Engaging with sustainability

From the Eighties, when environmental education formally entered India’s education policy and school curriculum, it has reflected the environmental debates in the wider society. Protection and care of the environment, prevention of pollution, and conservation of energy were the thrust of environmental education within the National Curriculum Framework of 1988, for instance. If we look at environmental education in schools, we can see that these concerns largely reflected in the curriculum and in schools’ environmental agenda and activities in one way or the other. Through such educational interventions, children learnt it was important to plant trees, save the tiger, conserve water and energy and so on.

Meanwhile, the environmental debate has evolved significantly. We now have more information on the inter-connectedness of natural resources, habitats and our social contexts. For instance, climate change is one such area where significant inter-linkages have been unearthed in the past decade. Biodiversity is another such domain. The limitedness of resources has gained more acceptance as inevitable. A small but growing number of people are advocating a shift in thinking from the human centric way of looking at the world around to seeing human species as a part of the larger ecosystem.

Naturally, these have implications for environmental education. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example. If earlier, one would approach the topic of water from a pollution and conservation angle, today it has become more complex and nuanced – it includes tracking the water trail from source to drain, the long-term impact of usage patterns, the social dimensions of access and so on. Perhaps, as a reflection of this, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 has evolved a new nomenclature and vision for environmental education – habitat and learning, with the objective of facilitating the move towards sustainable development. However, these ideas are still nascent and have not yet found their way into the classrooms.

Earthian – a sustainability program for schools and colleges
It’s against this backdrop that Earthian, a sustainability program for schools and colleges, finds relevance. The program intends to act as a catalyst for fostering excellence in sustainability thinking and doing amongst young people. The program intends to engage deeply with interested schools and colleges in making sustainability a core educational concern. The schools and colleges are identified based on written submissions by teams of students,coordinated by a faculty member. The institutions also receive a financial award.

During 2011-12, the first year of the program, the participating teams submitted analytical papers on themes like agriculture, energy, water, climate change and so on. Out of the 800 schools and colleges which participated in the program, five schools and five colleges were selected for continuous engagement.

Based on the previous year’s experience, this year’s program has been expanded to include analytical as well as literary writings for submission. To illustrate the challenges of sustainability more clearly and in its complex manifestations, a set of 16 scenarios have been created. The participating teams can submit their response to these or other related sustainability scenarios. The submission can be an analytical paper, a narrative, a story or a play. For details on all of this refer to the website link given at the end of the article.

The submissions and awards are only the starting point of the program. The focus of Earthian is primarily on building a community of interested institutions and through a continuous engagement program, integrating sustainability thinking into the core of education.

What can you do?
If you are a student, form a team, read up on the scenarios, do further research from the library, newspapers and the internet. If you don’t have access to the internet, take the help of your teacher and your school to get access. Talk to various people about these issues – your family, your teachers, friends and neighbors, politicians and councilors in your area, government officials, newspaper reports and editors and so on. Enrich your understanding on these issues and then write about it.

If you are a teacher, familiarize yourself with the program. Talk about it to your students. Motivate them to participate. Help them with their research – suggest areas and questions for further investigation, facilitate discussions on these topics in the classroom, provide them supporting material from various sources. Help them get access to the Internet, facilitate interaction with other community members. Finally, help them write their entry and submit it online.

If you are a principal or management of the institution, talk to your teachers and students. Provide them with more information and understanding on the challenges of sustainability. Motivate the teachers and students to participate, provide the logistical and resource support required for participation.

If you are an official in the education department and its various bodies or an interested parent or individual, you can visit the schools in your locality, motivate the school administration, teachers and students to participate in Earthian.

Earthian and Wipro
Sustainability was recognized by Wipro as one of the key challenges of our times and it has been working on ecological sustainability issues for the past 4-5 years. These initiatives are based on the belief that businesses today have a clear responsibility to contribute to the creation of a just, equitable and humane society. Within this, the idea is to weave ecological sustainability into every dimension of its business and also contribute towards building a more sustainable society.

Wipro’s work in education is a decade old and it works with some of the foremost educational organizations in the country in the areas of school curriculum, teaching-learning and assessment, publishing educational material and doing public advocacy. Earthian is a coming together of Wipro’s engagement in these two areas – extending the concerns of sustainability into the sphere of education, to prepare the ground for the next generation to deal with the challenges that they will be faced with.

For more information about the program, visit http://www.wipro.org/earthian/ or write to earthian.contact@wipro.com or call 080 39916007 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)