about the recent advancements in agriculture and farming methods. Through videos and animations, through guest lectures, we hope that the citizens use this center to their benefit.

    Another major beneficiary could also be teachers, who may want to find more about learning methods, new pedagogy styles and gain access to content that they can then use in their teaching.

    The current setup has 5 systems and the hope is that we will be adding more systems by the end of the year.

    The setup will also function as the centre for Champions training and imparting lessons on how to conduct the sessions.

  • Relation between hygiene and education

    This was the topic of our discussion at the Open Parent meeting last week. We have always insisted this with the school students, that they need to be neat and clean. By doing so the children develop a positive attitude towards education and a higher sense of belonging in the schools.

    Even though there were very few parents who attended, we feel activities like these need to be encouraged. This is important because often the parents themselves are not educated. For them their role at the max is to just send the children to the school. They are least bothered about what happens in school or how the kids go to the schools and the level of cleanliness that it maintained.

    A major challenge with trying to attain this is that the infrastructure in many of these schools are also not top class. Schools often run in incomplete buildings where dust is a major problem.

    Without windows, proper doors getting students to belong to a clean environment is tough.

    The fact that the hygiene is not a topic of discussion at the homes, makes it a challenge to follow up in the school as well. Most of the parent struggle with this and the challenge really remain at the systemic level.

    Over the subsequent sessions, we will be sharing more insights on the interactions with the parents and what they feel about this issue.

  • project-jagriti

    Champions 2014 batch

    (L-R) Nidhi, Nida, Aparna, Nigar, Project manager Vinay, Jyoti, Neha.

    Here is a snapshot of our Champions selected this year, who went through a rigorous process of book readings, writing test, public speaking, group discussions, personal interview and parents interview.

    As a part of the Rukmini Devi Scholarships that we offer to these Champions, and train them to be leaders, the students are given a stipend, professional training, a school to manage and engage with students on a weekly basis, computer training and internet literacy. The scholarships run for 3 years, subject to performance review at the end of every year.

    We have observed that these students become good candidates to end up teaching in various schools at the primary levels. We feel that our project therefore not just trains these champions, but also prepares them for a job, and create means to support their family. In doing so, we complete the circle.

  • Champions selection process

    One of the key processes of our activities is ”Champions Selection” every year. Our champions are the most important factor for the functioning of the Trust. They have been assigned with four major activities-reading, writing, story-telling and art n craft.

    There, are total 6 steps of selection to recruit a champion and they are as follows:

    1)Reading: We tell them to read a paragraph from a book or newspaper.

    2)Writing: We give them a topic, a social topic related to education of poor children or women, sanitation, environment etc, in about 600-800 words.

    3)Personal interview : We ask them about their family members, hobbies, interests and ambition.

    4) Extempore public speaking : All these girls are asked to speak on a topic for about 5 minutes individually one by one.

    5)Group Discussion: They are asked to divide themselves in groups of four and are given a topic to discuss.

    6)Visiting champions’ homes and meeting their guardians :  After completion of all four steps mentioned above, we ask 5 shortlisted girls to take us to their homes to meet their parents/guardians. By taking this step, we try to find that how much the guardians are interested in our work. Are they really willing to involve their ward in our organisation or is it just the champion’ personal decision. We do this process as we think that without the guardians’permission its not possible because usually sometimes, we need to send the  champions to perform the activities in some particular school all alone to check their confidence.

  • Including the parents in the activities

    We have always believed that the parents of the children need to be ‘educated’ about the values of education also. This is often a missing link in the whole system, as many times we hear that the parents are least concerned about the education of the child. They believe that their duty ends at ensuring that the child goes to the schools.One of the initiatives of the Happy Horizons Trust, is to conduct open meetings and discussion sessions once a month at least, with the parents and guardians of the children. This is to happen in the villages itself. These are organised by the manager and the champions under guidance from the chief coordinator. The champions conduct this session and in return get trained themselves on social leadership and really connecting with the masses.

    We recently did one such session at the Navsrijit Vidyalaya, Simri Bakhtiarpur on the 10th of July.  This is a community of the Mahadalits, and the children from this area, go to the oldest school that we have been working with (since 2008). The school has around 60-70 students. This being the rainy season, we ‘educated’ the parents about the benefits of cleanliness and the need to ensure that the students also maintain cleanliness when they come to school.

    In the discussions we also got to know about the different problems being faced by the families. Many have also requested for bleaching powder to keep track of the water logging and safety from the mosquitoes. We will be providing them these in the next visit to the area.

    It is our endeavor that we get more parents to be involved in the education of their children. They are very important stakeholder in our whole system and due to a lack of education themselves, they have been unaware about how they can help for their children. We hope to be there to guide them on that.

  • 2nd Career Awareness Seminar

    In the new union budget announced yesterday, the government has announced the setting up of more IITs and IIMs. It just drives the point further that all the way from the top we have the emphasis on management and engineering education. No wonder the parents do not want their children to do anything else.

    This trend needs to change, as there are so many other professions that children could opt for. This particular notion has been the driving force behind our Career Awareness Seminar.

    This time we are changing the format slightly to include a panel discussion and also more questions being asked by the students. It is our sincere endeavor that the students benefit from this and are able to make better informed decisions about their careers.

    Poster-3-PSD

    We are also having the certificate distribution ceremony for the 1st batch of students of the Internet Awareness Course. It is a proud moment for us, since we truly believe in the potential of technology and the Internet. We hope that we are able to build onto this, to encourage more students to use the tools for education and the development of the society.

