Education for change
Environmental education as a separate subject shouldn’t fall victim to the need for reducing the curriculum load. The subject is vital for comprehension of existing global concerns
A major policy issue that has been pending for over two decades now deserves a decision in the context of the formulation of the new education policy. The urgency of preparing a new curriculum framework for school education that must replace the one prepared in 2005. It is accepted in all educationally alert and active systems that school curriculum revision must take place within five years, if not earlier. It need not depend on policy change.
No nation can afford to continue with textbooks prepared, say, in 2005 in subjects like environmental education or computer education in the year 2018-19. This is not only a century of change but a century of the ‘pace of change’. Systems have to be energised and activated accordingly. The issue of environmental education as a separate subject is as important as that of reducing curriculum load. The issue warrants comprehension of the existing developments in global concerns on environment and climate change.
The UNESCO-UNEP Congress on Environmental Education and Training held around three decades ago in 1987, realised the urgency created by environmental degradation and its visible and fearsome futuristic implications agreed: “Environmental education should simultaneously attempt to create awareness, transmit information, teach knowledge, develop habits and skills, promote values, provide criteria and standards and present guidelines for problem-solving and decision-making.
It, therefore, aims at both cognitive and affective behaviour modification. The latter necessitates both classroom and field activities. This is an action-oriented, project-centred and participatory process leading to self-confidence, positive attitude and personal commitment to the goal of environmental protection. Furthermore, the process should be implemented through an interdisciplinary approach.”
This consensus arrived at a crucial juncture, led to the UN member countries to have a fresh look on the content and process of education. It led to extensive changes in school education curriculum and also in the process of teacher training. The traditional Indian ethos in continuity with the ancient Indian texts and scriptures highlights the man-nature relationship, and enjoins on the humankind to ensure that this ‘lifeline’ of a sensitive bond of mutuality between man and nature is dexterously maintained.
The ancient Indian civilisation puts all living beings at par, desires human beings to see divinity in animals, birds, trees and plants. There is so much to be learnt from Indian traditions in the context of current complication of climate change, environmental degradation and unchecked pollution that it forces billions to breathe poisonous air, drink polluted water and eat toxic foods.
The ashrams and gurukuls made young ones investigate and get familiar with the biophysical world around them and realise how it was critical to the very sustainability of human life. At this juncture, a serious assessment of deterioration has to be made consistently to project how the harmony of man-nature relationship is being destroyed by human activities.
It is a primary school teacher who now has the most prominent role to achieve an attitudinal transformation not only amongst pupils, which is comparatively easier at that stage than to prepare parents to augment the values and skills being imparted in this specific context. Initial years in schools constitute the stage at which young children consider their teacher as an icon that can do no wrong. They accept every suggestion and idea presented by the teacher and try to fit it in the curiosity and creativity they are gifted with ‘naturally’.
The National Curriculum Framework for School Education, released by the NCERT on November 14, 2000, clearly mentions that learning during the first two years is to be designed around concrete situations related to the immediate environment, encouraging children to observe, explore, discover their surroundings; and all that they are familiar with. This would be enriched once the teacher also becomes a co-learner. The ingenuity of the teacher finds a real challenge at this stage.
“The experience and activities can be gradually structured during the remaining three years of primary education where environmental studies were to introduced”, in addition to the learning of language and maths. In classes I and II, children are supported in recognising the social and natural environment without any distinction or division. As children move ahead to the upper primary, they begin to appreciate the inter-relationship of “science, technology and human enterprise”. This is the stage where the teacher has to strengthen and concretise it with his efforts that take due note of the curiosity and creativity of the child which begins to explore wide dimensions. This is the right stage to introduce environmental studies.
At the upper primary stage, children must be encouraged to comprehend man-made phenomenon and their import and implications. By this stage, the child himself begins to analyse the “world before him”. Under the guidance of committed teachers, he/she begins to question some of the approaches of the elders that do not fit in the civil behaviour. This could include casual approach to cleanliness, wastage of water, electricity and food, smoking among others. The value of clean air and water and role of trees, green cover and forests impacts their thought and action. By the time they complete 10 years of schooling, children could become fully active and alert to join the march towards saving the planet earth.
It has already suffered an irreversible damage because of the wanton destruction of natural resources, without performing his duties to maintain the sensitive balance between man and nature. This situation was best articulated by Mahatma Gandhi in one single sentence: “Nature has sufficient resources to meet the needs of everyone, but not the greed of anyone.” This is now globally referred to practically in every international gathering on environmental degradation, global warming and climate change.
In spite of several global initiatives launched by individual countries and also motivated and encouraged by the international agencies, things are getting from bad to worse. Taking a comprehensive view, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were delineated and accepted for achievement by all UN countries.
In these, the SDG-4 pertains to education: “Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The concept of “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD) is “commonly understood as education that encourages changes in knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to enable a more sustainable and just society for all. ESD aims to empower and equip current and future generations to meet their needs using a balanced and integrated approach to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development”.
Essentially, the concept of ESD emerged out of the global realisation that education could, and must, play its part in preparing people to confront growing environmental challenges that were emerging in frightening proportions and threatening the very existence of the planet earth.
In India, considerable work in environmental education has been accomplished through the school education sector, creation of a ministry of environment and the creation of professional institutions by the Governments and voluntary bodies. One issue needs to be resolved at the policy level as it has been pending for over three decades.
The Supreme Court of India had, in 1991 and in 2003, directed the NCERT to prepare a model syllabus making the study of environmental education a separate compulsory subject. It was in March/April 2003 that the NCERT submitted a detailed model syllabus to the Court as per its directive. It was not objected by any of the State Governments. Hence, the Court issued orders for its implementation.
Several State Governments went ahead accordingly. However, after the change of the Government in 2004, the contention submitted to the Court was that all that needed to be included in the Environmental Education is already being covered in the curriculum and the textual materials, in an infusion approach. A solution may be hidden in the right response to the query: Does the infusion approach impact equally or more than what its study as a separate subject could achieve? It must be resolved early.
(The writer is former Director, NCERT, and an educationist)
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