What are the two most disturbing and depressing words uttered in the world? They are not the prophecies of economic doom or dire warnings of impending natural calamities. Not the proclamations of zealots or the dictates of autocrats.
They are the words casually uttered everyday by adults to their children: “You can’t!”
These seemingly unintentional words, often uttered in misguided wisdom to “protect” children from grim reality, clip the wings of their dreams. They tarnish the hue of their hopes and render them helpless in the face of tomorrow.
When I realized my son was so easily getting into the “I can’t,” mindset, it prompted me to do something drastic–take him out of school. At around five-and-a-half years old, he was told by his teacher that he couldn’t. It was not just one incident. It’s a subversive message that on a daily basis our children get from the existing educational system. It’s about the subtle takeaway regarding their day-to-day learning when they are told to do ‘as instructed,’ with no room for creativity, choice, or opinions.
Thus, Design for Change was born. It came from one simple idea: to help children script a very different story. At its core, it started with the simple – and powerful – premise: “I can.” More specifically, children can. By empowering them to identify the challenges that most affect their communities, Design for Change encouraged them to find the solutions themselves, and lead adults and their classmates in this effort.
In the first step of the Design for Change curriculum, ‘Feel’, children take a close look at their surroundings, identify a problem they feel strongly about and engage with the community to scrutinize this situation through multiple perspectives, developing empathy in the process. In ‘Imagine’, we tap into the wildly creative optimism inherent in children to visualize an ideal scenario and brainstorm ways to achieve it. Children get to step out of the classroom and put their ideas into action in ’Do’, redefining ‘failure’ as ‘prototyping’. Finally, as they ‘Share’ their stories of change, they inspire another child in a different part of the world to say ‘I Can!’
Grade 3 children from Brighton School, Ahmedabad working with the entire school to make toilets safe for all.
The spirit of Design for Change challenges the callously cynical notion of “nothing will ever change.” It stretches its hands to pull children out from the quicksand of listless social complacency. It urges them to believe that the tiny corner of the planet that they inhabit can be made more beautiful, more just, more equal. Importantly it teaches them that they do not need to be mere spectators to this change. They can be the initiators, the participants and the overseers of it. Very simply – THEY CAN!
All that we at DFC did was give children this simple tool and a platform to show the world what they could do. Over the last eight years, we have been privileged to have the best seats in the house to witness the incredible, rapidly growing tide of change being led by a new generation of Superheroes.
With superpowers of compassion, agency, observation, empathy, imagination and other similarly remarkable attributes, children around the world have addressed problems ranging from heavy school bags and broken infrastructure to challenging age-old social evils like child marriage and caste discrimination. They have worked to include the elderly and the disabled (see a touching example of children in Grade 3 at Payakoi Primary School in Gujarat who created a plan to include a disabled student in 20
The key to reaching our future’s full potential is empowering our next generation today!
Kiran Bir Sethi is a graduate of Program of Graphic Designing from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Disillusioned by her son’s experience in his school, she entered the field of education, where she has re-imagined education to nurture curiosity, creativity, excellence and interdependence. Her dynamism, a clear vision, and design thinking mindset has catapulted her from a teacher to a reformer, a social entrepreneur and now a thought leader. Her illustrious journey since 2001 is clearly visible in the ventures she has started over the years, including Riverside School in Ahmedabad in 2001a Protagonist is Every Child (aProCh) in 2007D