With poverty and inadequate resources still plaguing the country, let us take a look at a brilliant story of an organization that is committed to giving the best and "happiest" education to the students they touch the lives of.
There is an undeniable role that education plays in a child's life. Access to education can help level the playing field and transform the lives of children, setting them up for success as adults. However, the line at which children stand to run in this race for education isn't drawn equal. Children from broken homes, under-resourced or violent communities often have the odds already stacked against them.
Lacking support from home as well as school environments, these students struggle to develop the skills to cope with and talk about the situations they find themselves in, and deal with the challenging environments they inhabit. In an innovative step towards children's mental health, the Labhya Foundation partners with three state governments of India those of, Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Tripura, building social emotional learning programs for children.
The history of the Labhya Foundation can be traced to 2017, when a unique public circular in a newspaper that was an advertised a program on teaching children how to be stress free, do critical thinking, build good relationships etc. At that time Richa Gupta, now Co-founder of Labhya Foundation came across this advertisement and applied for said program. Over 1800 submitted proposals, 13 were shortlisted, by the organizers, and The Labhya Foundation was one of them. They got a chance to present their work, eventually 5 organizations came together, and one was the Labhya Foundation. This was where their ‘Happiness Classes’ took place. Many children were helped because of ‘Happiness Classes’.
We had the opportunity to learn about Labhya and its work straight from the source - its Co-Founder and CEO, Richa Gupta.
She shared more about the Happiness Classes,
"We implemented a daily class called “Happiness Class” for 30 minutes every day. Around 22,000 schools across Uttarakhand, Delhi, and Tripura have this 30-minute Happiness Class in their timetables."
This was no overnight success.
"We think long term, looking at least a 10–12 year journey with government partnership since it takes a long time to change big systems. We put people on the ground at all levels of the government for teacher training, teacher capacity building, building a good curriculum that is helpful to children, and evaluating and testing the program," Richa elucidated.
The 'Happiness Class', part of the SEL Curriculum, was established based on the need of the children, encompassing stories, activities, mindfulness, etc. ensuring that it was easy for teachers to facilitate as well. Regular training for teachers was scheduled, and the program was evaluated every two years. The foundation worked diligently to build a strong rapport with the government to ensure smooth implementation.
Richa stated, "While working on the solution, we weren't a 100% sure what our response was, but we had 1 mindset, to solve the problem and help the children."
Labhya Foundation first communicated with around 300 teachers and students to create a curriculum and trained teachers on how to make lesson plans on concepts like empathy, communication, responsibility, etc. This was then made into a handbook that was distributed across the state. They took feedback from children and teachers and shared their learnings and failures with the Delhi government which was interested in the children's well-being.
They improved their curriculum, taking help from lots of people including a big team at the government office including master trainers. This allowed them to share their ideas and grow their purpose, expanding further to more states. The Labhya Foundation takes feedback from children and teachers, evaluating their progress every 2 years. The initiative kicked off in 2018 with the Delhi government, and as it celebrated its 5th anniversary on July 24, 2023, the resilience of the program had been proved. Currently, over 2.4 million students across India are impacted by this initiative.
As for what keeps Richa and her team going, she reflects,
"Children like you all keep us motivated for us to keep the organization going. I am motivated by the fact that I have the privilege and opportunity to serve children and in a very selfish way, I love doing what I do."
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Labhya Foundation found it challenging to engage with children and parents. This was their biggest problem, given that it was crucial to their endeavour. But they tackled this problem too. Looking for low tech solutions that would make access to parents and children easier, they set up an IVR system to call parents and designed a daily SMS that would be sent out to parents. During these calls and through these text messages, they provided stories and activities that the parents could conduct with their children. This ensured that student well-being was not compromised because of the stressful situations in the pandemic. Additionally, 1-hour sessions were conducted daily through ‘Delhi Master Trainers’ using YouTube live. They also created short videos to be sent to children.
So, how do these initiatives help students?
Labhya Foundation's internal evaluations show a steep increase in literacy skills, numeracy skills, and in attendance of the children along with massive gains in SEL skills because of programs. An external Survey by Boston Consulting Group found that 87% of teachers reported positive shifts in student behaviour, 45% attributed academic success, and 16% attributed increased attendance to the SEL Programs created by Labhya Foundation.
This wasn't an easy change to bring about.
As Richa shares, "When the (Happiness Curriculum) program was first implemented, many teachers brought in their own flavours, (but at the same time) many teachers were unable to understand the 'why' of the classes, sometimes even misunderstanding the curriculum. What it taught us was that patience is needed when we're trying to change the system. We're working with a system that is 70 years old, so expecting it to change in one or two years is not possible. It helped us to keep learning about what's happening on the ground, and what can be done differently."
Looking at Labhya's journey and listening to Richa Ma'am showed us the effort that the organization takes to ensure that their programs are relevant and contextualised for each student. This commitment is admirable, and we hope that Labhya's programs will continue to benefit children across the country!
This solutions focussed story has been written by student journalists of the Re-Imagining Media Program and edited by Team Via News Didi. We are thankful to Ms. Richa Gupta for her time and for answering all our questions patiently
A message for the Labhya Foundation from us student journalists:
Dear Ms. Richa Gupta,
I hope this message finds you well. On behalf of our entire team, Titans of Truth, I wanted to extend our heartfelt gratitude to you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to enlighten us with the incredible story behind Labhya Foundation.
From the interview, we student journalists were able to gain a clear understanding of the significant problem Labhya Foundation aims to address. Your comprehensive explanation of the journey of how the organization was conceived and the steps it undertakes to assist kids was truly inspiring. It's amazing how well these steps are crafted and implemented in different settings. Your passion and determination to change the lives of many, and the motivating factors that keep you and the entire Labhya Foundation driven, truly resonated with all of us.
I believe that a memorable moment from the entire session was the lively discussion segment. It was really fun seeing everyone so engaged, throwing questions at you, and your enthusiasm in addressing each one of them. Not only did it offer us clear insights into your mission, but it also turned the serious interview into an entertaining session. We all were thoroughly captivated! Thank you, Ms. Gupta, for sharing your journey, your challenges, and your ambitions with us. I feel more informed and inspired, and I believe that many of my peers feel the same.
Titans of Truth