by Jayashree Ramadas and Dhanya K
We (Dhanya and Jayashree) are two educators eager to promote rational, evidence-based scientific thinking among children. Science has helped us delve deep into the beauty and complexity of the natural world. At the same time we are surprised and shocked to see the same tools of science, used in short-sighted ways, threaten life and eventually our very existence on earth. This stark contradiction has made us stop and ask, could we possibly learn and teach our children to appreciate and save this precious gift of life on earth?
Here we are, cosily wrapped in a blanket of an oxygen-rich atmosphere, going about our lives on planet earth, our one and only home in this vast cosmos. But did you notice recently, this blanket is getting dirtier, just a bit warmer, even acting stormy and unpredictable? So many species have gone extinct: birds are fewer, bees are disappearing, and, as we intrude into their spaces, some, like the Coronavirus, are literally going viral.
Make no mistake, it’s our own actions that are causing these far-reaching changes. Shouldn’t we then, as an intelligent species, try to understand what we are doing? Try to equip our children to deal with these changes, perhaps even reverse them?
As pollution, global warming, and climate change threaten our very existence on earth, we need more effective environmental education in our schools. What is an effective environmental education? How can we (as a community) make our existing environmental education more effective? Let us explore these questions in this four part series.
Part 1: Learning through students' natural and social environment.
Is ‘environmental education’ a new idea?
Not at all! In one or another form, environmental education has existed in our schools from early on. It gained momentum in 1991 when the Supreme Court of India mandated school boards to ensure its teaching at all levels. Subsequently, several curricular reforms gave it serious thought. Despite all these efforts, environmental education has remained peripheral in our schools. Environmental values may be commonly preached but critical and meaningful approaches are missing in practice.
It is not that textbooks are lacking in content. Concepts, ideas, and activities related to the environment are found in almost all textbooks. From EVS at the primary level to the different branches of science and social science at the secondary and higher secondary subjects, environmental science is a compulsory part of the syllabus. Between the subject textbooks at all grade levels, the relevant topics appear to be sufficiently covered.
What then is the problem?
The shortcomings were correctly identified by an NCERT document of the 2000s which outlines how environmental education should be infused into the syllabus of Classes 1-12. Despite the major curricular initiatives, it says, there is inadequate exposure of students to their habitat: "There is little active learning from the natural and social world around them." The report mentions routine teaching of prescribed material, activity-based projects (often sold by commercial agencies) executed in a set manner, and the dominance of rote learning.
Such concerns may cut across all subjects but, in the case of environmental education, a disconnect from the environment - a lack of active learning from the world - is a self-contradiction, a paradox. Environmental education loses all meaning if it simply amounts to teaching and preaching about the environment, without learning from the environment.
In school practice there is another well-known problem. Environmental education is often treated as extracurricular: desirable but not at the cost of other more perceived “important” subjects like maths and the physical sciences. Such is the perception of schools, teachers and arguably parents as well.
How do we get out of these conundrums?
Let’s look at the examples of some schools which have managed it, in the next part of this series.
You tell us too - What is your most memorable experience of ‘learning about nature’?
What are some good examples of environmental education that you have seen or experienced, in or outside of school?
Share your responses with us by emailing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
All images in this article were captured by the Nature Classrooms team as a part of our outreach and engagement initiatives.
About the Authors
Jayashree Ramadas: Research and Development in Science Education; formerly at Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education and TIFR Hyderabad.
Dhanya K: Researcher & Science Educator formerly Teacher at Rishi Valley School.