To Focus On Students' Emotional Well-Being, India Tries 'Happiness Classes' This month, Delhi students saw a new course added to their traditionally rigid curriculum. To confront academic pressures linked to India's high suicide rate, public schools are teaching mindfulness.
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To Focus On Students' Emotional Well-Being, India Tries 'Happiness Classes'

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To Focus On Students' Emotional Well-Being, India Tries 'Happiness Classes'

To Focus On Students' Emotional Well-Being, India Tries 'Happiness Classes'

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Can you learn happiness? Some students in India are finding out. Children at about a thousand schools in Delhi returned to class this month to find a new course - happiness class. India has one of the highest student suicide rates in the world. More than 9,000 youngsters killed themselves in 2016. That number appears to be rising every year. Manish Sisodia is Delhi's education minister and the person charged with implementing happiness class. He joins us from Delhi over Skype. Minister Sisodia, thanks so much for being with us.

MANISH SISODIA: Thank you very much, Simon. It's my pleasure to be on your show.

SIMON: What do you teach or learn in a happiness class?

SISODIA: You see, every student, while learning languages, while learning science or mathematics or history or humanities, should also learn how to live a happy life. And you rightly said that I don't know if can be learned, but yes, it can be practiced.

SIMON: Can you give us a for instance of what is taught?

SISODIA: To be precise, what we are doing here in Delhi, we are introducing mindfulness - practicing mindfulness then understanding the essence of stories. And especially in India, there is a problem that once you're reading a story in class, you hardly test the intent of the story. You just teach the content. You test the content. You remember that, and you get your examination passed. So we're touching the intent of the story; the essence of the story is being worked upon in these classes.

SIMON: Minister Sisodia, what are some of the reasons the student suicide rate is so high?

SISODIA: For the last 40, 50 years, the education system has been translated into industry worker-producing system at high end, also, at low end, also. So - and that education system is becoming a reason to be tensed about the examinations themselves, the jobs, the admissions to the higher education classes, and every student was almost dying to get at the top positions. So all this was creating a lot of problem. So that's why we are not touching right now at graduation level; we are just touching about the bottom level - that is, starting from nursery classes to grade 8.

SIMON: Minister Sisodia, who teaches a happiness class?

SISODIA: So there are 20,000 teachers that we have trained so far to take these classes, and they're taking these classes daily. This is 35-minute class, every day, first half of the morning. One class is for happiness class.

SIMON: I have to ask, has any teacher said to you, if you want me to teach a happiness class, pay me more? That'll make me happy.

SISODIA: (Laughter) Which, actually, we already are paying better. The Delhi Government, I can say, is a good paymaster. Three years back, we came to power. We understood their problems. There was infrastructure problem. There was dignity problem. There was in-service training problem. So we are trying to solve these problems, and we have moved ahead. We are sending them now to Cambridge, to Harvard, to Singapore, to Finland for teachers' trainings. And in India, also, best of the best trainings are being provided to them for that. So they are happy.

SIMON: You were known as an educator who has an unorthodox approach.

SISODIA: I don't know, but I'm a public representative. And I understand the pulse of the public problem, and I'm trying to solve this through education.

SIMON: The happiness course has been running for a couple of weeks. Any immediate reaction?

SISODIA: Teachers are telling me that they themselves are finding lot of calmness, lot of improvement in their behavior because they also sit into mindfulness with their students. So that's bringing a change in the teacher's approach also.

SIMON: You've been sitting in on a lot of these classes. Are you happier?

SISODIA: Yeah, I'm feeling happier because if my kids are happier, my teachers are happier, then an education minister himself is happier.

SIMON: Manish Sisodia, Delhi's Education Minister, thanks so much. And, if I may, much happiness to you, sir.

SISODIA: Thank you so much, and I wish happiness to you, also (laughter).


SIMON: That's a happy government minister. We'll try and keep good vibes going.

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