From Happiness Curriculum to Measuring Happiness

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Sep 23, 2020
by Vishal Talreja
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From Happiness Curriculum to Measuring Happiness

Co-founder of Dream a Dream reveals how Salzburg Global Seminar helped him forge new connections and measure his program for success Vishal Talreja (left) interacting with young people during a class on life skills (Photo supplied by Vishal Talreja)

In the World Happiness Report 2019, India ranked 140 out of 156 countries. Unfortunately, our Indian education system does not help in creating happy citizens. India has one of the highest rates of teenage suicides, and one-third of those are because of examination stress. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), at least one student commits suicide every hour. The NCRB data shows that 10,159 students died by suicide in 2018, an increase from 9,905 in 2017, and 9,478 in 2016.

We are probably one of the few countries where a kid who gets 95% in their school-leaving examination is considered a failure because the cut-off to get into any professional university program is at 98%. The expansiveness of what every young person can be has been reduced to numeracy, literacy, and examinations.

During our meeting in 2018, the Delhi Minister of Education Manish Sisodia shared that he wanted schools to be spaces where children are happy and engaged; and the Delhi Government went on to build a vision of what is today called the "Happiness Curriculum." Dream a Dream works with the Delhi government as an anchor partner in the design and implementation of this curriculum's pedagogical approaches, which is deeply invested in child well-being.

Every single day, in 1,030 Delhi government schools, more than 800,000 children from kindergar-ten to grade 8 start the school day with a “Happiness Class.” This session includes mindfulness practices, play-based activities, reflective conversations, storytelling, role play, and presentations. In a year and a half, we saw the child's relationship with the teacher and school system transform-ing. We had children coming forward and telling, "I look forward to coming to school. I live in fami-lies and communities where I [have] been told I am useless - I am good for nothing. Here when I come to school now, I am being told I am important. I'm not invisible". So, we knew the Happiness Curriculum was having a profound impact on children, and our next challenge was in measuring this impact.

In 2018, at Salzburg Global Seminar, we found the missing link to complete this puzzle. We made a connection with the Brookings Institution, who partnered with Dream a Dream over on the Happi-ness Project to develop measures that can assess the Happiness Curriculum by looking at whether there are changes in teacher and student behaviors attributable to the curriculum—a first step to evaluating its effectiveness.

Last month, Brookings published a report which provides:

  • a summary of the factors believed to contribute to happiness, as reflected in the Happiness Curriculum
  • information about the development of a survey approach to measuring these happiness factors
  • a description of the issues confronting educators as they evaluate the program

The study results demonstrate the Happiness Curriculum writers were responsive to students' maturation, both socially and cognitively. Students are more reflective about small arguments with their peers and more insightful in understanding home dynamics. As children grow, it will take time to confirm the long-term impact of the program. In the matter of happiness elements, correct versus incorrect answers are also meaningless, but this study takes a crucial first step into how we go about evaluating program outcomes in this space.


Vishal Talreja is a Salzburg Global Fellow. He attended Salzburg Global Seminar in 2018 for the program, Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis. If Salzburg Global has changed your personal or professional life, let us know, and help us track our impact.

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