Slam Out Loud (SOL) is a non-profit organisation based in India that uses the transformative power of performance and visual arts to help build Creative Confidence (life) skills in children from disadvantaged communities. So far they have reached 4.7 million children through their low-tech arts programme supporting student well-being in 23 Indian states and 19 countries. While their Arts for All programme has been a huge success, spreading across the world, Jigyasa Labroo, the co-founder of SOL still dreams bigger.
Scaling through government partnerships
From the beginning, SOL has envisioned working on a systemic level to transform arts-in-education in state-funded schools in India. Now that they have spent the first few years learning what really works in supporting arts education and social-emotional learning (SEL) for children, they have the expertise to scale with government partners. In India, state governments make decisions on what happens in schools of each state. In state-government schools, there is already a mandatory art period built into the school day, however, due to lack of resources and de-prioritisation of arts, this period is often underutilised.
This provides the perfect opportunity for SOL to intervene - they can help schools make this period a safe space for children where they can have important conversations about topics on their mind such as gender, climate change, their feelings, and more. SOL can train teachers to utilise this period as a way to provide SEL and support mental well-being through the arts.
And they’ve been receiving positive responses from governments so far. Since the pandemic, governments have started to realise that children need more than just literacy and numeracy skills; children have gone through mentally-challenging experiences and they need to have access to safe spaces where they can talk to others about their feelings.
Challenges in systemic change
Working for change at the systemic level has the potential to significantly impact children at a large scale, but it does not come without challenges. One challenge that Jigyasa has faced so far is the number of stakeholders that need to be involved given that state governments are large and layered. While grassroots organisations and advocates for education change are often frustrated by the speed of improvement at the systemic level, one important learning for her has been empathy. “Often we could dismiss education systems in a country like India by saying that people are not invested. People are invested. But it’s difficult to create systems for a country that is so large and diverse… Being able to empathise with them and see their situation as real and difficult has also been a learning experience when working with the government…it’s a difficult system to bypass,” says Jigyasa.
“It’s simply also a place of deep impact. If a child has access to a 45-minute art period every week and the government gives us the opportunity to transform that period in any way, it will be deeply impactful not just for that child but for thousands of children at scale. And that is a really powerful idea,”
Despite these challenges, working with government partners is a tremendous opportunity for scale. “It’s simply also a place of deep impact. If a child has access to a 45-minute art period every week and the government gives us the opportunity to transform that period in any way, it will be deeply impactful not just for that child but for thousands of children at scale. And that is a really powerful idea,” says Jigyasa.
Adapting to new contexts
SOL is also working with a school in Helsinki through HundrED’s TailorMade project with Helsinki Education Division. This partnership has given them hope that they can scale their in-person programmes to other countries in the future.
When asked about how SOL plans to scale, Jigyasa explains that one of the easiest ways for them to scale is through their curriculum. Their curriculum provides a basic framework from their experiences with children in India for what works, how to create safe spaces, and how to use art for expressive activities. To scale to other countries, they just need to contextualise it to fit the needs of different students in different countries. Although some people see the need for contextualisation as “bugs”, Jigyasa sees them as “features”. She finds that these adjustments based on diversity as making the curriculum richer. This is especially true because they have been working collaboratively with teachers in this contextualising process, which means that the teachers have ownership of it and feel invested in its success.
In 10 years, Jigyasa envisions Slam Out Loud as a “values-driven, endearing organisation that is supporting the Indian government in having thriving spaces in schools. Art periods are the most loved periods by children in schools. I see our children becoming cultural curators... and more and more music, poetry, and theatre coming out of India. I see our children being fearless in their lives and at schools where they can raise their own truth to power.”
"I see our children being fearless in their lives and at schools where they can raise their own truth to power."
What’s more, she sees SOL scaling internationally, “...getting children all over the world together to perform on different stages. I see us enabling many children to get on a stage for the first time in their lives to talk about something that they believe in.”
Slam Out Loud is part of the HundrED Hall of Fame. To be considered for the Global Collection 2024, you can submit your innovation here.