“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them."
The Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel winner, Wangari Mathai, has rightly expressed the sine qua non of environmental education at school level. That’s where our country’s future spends its quality time and energy for about 5-7 hours daily.
However, the paradox is that our curriculum does not have enough space for environmental lessons except for some scattered terms like ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ spread across a few pages. Though there are designated chapters in Geography, they are inadequate to address our present complexities and can be wrapped up within barely 2-3 periods. In fact, most schools—especially those subscribing to CBSE—do not have specific textbooks for environmental studies. Our academics is impaired by such disciplinary boundaries which are as rigid as icebergs. Though our National Education Policy emphasizes upon an interdisciplinary approach, our formal institutions continue pursuing an assessment-driven methodology. Environmental sciences demands experiential learning. It is application-based and cannot be limited to bookish knowledge. Thus, the much needed environmentalism loses its essence in today's scenario, especially given the secondary students who are as complacent as dinosaurs prior to their extinction!
In such circumstances, the most that an academic institution do for environment protection is—paper-work, like organizing painting and essay competitions; or one-day plantation drives that are mandated by the government and accompanied with no follow-ups. Usually, the students who participate on such occasions—One Day to Mother Earth, Ten Minutes to Earth, Environment Day, Biodiversity Day, etc.—aren’t even bothered about the survival of their saplings. Disclaimer: This observation is solely based on my personal experiences of being a Green teacher over several years and may not be generalised.
We know that environment degradation is vividly horrifying and urgent actions are needed by all stakeholders and stockholders to stabilise the ever-escalating situation. No doubt, a school with its huge and potential human resources is a significant hope. Also, a teacher’s conscience does not allow him/ her to turn a blind eye upon this catastrophe. But it all depends upon the concerned teachers, who have these young children at their disposal, to impart environment-related knowledge and inculcate behavioural changes among them.
All being said, our school also weighs the pen-and-paper evaluation more than the cross-disciplinary approach. However, there are plenty of topics through which teachers can discourse upon environmental issues and that is exactly how most classroom transactions take place, including ours. I, as a teacher, scrape out topics from Social Studies, General Science, Mathematics, etc. to develop the environmental skills and competencies of my students.
For instance, I find a plethora of scope to talk about deforestation through Class 8 History—the timber demand in Britain from India and the spread of print culture causing large-scale chopping of our trees. Poems in English readers, like No Men are Foreign by James Kirkup in Class 7 and On Killing a Tree by Gieve Patel in Class 9 also spark insightful discussions on ecology.
A major catalyst in rousing environmental consciousness in our school is the Eco-Club established in 2015. It recruits green corps from across the grades 6–12 and also plays a critical role in breaking the disciplinary barriers. Under its banner, children not only take the responsibility to keep our campus clean but also organise local outreach awareness programmes, specifically about the ban on single-use plastic implemented by our state.
Our young enthusiasts do everything within their capacity to inculcate green habits and practices among their peers. Since our school is located close to the district headquarters, it is criss-crossed by several pavements which are prone to plastic and paper litter caused by everyday pedestrians. Our locality also ails from water shortage. All in all, our building does not have an eco-friendly location. But these hurdles do not dissuade our determined campaigners, whose objective is to create a waste-free zone within the school and its surroundings.
To achieve this target, they pick up waste daily and store it in a designated place during after-school hours as it is unfeasible to undertake these activities during school time due to studies. On holidays, they treat all this waste collected— particularly, the plastic waste by washing and drying it for reuse. Earlier, we re-used this plastic waste to make sofa cushions, flower vases, pen-holders, etc. However, ultimately we realised that these items are eventually rendered useless and become waste again. Therefore, these days, we re-use the plastic waste to make large durable dustbins for our school campus.
Similarly, our school has also installed a water harvesting tank and a compost pit. For greening our premises, we have used all the non-concretized area for cultivating organic vegetables and fruit trees, instead of only growing flowering plants. As per their season, suitability, and climate, the most successful crops are of pumpkin, cucumber, peas, beans, spinach, round chilly, cabbage, avocado, cherry, and guava. Their yield is sufficient to feed our mid-day meal kitchen.
Needless to say, we are not doing anything unusual but it is definitely of worth for conserving our environment; as Wendell Berry says, ‘The earth is what we all have in common’.