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Skills for adolescence

It is Saturday morning. The Marol Education Academy at Bhawani Nagar has a holiday but on the fifth floor of the school a class is in progress. To a bystander it is soon obvious that this is not part of the curriculum.

"What is self-confidence?" the lecturer asks. "It is having faith in oneself," a student volunteers. "Have you experienced self-confidence?" "Yes," another student answers. "When I scored a goal in a football match." "Isn't that a result of self-confidence rather than self-confidence itself?" And so the questions and answers go on, until finally the lecturer drawing upon the dialogue sketches a "stool of confidence" with three legs: acquired skills, appreciation from others, and acceptance of responsibility.

The class is part of a year-long course meant for eighth and ninth standard students. It has been developed by Lions Club International and Quest International, a non-profit US educational organisation. In the Andheri area the Lions Club of Vijay Nagar has been conducting it for three years in association with the Marol Education Academy. Through that entire period it has been run by Anil Abraham, first vice-president of the Lions Club who also happens to be an economics lecturer. He receives no payment for the service.

What is the objective of the course? "In the US it was developed to address problems among youth like alienation, alcohol and drug use, teenage pregnancy and school dropouts. But here it aims at building up skills to enable young people to say no to anything negative in life such as inappropriate behaviour with parents, teachers and peers," says Abraham. That is obvious from the various modules: Communication, Emotions, Peer Relationships, Family Relationships, Decision-making, Goal setting, etc.

Before beginning to conduct the course Abraham himself was trained at a three-day-long seminar at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies at Vile Parle. Besides attending lectures school students also answer questions in a workbook. Although there are about 150 students in the eighth standard only about 35 have joined the course. The fee is Rs 100, which goes to pay for the workbook and another book for parents. Joining is not compulsory. "Students join on the basis of feedback from the batches of previous years," says Abraham.

Has the course been useful to students? Yes, he answers, pointing to the case of a student whose parents were so busy that they had no time to even talk to her. After a module on communicating, the girl insisted that her parents make time for her, and her relationship with them improved.

Other schools in the area haven't taken up the programme mainly because it does not fit into the curriculum. Also, teachers already have a busy schedule and don't want to spend time on an additional lecture. But as Abraham points out, the course can even be conducted in housing societies if there are 20 students and a place to hold it.