Environmental Studies: No theory please

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After Supreme Court’s directive in 1991, Environmental Education (EE) became a compulsory subject in schools. It was hoped that the move would help in building a society where people care for their environment. But decades later, nothing has changed. EE is just another subject for students, teachers as well as schools. Experts believe the fault lies with the way the subject is taught, that is, instead of focusing on theory, the emphasis should be on providing students with the necessary skills to be able to contribute in nurturing the environment. This will lead to attitudinal change among them, thus making them responsible citizens vis-à-vis their environment.

One organisation which is working on somewhat the same philosophy is Rajasthan-based Orion Greens. It conducts regular plantation drives, seminars, rallies, theatre, drawing and slogan writing competitions at institutional levels like schools, colleges and places like railway stations, roads, parks, etc. to educate people about environment. “We not only teach people to plant trees but also tell them about the techniques involved like how to nourish and take care of the plant so that it can grow to its full potential.” The interesting feature about the organisation is that it works in drought areas or slums. “We first recce an area, study the soil available there and then decide upon the kind of trees that we can plant there. We then take out rallies to create awareness, and with the help of locals, often children, plant the trees. We also try to plant medicated plants so that people become excited and benefit from them,” said Neeta Upadhyay, Chairperson, Orion Greens. In order to ensure people (mainly children) take good care of these plants and water them regularly, trees are often named after children who planted them. Upadhyay explains, “Suppose X plants a mango tree, the tree will be named after X and he will be made responsible for its upkeep. We will teach X how to take care of the plant. We conduct regular follow-up programmes to guide children throughout the process of the growth of the plant. But once the tree is named after a child, he treats that plant like his own pet. In order to encourage these children and applaud their efforts, we award them with certificates after a year of plantation of trees.”

In order to ensure people (mainly children) take good care of these plants and water them regularly, trees are often named after children who planted them

While Orion Greens is working with children, Jan Nirman Kendra is concentrating on educating farmers and their families about environment and modern agricultural practices. “Since Poplar trees shoot up fast, in just 6 years, we encourage farmers to grow them at the borders of their farmland. This helps in strengthening the soil as well as providing protection against winds. Villagers can also benefit from its wood,” said Rakesh Kumar Singh, Secretary, Jan Nirman Kendra. The organisation runs farmer field schools in Samastipur district in Bihar where farmers are taught about the use of technology and modern agricultural practices. “We teach them techniques which will aid in yielding more output at less cost. For example, we have told farmers to use neem oil in place of pesticides. Neem oil is an inexpensive alternative to pesticides. Plus, it is natural, unharmful and equally effective. This way, we are teaching them new technologies based on old techniques, and helping them in bringing down the costs.” The organisation has also joined hands with ITC to ensure that farmers are paid well and on time for their produce. “ITC buys wheat from the farmers and pays them within a day. This way, farmers don’t have to wait long for their money. Also, they get competitive prices for their produce,” explains Singh.

READ ALSO: Here, environmental studies are taught differently

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand-based Shyam Smriti Van Paryavaran Avam Jan Klayan Samiti (SSVPAKS) has demonstrated practically how trees can make a substantial change in environment and why they are essential for our survival. The organisation is devoted towards forest conservation and tree plantation. So far, it has planted trees on 56 hectares of land (that is, four mixed forests, out of which 62,000 trees are in live condition) in and around the village Bhaint, Uttarkashi; 10 hectares of land in the foothills of Varunavat Parvat in Uttarkashi has led to a mixed forest of 200 species (38,000 trees in live condition); and on four hectares of land in Gangotri Dham which has taken a shape of forest with about 3200 trees in live condition.

SSVPAKS has demonstrated practically how trees can make a substantial change in environment and why they are essential for our survival. Its efforts have given birth to six forests in the state

“It started in 1970s. At that time, the village land was barren, and women had to walk five to eight kilometer to get the firewood and fodder. Landslides were also common then. The idea of planting trees occurred to us when five women lost their lives due to rock fall,” recalls Pratap Singh Pokhriyal, who runs SSVPAKS, adding, “My parents loved forests. We started a nursery on our land and began diverting half of the profits that we earned from our shop towards plantation of trees. Then we started SSVPAKS which is named after my father. Our small efforts have gradually given birth to so many forests.” The forests are quite a hit among people. Students from schools or colleges, research scholars often frequent here to study about trees and their benefits. “The land is now fertile, animals are back, there is enough fodder for cattle, oxygen level in the environment has increased; the trees have been very effective in controlling rock slides/landslides. The benefits are for all to see,” says Pokhriyal.

The purpose of introducing EE in schools was to sensitise children about their immediate environment, not burden them with another subject to memorise for their examination. The need thus is to shift the focus from rote learning to practical learning. Only then can we build a future which cares for nature.

You can meet the representatives of these and several such grassroots organisations doing exceptional work using digital tools at Prayag, a first of its kind digital India mela being organised by New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation, on Feb 25 at Surajkund, Faridabad. The article is fourth of five part series that The Peeper Times, as the event’s Media Partner, is writing for Prayag.

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