Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wrote in 2009- Environmental Education - the What, Why and How?

Our ancestors were born into the illustrious cultural cradle of tree worshiping and reverence for all lifeforms. We seem to have retained only the customs and not inherited the true culture. After the independence, particularly after 1970s India followed the path of economic models of the west - which resulted in development (though inequal in many cases) coupled with large scale environmental degradation.

As forewarned by the Noted economist Mr. Fritz Schumacher, the economic path of the west were not suitable not only for the west but would be disastrous for India - a populous country. Yet we followed with more vigor and allowed the uncontrolled explosion of industries in the water rich agricultural belts without adequate infrastructures to handle the waste or depletion of water resources.

We failed to grasp the sustainable and equitable growth underlined by the Gandhian Economist Sri. JC Kumarappa before our independence itself. We were in a hurry to prove to the world of our capacity to ape the mindless development of the west. The resultant environment damage is slowly becoming evident now with drought and floods and the prise rise of essential commodities. The costly failure of not creating the necessary awareness begun in the school itself - part of the so called modern education. Which, by the time a student moves into college, subsequently become part of the mainstream society, the wrong perception that "Governments are responsible for the protection of environment" is firmly established in his/her mind. The 'real education' that we are discussing, need to create the necessary awareness that environmental protection must be everybody's primary concern, for we all live in and with it.

Environment Education need to evolve from an 'extra curricular' or a rote-learning mark-oriented subject into an integral part of all subjects. Unless the young don't understand it properly to shape the future, our existence will become questionable. Environment education should go beyond occasional tree planting into issues like social inequity and poverty and how they contribute to environmental degradation, development patterns, lifestyles, culture, social system, etc.

Having stated that it must go beyond simple ecology it is also critical to keep it simple for easy understanding and a resultant positive action. Environment education can't be imposed upon in this age of burnout due to heavy academic load. It cannot and must not be taught as a separate subject. It is inherently inter-disciplinary and forms a vital part of all subjects. One need not specialize in environmental science to be an environment educator.

Environment education can easily be incorporated into all subjects i.e.: without understanding the damage to the environment caused by of humans from the perspectives of - chemical, physical, biological, technological, social, economical, political, historical..., we cannot move to a sustainable future. As Sri. J Krishnamurti points "The right kind of education starts with the educator, people who have no academic degrees often make the best teachers, not being specialists they are interested in learning, in understanding life".

The curriculum and text books need a overhaul /simplification with the inclusion of critical environmental perspective which they lack today. As experts become ever more specialized and governments rely ever more heavily on experts, critical information gets lost. With media focusing only popular culture and viewership, it has become harder for ordinary people to understand and engage with the issues that affect their lives. In this scenario the educator's job becomes all the more important as he/she needs to simplify all the jargons to get engagement from students and society.

Environmental coverage in media and Books in schools (ICSE, CBSE, etc.) are full of jargons like Carbon neutral, Eco-footprint, Climate change, El-Nino, Green house gases, Azola effect, entrophication, and even the most talked about one - 'Global warming'. When I was a Environmental Science Teacher I asked students what these terms meant - they reproduced verbatim the definitions found in the textbooks and not understood the big-picture!.

Students quoting every now and then the most mis-guided phrase of all time "Eco-friendly" - what this term really means nobody knows. (in true sense nothing can be termed eco-friendly except cannibalism). I have seen many corporate houses printing beautiful full-colour glossy brochures and circulating of their so called eco-friendliness! and so called CSR etc.

I am sorry sir, the purpose of Environmental education for which you fought many years for, is defeated Sri. MC Metha... (the Sr. lawyer in Supreme Courts of India who fought for Environmental Education).

Firstly environment educators need to get oriented towards the real purpose. A localised method of environment education is necessary which can come only in observing ones environment and not from books. E.g.: 3200 Metric Tons of solid waste is generated everyday in the city of Chennai as of 2008. God only knows what it is in Delhi and Mumbai. As per the Pollution control board more wastes are actually generated in the affluent parts of the city. - Can we equate "misguided education and affluence = environmental degradation" may be and may need to be...

All projects exercises concerning environment education to be simplified to the point of practice (practical action) by all concerned. In addition rote methods to be completely avoided for it to be effective. Information alone is not enough. The objective of environment education is to move from awareness to action, and this is not possible by facts alone or for that matter marks or examinations.

The environment educator should involve the students in various simple activities within the school premises to begin with, accompanied by necessary information. Students should also be motivated into, understanding and getting involved /solving real life problems by participating with Government bodies, NGOs, etc. with the help of schools, which would deepen their learning and understanding. Parents also need to be involved in the (lab) practical aspects of the environment education.

Simple (simplified) sustainable activities like - Reducing each person's (energy) consumption of both electricity and fuel, reducing paper usage, reducing travel, reducing unnecessory mobile phone usage and long phone calls, carefulness in using all natural resources including water, reducing waste particularly food, carrying a bag while going for shopping, usage of public transportation, buying vegetable from farmer's market or kirana /mandis instead of supermarkets, supporting farmers by creating farmer's markets in ones own locality, supporting organic products, putting-up a home vegetable garden, tree adoption (why adoption and not planting - many tress are planted and left to die), being/becoming a vegetarian, stop bursting crackers due to air pollution, noice pollution and waste during Deepavali and New year times, stoping of immersing PoP and painted idols in ponds /sea, etc. all of these can be jointly done by the student, parent and teacher. A sustained campaign of real awareness and action by all can only prevent any further damage to the environment.

Fortunately we all have an entire community (Bishnoi in Rajastan) and a socio-environmental movement (Chipko - which was the reason for Indian Forest preservation act in late 60s) to look-up to for clear understanding and action as to how ordinary people can participate in environment protection. The learnings of Chipko movement and the lifestyle of Bishnoi community should become part of us like Ramayana and Mahabharata in these needy times. Finally, able minded Parents themselves can act as an environment educators /campaigners to take up the responsibility in their localities.

And a note from a Respectable Educator in Response !

Date: Thu, 10 Dec 2009 06:20:48 +0530
Subject: Re: Environment education - why, what and how... some thoughts... From:

Dear CGK,
excellent piece!

I was recently at the conference of Bhoomi in Bangalore where I coordinated a discussion among educators and students...

ANd the paper i wrote for the first issue of the magazine is here.

WOuld you like to submit this as a piece for their magazine?

In any case I will send this to them and also mention your name as 'deeply interested in food, agrgiculture and environment matters'. And Vallipuram is growing rapidly. I am hoping that we will launch the campus in June or July.

With warm regards