Apni Shala: Making Schools Care For Children's Mental Health

Apni Shala: Making Schools Care For Children's Mental Health

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, December 21, 2023, 09:56 AM IST
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Rohit Kumar, CEO, Apni Shala |
Sundarraj Kaushik, principal consultant, TCS

Sundarraj Kaushik, principal consultant, TCS |

Rohit Kumar is CEO of Apni Shala, which works with 30 schools in Mumbai to provide them a social and emotional learning curriculum.

Apni Shala started as a response to a chronic need for inclusive education for children of marginalised communities. 

The Mumbai-based foundation, started as a project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences by Amrita Nair, Anukriti Goyal and Swetha Ranganathan, now works with children in over 30 schools in Mumbai's L and M wards, working on their mental and social health. Apni Shala works on building a curriculum around Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

“When we started working on understanding the region before starting our programme, we were made aware of a lack of respect for parents of children studying in government schools,” said Rohit Kumar (40) CEO of Apni Shala. "We wanted to work with them and not against them." 

Apni Shala's pedagogical approach is to take the approach that every child and community has inherent strengths and resources and can use these towards healthy living. Grounded in the principles of play-based and experiential learning, the year-long SEL follows a grade-specific curriculum of SEL for students in municipal schools and non-profit organizations, to create a platform where children can easily access SEL education throughout the year.

"Parents who might have had initial hesitation have now become our biggest cheerleaders," said Kumar, formerly with Tata Consultancy Services. 

Before the programme starts for a group of children, Apni Shala includes the stakeholders in trying to understand where they might need external help, if at all. The team then works with parents. “It is a myth that parents coming from underprivileged houses don’t understand or are less caring of their children’s social and mental well being. We found them to be more open, accepting and caring,” said Kumat.

Apni Shala also engages with educators and helps them identify signs of distress in students. “Because we work inclusively, we coordinate with the schools first and get some non-negotiables charted for them that is agreeable to both them and us. We then work within their system training and equipping them,” Kumar said.

Apni Shala tries to put mental health at the forefront for all children, especially for those who are most vulnerable. "It is imperative that we bring this conversation to the forefront,” Kumar said. 

Sundarraj Kaushik, principal consultant at TCS, said even when Kumar was teaching in a school through the company’s SCR initiatives, he had a special knack to build bonds with children, and had innovative ideas on making schools safe spaces for children.”He had a special talent to connect with children and bring out the best in them. For the last few years he has dedicated himself to this work through Apni Shala,” said Kaushik

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