No one can be blamed for taking a convenient route, as we learn what we see and others learn from what we do. It is a vicious cycle. This being the point, I think schools are a great place to start initiating any change in the society, break vicious cycles and make conscious choices. When it comes to school and education, we all recognise how vast a platform it is for creating awareness.
Today, I talk about the environment because it is one issue which is very close to my heart. Living in a hill station like Shimla, I see a tug of war between development and environment every day. On the one hand convenience is leading more people to buy more vehicles, which could be seen as a sign of development but on the other hand Shimla is choking on the pollution caused by the same vehicles. I think this is the story of every city or town these days. So, in this case what happens to the principle of pooling cars, walking or even taking bicycles for short distances? Obviously, convenience takes over.
For that matter even our curriculum is extensive. EVS (Environment Studies) is part of the curriculum not only at the school level, but also at the college level. We are taught about environment conservation at different levels, e.g. preparing compost, segregating waste, being part of awareness campaigns etc, so it is safe to say that we are not only taught about these issues, but we also try to put the principles we learn into practice. Further, thanks to vast media coverage of environmental catastrophes, we have seen a surge of sympathy for environmental issues.
However, there is just one thing that is missing i.e. transformation of this sympathy into empathy, which will break the vicious cycle and help one make the much needed conscious choices.
You may ask why is it needed?
Do we need to feel the pain of the dying environment? Do we really need to pool cars? I think yes. How else will we ever feel or make our children feel that we are a part of something bigger, that every choice we make is affecting the lives of thousands of others? It is imperative so that next time there is an environmental catastrophe, no one will feel that this is happening in another world and cannot happen to us.
Here, I should share something with you. Recently, when Chennai was struggling with one of the worst floods, many of my students seemed unaffected because they thought they cannot do anything about it. It did not surprise me because I thought so too until I saw my friends on Facebook mobilising their resources to help people in every way possible. Apparently, I had a lot to learn as well.
In the New Year and new session, we need to aim to eliminate this limitation of mind that we cannot do anything, transforming sympathy into empathy. I think that consistent use of a few conventional methods can do wonders in this case: 1) Display Boards: We all use display boards. Once in a while we can use these boards as newspapers. This newspaper could cover one environmental issue/incident (in detail with causes and consequences).
2) Mass Media: I cannot stress more on the importance of good uses of media. Activists around the world are making use of Mass Media channels spread awareness amongst people about various issues. So why can’t we? Here, I would like to point out a few websites which I have come across:
a) Gobar Times: It is one of the most well known magazines for schools in India. It comes as a supplement with Down to Earth: http://www. gobartimes.org/
b) Environmental Health Student Portal: It is run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, but I use it quite often for my reference. http:// kidsenvirohealth.nlm.nih.gov/
c) World Resources Institute: It curates very interesting information. http://www.wri.org/
3) Advocacy Campaigns: Every year many organizations come to our schools to conduct awareness programmes, e.g. quiz on wildlife or talks on conflict between man and wildlife. I am sure a large number of schools are already doing this. We need to do this consistently.
4) Workshops/Seminars: Conducting one workshop a week or even a month can take a toll on students. It could put unnecessary pressure on students. Once a year, a school can serve as a platform for exchanging ideas.
An institution can organize a seminar/workshop and invite students and teachers from other schools and professionals from related fields to create awareness and exchange relevant information.
5) Interest in administrative decisions: Press informs the public about various decisions taken by the local administration, e.g. rain water harvesting to be made compulsory. Newspapers also accept relevant articles from general public. So, if there is some decision regarding which students could have an opinion, those opinions could be sent to newspapers. This also means regular discussion of news in the classroom. Depending on the workload we could decide the frequency of such discussions.
6) Interest in the problems of the locality: A written assignment leading the students to find and discuss a problem (e.g. shortage of water). It could well become a part of English classes with interdisciplinary linkage to social science or vice versa.
7) Learning productive use of social media: I will never forget the day when Facebook was overflowing with people’s status helping each other in Chennai. And as I said, I needed to learn that too. Things like these should be shared and learnt. Facebook and Twitter are not just for putting selfies. These are store houses of information, but students would need parental discretion to use such channels. We could leave this out for the students, but use it to keep ourselves updated.
8) Commemorating environmental tragedies: We should never forget what our fellow citizens went through when we were sitting safely in our homes. We should try to commemorate such tragedies e.g. Uttarakhand floods. As students find information to commemorate such incidents, the students will not only learn about causes and consequences, but also develop empathy. They will feel that these things could happen anywhere and we need to do our bit.
9) Creating love for Nature: Gardening! At the school level, it is the simplest way of teaching to care for the environment. Rooftop gardens are the go for schools in cities. But, taking into consideration that schools usually have ample spaces, gardening can be a good habit to cultivate in students. These few thoughts I wanted to share with everyone reading The Progressive Teacher. We could use these as a part of CCE to evaluate students on life skills.
Here’s hoping that we will make this new session more interesting for ourselves and the students.
Priyanka Ohri says, ‘Having finished my schooling from Auckland House School, Shimla, I pursued my Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism. At present, I am teaching Mass Media Studies in St. Thomas’ School, Shimla. Teaching as a profession was discovered accidentally, but it is my second love after writing. There are two lessons that teaching has given me for a lifetime. First, to do what I love until I become perfect and second, you never know what you are capable of.’