Learning the world

While environmental education has been a part of the curriculum in private schools for many years now, the Indian government recently selected eight states across the country to incorporate environment education in the formal school system. The government seems to have been galvanised by a World Bank-aided study conducted by the Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research (BVIEER), Pune, to identify the lacuna in environmental education. Conducted over a two-year period, the study got some 800 schools in Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa, Punjab and Uttaranchal to draw up a syllabus to help students grapple with environmental issues. These states were selected for the project on the basis of their geographical spread, environmental content in textbooks and their willingness to participate in the exercise.

BVIEER designed and implemented the project in two phases. It began with a critical analysis of the environmental content in more than 1,800 Science, Geography and languages textbooks used in schools all over the country. In the second phase, it charted a plan to ensure that environmental education is integrated in the existing subjects and not taught as a stand-alone subject. It was felt that hands-on activity, field trips and work experience are important aspects of environmental learning which may be best imparted with support from NGOs and through visits to places like museums, acquariums and zoos.

BVIEER first identified as many as 99 environmental concepts including natural resources, biodiversity, pollution, people and environment, and energy. This helped them identify shortcomings in the curricula. To cite a finding: Geography textbooks generally discussed the importance of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, the greenhouse effect, and ozone depletion in detail, but failed to link environmental concepts to real life experiences. As a result, students learnt by rote and failed to connect with the cause of environmental protection.

Moreover, there was very little information on sustainable lifestyles and environmental preservation on a  personal day-to-day basis. Environmental subjects like plant and animal species and alternative sources of energy were not dealt with adequately in the curriculum. Sometimes, the information provided was dated. A glaring example is DDT which most books mentioned as a common pesticide, even though DDT is banned in India. That’s not all.

Teachers are not motivated to teach these topics attributing lack of institutional and parental support, paucity of relevant educational material, and time shortage among other excuses.

Following BVIEER’s analysis, the textbooks of Classes 6, 7 and 8 were redrafted in the eight states covered by the project. In Maharashtra, BVIEER collaborated with textbook writers to incorporate changes in the curriculum.

In Phase II of the project, textbooks of science, social sciences and languages prescribed for standards VI to VIII were modified to include environmental concepts and introduced in the selected project schools.

The Maharashtra government has set an example and urged the corporate sector and NGOs to join it in the initiative to promote environmental awareness among the youth. Its Environment Department recently introduced the Environmental Service Scheme (ESS) on a voluntary basis in secondary and higher secondary schools. This entails the inclusion of an additional three hours a week of outdoor activity by students of Classes VII to XII.

Students are expected to carry out local environmental improvement and action projects in areas such as water, sanitation, biofertilizers, herbal gardens, composting, appropriate energy technologies etc. Selected schools will receive resource material, training and an annual grant towards such activities.

Needless to say, NGOs have played an important role in raising environmental concerns, developing awareness of environmental issues and promoting sustainable development. Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the National Ecology and Environment Foundation (NEEF), Green Peace, International Institute for Sustainable Development and Earth Watch are some of the organisations rendering yeoman service in the area.

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