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Sustaining the ‘Sustainability Education’

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By Roli S

Where the quality of the environment goes down, the quality of life goes down for humans.

In the world’s current situation when a pandemic is still raising its head here and there and not fully gone from the face of the planet, an important chance is being held out to us to rediscover a childlike simplicity centered round respecting nature, its boundaries and its diversity. There is no greater truth today than the fact that we need to create a new world determined not by greed but by sustainability and simplicity. As humanity endeavours towards sustainable development, educating each individual on Mother Earth to take good care of the environment that nurtures us, is the most significant concern of the new millennium. India’s constitution has made it a ‘fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife’.

For children, nature is one of the first windows into the wonders of life. Human spirit is inseparable from natural wonders of the world especially so in the Indian context, because Indian civilisation has had a strong connect with the environment since ancient times. As per our ancient scriptures, this cosmic world is composed of five basic elements khiti (earth), apah (water), teja (light/ heat), marut (air) and vyom (space). These elements have been integral to our cultural practices and heritage. Societies and communities of the land of ‘Bharat’ in the past were sensitive about nature and adopted environment-friendly conservation practices even during the Indus Valley Civilisation that flourished more than 5000 years ago, along the banks of the river Indus and other parts of western and northern India.

Why should we then accept a ‘Nature Deficit Environment’ for our children? Human beings have been moving their activities indoors since the invention of agriculture and later the industrial revolution and urbanisation. Much of society does not see time spent in the natural world and independent imaginary play as ‘enriching or useful’. I have often heard parents lament that their children are not interested in outdoor activities that are close to nature. Technology now dominates almost every aspect of our lives. Technology itself is not the enemy but our lack of balance is dangerous for the environment and for the human race on the whole.

Numerous studies have shown that children spending time learning about nature creates attention restoration or the rejuvenation of the brain from cognitive and sensory overloads. This actually improves a child’s learning and reduces stress levels. As children learn more about nature and sustainable development they pass on their knowledge to their parents and help increase the level of concern about environment and climate change.

In that sense, a school is more than a physical structure, the timetable or even the textbooks. A school comes to life only when the students come and start interacting with their peers, the teachers, the curricular material, and the school environment (physical, natural, and socio-cultural). The increasing divide between the young and the natural world and the social, spiritual, psychological, and environmental impact of this change can be tackled only in schools. Children are natural learners, but this capacity to learn can be undermined and sometimes destroyed in an unfavourable school environment. Children spend about six to seven hours a day in school for about twelve early years of their life. The environment of the school plays a significant role in the lives of the students.

This requires making the complete environment of the school healthier for students and staff which includes the Greening of not only the entire curriculum, teaching-learning material, learning processes but also the physical, social, natural, and cultural environment of a school as well, so as to develop and strengthen an emotional bond with the environment and society in order to lead towards positive actions. In order to do so, partnership between the school, family, and community, with the school playing a lead role in the whole process, needs to be established.

Despite the policy emphasis on infusion approach of environmental component at all levels of schooling and higher education, the area remains neglected and unclear or is at best given a symbolic treatment. However, the notion of ‘sustainable development’ envisages that it be dealt holistically on a cross-curricular manner through a whole-school approach. What needs to be made sure is that all the ‘green schools’ of India must answer the questions given here: Does the curriculum of the school provide opportunities for children to look at environment holistically? Does it help make connections and inter-linkages across different stages, subjects, themes, and concepts? Does it incorporate the scope to inculcate in our children the sensitivity and concern towards a sustainable future, along with the capability to carry out their responsibilities as individuals and as members of a larger community? Does it provide adequate scope to equip children with appropriate skills to take positive actions towards sustainable development?

Education about ‘sustainable development’ is not just teaching about environment awareness to the students as is usually the case in the schools, but it is to inform students that a healthy community in which we live is dependent on our environmental conditions. Students must learn about humanity’s current problems during sustainability education lessons in schools. Natural disasters, pandemics, pest attacks, forest fires, cloud bursts are all examples of challenges like climate change and ecosystem extinction that will impact us in new ways, every passing day.

Schools must understand that ‘sustainability education’ is related to teaching and learning how to conserve energy and water, make informed choices with the environment in mind, reduce, reuse, and recycle, preserve ecosystems and habitats.

A great way to teach sustainability is to encourage students to understand their ecological footprint and how it impacts climate change. If we want a sustainable future, it’s going to be in the hands of young people attending our schools.

When educators teach about sustainable resources, they are empowering their students with the ability to make informed decisions that will have a positive impact on the environment. Students learn how to conserve resources, reduce waste, and help preserve our planet’s ecosystems. In addition, when schools become more environmentally sustainable, it can inspire others in the community to take action to do the same. As our societies and economies grow and develop, we use increasing amounts of natural resources and put more pressure on the environment in a variety of ways.

In fact, an educated guess is that by 2050 over 80% of people will live in urban environments rather than out in rural communities. Much of this growth will be concentrated in slum-like informal settlements. This means that sustainable development will be even more important in the future to ensure everyone has access to housing, clean water, sanitation facilities and energy supplies – all of which are essential for their well-being.

By teaching children about sustainable resources, educators will give them the knowledge and skills they need to make a difference for generations to come.

The truth is that from tropical to temperate, from grasslands to deserts our natural world is changing rapidly and we are totally dependent on that. It provides our food, water, and air. It is the most precious thing we have, and we need to defend it and bring individual behaviours at the forefront of the global climate action narrative, starting from our schools of course.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author, School Reviewer based in Thane.)