Make Students Torchbearers Of Sustainability

The awareness and understanding of sustainability – both with respect to development and environment – has been moving up the agenda of government, businesses and industries. For these important stakeholders, wanting to be seen as socially and environmentally responsible, taking sustainability initiatives has become the “right thing to do” as they pursue the famous “triple bottom line” goal of benefitting people, profit, and planet.

That government and business enterprises are embracing sustainable policies, actions and practices is an encouraging trend. However, such initiatives have to become more broad-based and widespread if real and durable progress on the sustainability front is to be achieved. This is possible only by educating our students about sustainability and cultivating in them the sensibility about maintaining a balance between commercial activities and environmental needs.

To bring about this change in mindset and attitude towards environment and sustainability, schools and colleges need to rise to the challenge. The teaching approach should be to let children gain more positive environmental experiences. This means transforming environmental education to become interdisciplinary, community-based, and learner-centered. Though environmental education is now a compulsory subject taught in schools, following a 1991 Supreme Court order, efforts at integrating environmental concepts into the formal education curriculum have not had the desired impact so far. The curriculum framed by the NCERT and adopted by the State Education Departments is a classic text book approach to environmental education that is loaded heavily in favor of classroom teaching with too few action-oriented activities and links. Instead, there is the need to intelligently integrate environmental studies with other social and physical sciences and evolve a more interdisciplinary and interactive approach to its teaching. This would make the subject far more engaging and relevant for students who would then feel more inclined to take it up and pursue it as a viable career option.

At a number of schools and colleges abroad, where an in-depth exposure to environmental literacy is a must, the approach is to move away from the traditional classroom setting to outdoor activities. This has helped learners of all ages to become more familiar with and sensitive to the natural world, and to unlock natural curiosity and appreciation of the environment. Academics believe that the approach has instilled among students increased caring about the future of society, increased belief that they can make a difference, and increased willingness to participate in solving societal and environmental problems.

To better integrate environmental and sustainability concepts into the structure, pedagogy and framework of the education curriculum, a non-conventional teaching approach that involves engaging with the students and making those concepts connect with their life and work and with the ecology, environment and the economy should be followed. Students need a better exposure to the understanding and interconnectedness of the social, economic and ecological systems, an awareness and appreciation of their interdependence and complexity. This is best achieved by engaging students with projects, case studies and study tours. It will give them a true sense of the real world around them, the many parts that make up our ecosystem, the delicately balanced relationships between these parts and how it is important to nurture and nourish each of these parts for the whole to endure and flourish.

Compared with the conventional classroom approach to environmental education, the non-formal extracurricular approach and programs developed by agencies like the World Wildlife Fund, numerous other NGOs and the eco-clubs set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, have found many eager takers among school kids and the youth. Even though non- formal education is not greatly encouraged or prioritized in our education system, education planners in India are becoming more convinced that fleshing out experiences that act as catalysts for imparting awareness, knowledge, attitudes and skills about sustainability among children and youth can be far more effective in teaching environmental education.

Conventional and copybook approach to teaching environmental education has so far helped to build awareness around sustainability issues such as global warming, greenhouse gases, ozone layer depletion, climate change, etc. But there are many more issues to sustainability than just environmental preservation, resource management, or climate change. The goal of teaching environmental education to children should be to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to address natural resource management problems, socio-economic resource use dilemmas, and environmental problems.

Even for environmental learning about the built environment, students should be taken out to playgrounds, parking lots, water treatment plants, landfills, and industrial sites so that relationships between human systems and the environment can be effectively demonstrated.  Students need to have a deeper knowledge and a more nuanced understanding of the natural, physical environment as well as the social constructs of society, economics and governance. Only then can we hope that our future generations would be able to address the lingering sustainability issue staring us in the face – increasing pollution, depleting natural resources, deforestation, bio-diversity loss and unbalanced urbanization, among others.

To equip the future generations with the knowledge, skills, values, and habits of mind necessary to be responsible citizens, environment and sustainability issues need to be taught differently so that students become truly literate. As the poet William Butler Yeats said: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” To light the fire of sustainability in the hearts of tomorrow’s professionals and decision makers, our education system will have to empower today’s students to come up with skills, strategies and solutions for a more sustainable future.

About P. Sahel

As Vice Chairman of Lotus Greens, Sahel is responsible for giving directions on overall business strategy and key investments decisions of the firm. Being one of the founding members of Lotus Greens, Sahel has been instrumental in formulating various company policies, setting up systems and processes, and building a strong team of professionals. Prior to Lotus Greens, Sahel worked for more than 16 years in some of India’s largest and most respected real estate companies like Jones Lang LaSalle for 13 years as the Managing Director of the Markets & Solution Development and DLF prior to that. The views expressed are personal

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