Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder: Riverside School, & Namrata Jajoo
Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. Here’s a look at what this initiative entails for empowering and equipping children!
“I now know that I don’t need permission to change the world.”
In a small village called Labana in the desert region of Rajasthan lives 10-year-old Bindi. While she comes across as a simple and shy student of Satya Bharti school, she and her friends showed extraordinary courage in taking on the centuries-old practice of untouchability (mandated by the caste system) through organising provocative rallies and hunger strikes.
Students in Kolkata noticed that young children were starving on the streets while restaurants had a significant amount of food going to waste, so they designed and implemented a delivery system to collect unused food from hotels and restaurants, and bring it to undernourished children in the city’s slums.
A team of 10-year-olds in Varanasi noticed that much of their community was illiterate and developed a series of solutions to “learn and develop the habit of reading” – from setting up libraries in elementary schools to teaching their peers about library management and setting up newspaper stands outside schools so that adults could develop the habit as well.
These are just a few of the amazing 22,000+ stories crafted under the Design for Change (DFC) initiative by children from across the world!
My submission to you is that today’s ‘Superheroes’ are not from the Avengers or the Justice League, but rather they are these courageous children, who are unleashing their superpowers of imagination, creative problem solving, empathy, leadership, and collaboration.
What could have inspired these children to become such amazing problem-solvers and change-makers? Let’s explore the origin of this ‘I CAN’ mindset.
Consider this – In the first two years of our children’s lives, they tell us how amazing they are at exploration and finding solutions. They go about navigating the world from crawling to sitting to standing to running to speaking – aren’t they then, the masters of the art of problem–solving?
Since these problem-solving capacities are innate to them, and they are engaged in such activity right from birth through adulthood, shouldn’t children simply become better problem solvers with age and experience?
Now, take a moment to reconsider what happens when the child (with his/her innate problem-solving capacities) starts going to school. More often than not, highly enthusiastic parents and teachers aim to help children develop to the best of their abilities, but unfortunately also to feel, think, and behave in prescribed ways.
The child is directed and advised about the many things ‘they can’t’ or ‘should not do’, thereby changing the child’s vocabulary from ‘I CAN’ to ‘CAN I?’ Across the world, so many children are told that they are too young to solve problems and should let adults take care of the issues they face.
This narrative dis-empowers children, making them fearful of making mistakes and developing a lack of confidence in their own ability to make decisions and choices.
Through this article, I seek to unravel the fabulous journeys of children who have developed creative confidence in their capabilities and capacities to take ownership of their world and also to take action towards building a more desirable and sustainable future.
Here’s how it all began:
It was the year 1996. After a long day at school, my six-year-old son Raag and I sat perplexed and confused, staring at the big red mark on his English notebook. Apparently, he had failed to memorise and write an essay verbatim as instructed by the teacher.
He had used his own imagination and vocabulary to frame the essay and was clueless about the reason for the rejection of his work. I soon realized that something was clearly amiss and that it was actually the schooling system that I was up against.
My conviction that prevalent education practices were failing to give my child an identity grew stronger by the day, so, I decided of taking my son out of school, and rolled up my sleeves to start ‘Riverside’ on the banks of the River Sabarmati, in the land of Gandhi.
What inspires me most about the Mahatma is his amazing stamina, sense of humour, and shameless pursuit of his goals against all odds.
These have also been the key ingredients in building Riverside over the last seventeen years.
The Birth of Design for Change (DFC)
Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it.
I initiated the ‘Design for Giving’ School Contest in 2009, as a national challenge for school children to change some aspect of life in their communities.
The challenge spurred young children to solve real-life problems in their immediate environment while building a sense of empathy, confidence and responsibility.
Today DFC is a global movement with footprints in 65 countries and has helped to cultivate the ‘I Can’ mindset in more than 2.2 million children.
With empathy at its core, this framework nurtures the problem-solving mindset via four steps of Feel, Imagine, Do and Share (FIDS).
We call this FIDS for KIDS!
This simple four-step framework helps schools foster a learning environment using the ‘both, and’ model, nurturing both Content and Character, both a Passion for work and the Compassion for the community.
The DFC curriculum is accepted all over the world because of its flexibility and non-prescriptive nature. The most critical feature of Design for Change is that it is not only simple and practical but also open-source, accessible, adaptable, and replicable.
(see www.dfcworld.com to know more and try out DFC in your setting).
Time-tabling For Design for Change
Today, student success requires skills for collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Many schools around the world still design and implement curricula with the premise of “one-size-fits-all”, with a disproportionate emphasis on subject excellence alone.
The central tenet of this mindset is often that we are so hard-pressed for time to complete the subject content that we do not have the liberty to invest in any additional activities.
This often leads to focusing on the transmission of theoretical knowledge but misses out on the development of vital capacities like empathy and creative confidence.
Change happens when design thinking is perceived as desirable and almost indispensable skill-set.
By intentionally time-tabling on a weekly basis for DFC activities, our partner schools have been able to seamlessly integrate it into their mainstream curriculum.
How DFC is Impacting Children
- FIDS helps to develop much-required skills and attitudes in children, builds their social and emotional competencies, and promotes employability skills.
- DFC’s tool was evaluated by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and documents clear improvements in student empathy as well as in enhancing problem-solving abilities.
- Research conducted by The GoodWork Project has reaffirmed the impact of the DFC curriculum on the development of skills like collaboration, creative thinking & empathy.
Our future will depend on how much we believe in the power of our children today. The only thing that we have realised is that sometimes we need a little help, a little magic formula to ensure that every child can!
Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kiran Bir Sethi is an Indian educationist, designer, and thinker. She founded the Riverside School in 2001 and since then has infected millions of students and educators with the ‘I CAN Mindset’ through her design thinking framework of ‘Feel-Imagine- Do- Share’ (FIDS). Learn more about the Riverside School.