The author is a graduate in Computer Science from BITS, Pilani. He worked for a California-based software firm, Vmware, before joining the Teach For India fellowship programme in 2013. He is presently helping to settle a migrant community
Thirteen year old Sohail was one with the lowest attention spans in his class at Sarvodaya Co-ed Senior Secondary School, Munirka, and this was affecting his academic progress. But the last winter vacations changed something in him, making him an observant and diligent student. His teacher, Arunav Chauhan, a Teach For India fellow, was astonished at Sohail’s transformation.
Before the vacations, Arunav had introduced kitchen gardening in his classroom, as part of Project Prakriti, and his students were given planters (rectangular small tubs for growing plants) to sow spinach and turnip. Sohail’s parents informed Arunav that during the vacation, the childwould spend hours observing the plant’s growth and worked diligently on it.
He not only grew the spinach on the planter given him, but also in many other tubs, till they grew into a big amount. Meanwhile, he took an interest in how to cook spinach and learnt it from his mother. Then one day when guests arrived, he actually cooked up a spinach dish and earned kudos from the amazed guests.
Post winter vacation, Arunav observed drastic changes in Sohail’s erstwhile destructive behaviour and he has Project Prakriti to thank for it.
Prakriti was started by Arunav, along with two other Teach For India fellows, Sachin Bengaluru and Anirudh Garg.
Sachin has an interesting take on the shift in Sohail’s behaviour: “The values of patience, compassion, grit are quite intrinsic to the way nature functions. While Sohail was spending time with the spinach plant, subconsciously he was teaching himself these values. He experienced this sense of accomplishment, which the classroom education wasn’t able to provide him, and this led to his transformation.Our environment is the best teacher to impart many such skills”.
Sachin realised that current school curriculum in India merely imparts the environmental knowledge to our students and hardly inspires them to do something about the deteriorating environmental conditions.
This is how the idea of Prakriti came up, through which they are ‘aiming to deliver quality environmental education (EE) through an activity-based curriculum’.
Team Prakriti reached out to 28 schools across Delhi, through which more than 2,500 students participated in creating their own kitchen gardensusing planters, seeds and vermin-compost provided by them.
In the next phase, Team Prakriti is going to work with the students to create mushroom farms using coffee waste and assemble solar panels for light-duty usage. They will also be teaching waste management and segregation to the students.
Stockholm Stock Taking
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, 1972, was a landmark step to promote environmental education. Stockholm Declaration had 26 principles concerning the environment and development, one of them recognising the importance of environmental education in schools.
The Indian Constitution prescribes it as our Fundamental Duty ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures’.
But it took a Supreme Court order in 2003 to mandate all the states and educational agencies to introduce ‘environment’ as a compulsory subject in all classes upto higher secondary level.
Last year, the apex court directed the HRD ministry to form a panel to implement its 2003 order and ensure that all states comply with it.
Introducing environmental studies as part of the curriculum is, however, just a part of the battle won. As one skims through the newspaper reports, one realises that the fight to save Mother Earth has a very long way to go.
A WaterAid report shows that more than 80% of India’s surface water is polluted. Some reports have claimed that breathing in Delhi is equivalent to smoking more than 20 cigarettes in a day. In India, approximately three million truckloads of untreated garbage is disposed of by municipal authorities in an unhygienic manner every single day.
These statistics are nerve-racking and the current rate and nature of our consumption is going to accentuate the situation in the future.
Subhash Chandra, an environmental researcher with Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, puts forth his thoughts, “Current EE in schools is merely telling our students about the problems. Our students know that 1.7 million children under the age of five die every year due to environmental issues. They can also enumerate you the factors responsible for it and the mitigation mechanism. However, very few of them will cut down on their energy consumption or reduce their water wastage. There exists a huge gap between awareness and action, which the current system is failing to address.”
Chandra is right. The theory-practical gap exists across different education streams in our country. But, for a pressing subject like environment, the glaring gap is sounding a precarious alarm.
Elif Bilgin from Turkey won the prestigious Science in Action Award, powered by Google Science Fair for his innovative technique of using banana peels for producing bio-plastic. Bilgin was just 16 year old when he received $50,000 award. His freak accident involving banana peel inspired him to take up the project. Another teenager, DeepikaKurup from New Hampshire, invented a cheap solar powered water purification system, which can eliminate the E. Coli bacteria from impure water. Her motivation was a photograph, where she saw some Indian children drinking from a pool of stagnant water.
“When students have a hands-on experience with the environment issues and they are able to internalise the problems in concrete sense, their curiosity and creativity gets activated. When this is channelised through right guidance and availability of right resources, students can do wonders”, says Arushi Banerjee, who has worked with Centre for Environment Education(CEE).
“We try our best to get the students out of the textbooks and provide them with tools, to provide them EE in real sense,” she says. CEE was established in 1984, and is supported by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. Since its inception, CEE is developing programs and resources for capacity building in the field of EE.
Paryavaran Mitra is one of CEE’s flagship programmes and it engages directly with students and teachers. MV Harshita, a class nine student of BVB Atmakuri School, Hyderabad, got overwhelmed by the deteriorating condition of freshwater lakes in our country, during one of the presentations of Parvayaran Mitra.
She, along with a group of students surveyed Durgam Cheruvu lake near her school and tested the water samples in the school lab to prepare a detailed action plan on its conservation. The group’s cleanliness efforts prompted the civic authorities to take notice and in 8-9 months, the lake regained its lost glory.
Harshita was awarded Paryavaran Mitra Puraskar for her efforts. CEE also conducts nature camps, Fly with Birds, Walk with Plants, and various other projects for practical exposure of the kids. Centre for Science and Environment is another agency working actively in the field of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). CSE’s Green Schools Programme provides the students a unique opportunity to conduct ‘Green Audit’ of their schools.
The students survey their schools and neighbourhoods on their energy consumption, waste generation and water usage. The schools then execute plans to reduce their consumption through innovative means.
DAV International School, Amritsar, was able to reuse 87% of its waste water, after their audit.
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