Kids studying in Delhi’s government schools will have lessons in happiness in the upcoming academic session beginning in April 2018. It’s not clear what the happiness curriculum for classes nursery to eight will have, but it will be activity based with no formal examinations. “Education has to serve a larger moral and societal purpose. Even as we aim for economic equality we must strive for happiness equality as well,” said Manish Sisodia, Delhi education minister, at an event held at Thyagaraj Stadium recently.
It’s difficult not to be skeptical of the AAP government’s breezy ambitions when one reads about the shocking conditions of state-run schools lacking basic amenities like even restrooms. Numerous surveys have shown that teachers barely show up and often, government school students in class five can’t read or write, or do rudimentary mathematics. Besides, it’s laughably simplistic to think a class on happiness will curb distress caused by chronically difficult situations like unemployment or absentee parents. Yet, life skills simply don’t feature in Indian textbooks. Can it ever be too early to try to understand the all too common modern malaise, of feeling like a guilty, frustrated underachiever? Considering the hyperbole around exams and the intense performance pressure on children from toddlerhood onwards, lessons in rational thinking about life’s bigger problems can only help build perspective.
If chasing happiness is a legitimate adult preoccupation, there should be no objection to learning about it with something more substantial than cheesy adages like ‘follow your bliss’. It’s true it’s a tough world out there. It would be a lot easier if the point of cold, hard, rationality adults reach (via bitter experience) can be avoided. It’s possible if we’re taught right from the beginning that personal development is a worthy goal, definitely as worthy as learning the Pythagoras Theorem. Consider the life of a three-year-old beginning primary school as an example of how weirdly we live today.
The rules are such that you cannot choose to put your kid in school a year later (for fear of not getting a seat). The toddler is thrown from his world of unstructured downtime into a 10-hour routine though he/she is wilting by 11 am. Most primary classes have introduced nap time since the children are nodding off anyway. Yet, most parents emphatically insist their kids love school (so much that they cram their after-school hours with activities as well).The child knows subliminally that there is no choice but to attend. Since all parents want their children to be successful in life, and wrongly presume that being the best at everything from age five onwards is crucially important, there is always an endless list of goals — soccer, ballet, olympiads, asset tests.
No matter how much a parent may be aware that all of this is rubbish, it’s really hard to not get sucked into a culture of competition. The biggest tragedy of childhood today is that like adults, children are constantly worrying about the future as well. The AAP government’s attempt to urge kids to value something other than accomplishment challenges the most widely held theory in India about success — to keep your eyes on the prize and focus on the future. As adults who were fed this lie, it was devastating to realise that there are no prizes that guarantee happiness, not even astounding professional success. However, a class that trains you to reflect gets people to ask the right questions. As Pharrell Williams said in his song Happy, it helps to occasionally feel like a room without a roof.