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  • Writer's pictureKeya Arora Chaudhuri

Slam Out Loud: Empowering Children Through Art

As of this December, going by the Worldometer -1,435,019,055 people call India home.

More than 25% of this staggering statistic is made up of children - the majority of which, according to UNICEF and CRY, are from disadvantaged communities (such as rural areas, slums, and scheduled castes). It is an incredibly unfortunate reality that these children are largely plagued with thoughts which don’t touch most of us with our substantially privileged urban upbringings - they’re more concerned with helping their family obtain their next meal than their education and emotional wellbeing.

In most government schools, children barely receive 20 hours of art and art-based education per year, a saddening result of minimal budgets and a lack of teacher training facilities. This is a rather disheartening truth as global evidence shows that children from underprivileged communities who have faced adversity have more positive life outcomes when they are given access to art-based education and social emotional learning, in comparison to those who don’t (do look up research done by The Kennedy Centre and The National Endowment of Arts to learn more about this).

I can find no better way to truly express the gravity of this than by sharing a story shared by Naman, Program Manager over at Slam Out Loud - who said that when they first enter a classroom there is a lot of dissociation and anger between students, as well as an overall lack of respect in the classroom environment. However, through the sharing of their own individual stories - bonds are forged across previously burned bridges and students are able to form connections with each other. 

This is where the work that Slam Out Loud does comes in - which is an organization working with children from under-resourced backgrounds, and providing them with the space and tools to explore various art forms to help them better understand themselves and the world around them. Their main focus is not on the actual artistic ability or skill level of the child but the development of their social-emotional awareness, and on building upon their critical thinking, empathy, teamwork and communication skills. This is a rather freeing experience as it enables students to go beyond the mundane act of memorizing countless pages of their textbooks and provides them with a safe space to express themselves, where they can utilize various artforms to explore their thoughts and emotions - eventually sharing their creations with others.

As Mridula, Program Lead shared,

“We believe that art is a very powerful medium that can make children make sense of themselves and the world around them”.

To put it simply, Slam Out Loud works on the very necessary facilitation of things that the traditional education system expects students to learn outside of school.

They believe that art is more effective in learning as it is an easier way to express things which may be hard to articulate otherwise - helping you be yourself, without having inhibitions getting in the way. After all, children draw, dance, and sing, before they speak! This also makes it far more accessible as there is no language barrier to be broken down.

Maria, Program Associate for the Jijivisha Fellowship, expressed this beautifully by sharing a spur of the moment metaphor,

“I’m looking at art as an exhaust fan inside all of us. It takes out everything that is inside you and pushes it out, it pulls out all your negative, positive, neutral, emotions - everything you’re feeling out into the world, and gives that space as a medium to do it.”

Slam Out Loud runs two programs - Arts for All (in which they create state wide interventions to transform art and integrate social emotional learning within government schools by designing a curriculum and training teachers, in partnership with State Governments and large NGOs).

The other is the Jijivisha Fellowship, a high-touch program which places artists in classrooms for a year long fellowship to help children build creative confidence.

Slam Out Loud’s unique approach to this program is that the Fellowship has evolved from letting one child explore only one artform, to a curated curriculum which allows students to explore multiple art forms. There is a greater focus on social emotional learning rather than teaching the technicality and skill of art, making it more accessible.

It enables children to be curious and imaginative about what they are learning, the fellowship’s goal being to provide children with a safe space to express themselves in.

It also includes parents and teachers as a part of this program through community projects where they are introduced to activities and have a chance to see the work in action. There are sessions with parents and home visits, and workshops with teachers in schools (as giving them a space to talk about their feelings indirectly makes it safer for children to express themselves).

Another original element to Slam Out Loud - is the way they look at holistic development in context of their solution, by involving all the stakeholders in a child’s life (their parents, teachers, and school leaders). Meetings are held on all of these levels, understanding which needs the organization has to cater to, as well as communicating the importance of the integration of SEL learning in classrooms. Feedback is taken incredibly seriously, and the student is also given a lot of agency since this module works in a co-creative format.

You may be wondering how Slam Out Loud measures and tracks the progress of their students with such a free-range and unorthodox curriculum - well, they have come up with a method to record how well their work is doing while still aligning with their beliefs and not going down the traditional educational route of objective questions. There are four parameters - curiosity, analytical thinking, imagination and participation, which are all looked at during three assessments throughout the year. 

  • Participation is gauged through open mics in classes (there are also city level open mics) and various events throughout the year to see how much the child is able to open up and how much creative confidence they have built. 

  • The other three parameters are measured through pen and paper assessments with no set correct answers, for example - a question given for the curiosity of the question paper asks students to fill up circles (how they do this is completely up to them). After all, all these skills are far too abstract to measure so this process is constantly being reinvented for the Jijivisha Fellowship Program. 

However, one important thing to take note of here is that none of the assessments are literacy-dependent, making the work Slam Out Loud does all the more accessible!

As for where they see themselves in the near future, Slam Out Loud is hoping to further the impact of their programs, have parents and educators working together to create safe environments conducive to a child’s growth, as well as having students take on active roles in shaping the structure and boundaries of a classroom.

However, their solution does not stop there - they provide free online resources for educators on bringing art education and socio-emotional learning into classrooms, and are an ever-growing team constantly looking for new members who share the same passion for the transformative powers of art. 

To put it quite simply, they are attempting to knock down barriers, so that ten years down the line we can see success and a strong foundation with widespread art education in India.

An ever-evolving process, measuring growth when working with developing humane skills is incredibly challenging - but Slam Out Loud has managed to overcome numerous hurdles, from hesitant stakeholders and overprotective parents, to taking shots in the dark and not knowing what the outcome of their next initiative may be - all for getting their message out there and providing children with what they came into the world do to - express themselves and find joy doing it. 

Written By Keya Arora Chaudhuri

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