  • What drives us at HHT

    We have been asked this question many times. What is it that drives us. Why are we doing what we are doing? What’s in it for us? Year after year, we read up the ASER reports that looks to find the state of education across India. Some of the National findings of the last year’s report (2013) have been emphasising on the sad state of education, mainly in the primary schools, and also the fact that inspite of all the efforts, the quality of education has actually gone down instead of improving!

     

    • Since last year no significant improvement is visible in children’s ability to read.
    • Children are still struggling with basic arithmetic.
    • Teacher attendance holds steady, but student attendance drops.
    • Nationally, the proportion of all children in Std. V who can read a Std. II level text remains virtually the same since 2012, at 47%. This proportion decreased each year from 2009 to 2012, dropping from 52.8% in 2009 to 46.9% in 2012.
    • Among Std. V children enrolled in government schools, the percentage of children able to read Std. II level text decreased from 50.3% (2009) to 43.8% (2011) to 41.1% (2013).

     

    While, on one end while that saddens us, on the other end it inspires us as we know that we have lots of work to do. In a recent article on TIME, the writer starts with this shocking (but widely known now) revelation. More children are going to school in India, but they’re learning less. This they validate by data from the World bank. We do not find it surprising, because we face it every day. Some excerpts from the article, worth mentioning here really drives across the point of why we are doing our work.

    This decline in standards, experts say, is paradoxically because of the rush to build schools and bring back children to the education fold. India managed to bring down the number of out-of-school children from 32 million in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2011 as part of a program to make elementary education universal. The landmark Right to Education Act of 2009 guarantees every child in India between the ages of 6 and 14 free education at a neighborhood school.

    At the Happy Horizons Trust, our focus has primarily to look at improving the quality of education through improving the reading levels, writing levels, arithmetic skills and speaking levels. We have focused on the primary schools, as we believe that just like a building, the foundation has to be strong. If a child is able to develop good reading, writing, and speaking skills by the time they are in grade 3, we are pretty confident that the child will go on to do well in the higher classes.

  • Empowerment

    One of the things we often get asked is how are we measuring the impact of our programs. It is difficult, because many times in the domain of education the impact can be actually be felt only after a certain number of years. We want to have a few short term change and impact as well.

    But when a good example of Empowerment presents itself, and you know that the initiative you have been running is the cause for it; you smile from cheek to cheek and feel proud. Through our different programs, we have always emphasised on the need to apply the knowledge gained by the students.

    Yesterday the results of the Class 10 board exams were announced and there was immense crowd at the computer centres. Needless to say the crowd could get impatient too soon. The anxiety of the parents and students  both were understandable.

    There were 6-7 students who had just completed the Digital Literacy and Internet Awareness Course, who were there with their mobiles, searching and telling all the anxious students and parents the results. Our joys were unbound at seeing this!

    To us, that is empowerment.

    7

  • Updates on Projects and Activities

    Now that we have the blog, and functional Facebook Page, we want to ensure that we communicate regularly with our supporters, well wishers and the people who believe in our cause.

    The last couple of months have been really hectic and satisfying at the same time. We will be providing regular updates on our work and project learnings through these platforms. Here’s the updates as of today June 6th, 2014.

    1. We began our champions selection process in May, which itself was late due to the elections, but could not finalise it due to the summer vacations beginning! So we hope to get that moving as soon as the school reopens. There are a few changes planned on this too! Stay tuned!
    2. We successfully completed the first batch of around 80 students for the Digital Literacy and Internet Awareness Course. It was really wonderful to see the students all excited about it! We need to complete the cycle by providing pointers on what the students could do next, whether from a career or from a education point of view. That is critical.
    3. Our next Career Awareness Seminar is scheduled to be held on the 26th/27th of June and during that period, we will also be handing out the certificates to the participants who completed the IAC course. The first batch they say is always special!
    4. The second batch of Internet Awareness Course is about to commence from mid June, and we are really hopeful that more people can benefit from it!
    5. We were featured by the MIT India Alumni reading group last month as well as a featured social enterprise. Do read up the article that talks about our different approach towards education. Thanks to another of our well wisher to connect with the team there.

    Here is a small excerpt from the article that sums up our approach

    The unique way adopted by HHT involves empowering the students by actively involving them in story-telling sessions conducted by champions. The program functions in some of the most backward regions of Bihar and aims at introducing the children to the world outside their textbooks and building their self confidence.”

    Read the complete article here

    Thank you all for the continued support!

    Problems

  • Internet awareness course completion

    Welcome to the Happy Horizons Trust Blog. We hope to make this as a channel to share all the efforts we are doing to give our contribution towards the betterment of the society. We firmly believe in the power of technology to bring positive change.

    And so, what better way to start the blog to do a post project update on the completion of the first batch of the Internet Awareness Course, being run in collaboration with the Koshi Computer Center, Simri Bakhtiarpur (Saharsa) Bihar.  We are really grateful to the owner Mr Bishnu Kumar, for his full cooperation towards the execution of this course.

    We started this initiative with the sole aim of getting the students empowered with the power of internet and getting digital literate. Over the duration of the course (2 months) the students were involved in understand aspects of emailing, being able to find information on the internet, fill out online forms to apply to exams, net banking, ticketing and other utilities and last but not the least doing video conferencing over Skype.

    The goal is to connect them to the larger pool of information available, that allows them to bring in that extra element of passion towards education and be motivated to continue exploring things that they are passionate about. It is our long term vision that introducing them to the vast pool of knowledge and giving them the tools to access it with ease, will go a long way in they being able to make better career choices and finding employment.

    As we celebrate the completion of the first batch of students, we know that this is just the beginning. The first steps have been taken, and the journey is long ahead.

    Welcome onboard!