Home > Curriculm and pedagogy > Reimagining environmental education


By G. Balasubramanian

Doing something to comply with the directions of a court of judicature may help in preparing a document to prove that we are honest. But taking actions to serve the purpose for which it is meant is entirely another ball game. In so far as the environmental issues are concerned, the Hon’ble` Supreme Court did come with a directive to include environmental education as a compulsory component of the educational process from the first step of schooling to the University level. After a lot of debate on this issue at the academic corridors, it was felt that this issue concerned all the disciplines of learning and hence has to remain integral to all disciplines. Concerns on environment, wherever possible, should be raised in the content and the curriculum. While the view had its own substance to ensure meeting the obligations to a directive within the existing parameters, everyone knew that in the mainstream of the disciplines such an attempt will be only a passing reference without attracting the learner’s attention to the gravity of the situation. It turned out to be true. The entire curricular framework at least at the K-12 stage added a few spices here and there, providing information to the learner. In this process, how well the concerns were reflected, sensitized and advocated, how it impacted the thought architecture of the learners is certainly a point of debate. The real purpose of the issue got marginalized in the game plan of preparing for the questions in the examination and the hunger for the marks to be obtained in its aftermath.

To be honest, we should agree that we have not done enough justice to this subject or to the purpose for which it was considered by the court of law. Consequences are obvious. Even after twenty-five years of the directive, we are fighting with the issues of environment – more aggressively than ever, after causing continuous damage to its purity. The whole architecture of our approach to environmental education has to change – from information to sensitivity, from studies to action, from expressions to engagements, from cure to prevention. It is right time that the curriculum and pedagogy for environmental education is reimagined.

A few issues we need to keep in mind:

1. Environment is not a one-time concern

Environment is not a one-time engagement of a human being at a specific point of time. It is a full-time life-long engagement both at its minuscular level or at the macro level. It doesn’t have a one-stop of shop where you buy all the solutions and keep them in one’s warehouse, to be used when and where necessary. It calls for prudent and positive action on a continuous basis in every dimension of life and its activities. It is personal, social and universal. Therefore, it is important that the process of education should develop awareness, sensitivity and attitude towards environment than reading a few pages of a book with geographical inputs or detailing of a few challenges. The curriculum should help in understanding, managing and challenging the challenges. It doesn’t need a mute pedagogy of acceptance of the views that flow from the top, but engaging with concerns to find multiple alternatives to manage concerns and crises.

2. Environmental education should cater both locale specific and global issues

Cyclones along a coastline might damage the environmental health of a given place and might need an approach to deal with local problems. But burning of the farm stubble in one corner of a State might impact other states and people; the culprits may not suffer, but its impact on others is huge. So goes certain problems like global warming, air and water pollution, land pollution with non-degenerative materials and electronic waste and the like. Environmental curriculum should create sensitivities and right attitudes to both these issues. Quite often, the learners get educated from the learning of their elders and hence become passive to issues. Top-down approaches have done more harm to the curriculum and pedagogy. It is important that learners should get habituated to ‘thinking with the environment’ rather than ‘thinking about the environment’. The existing ‘throw-ball’ practices of inputting environmental concerns near and far, will not help to develop a generation of citizen with right attitudes.

3. Environmental education should prepare for responses which are immediate, adequate and inclusive

Responses to environmental issues are not caricatured in papers and awarded with credentials for their power of communication. They need to be pragmatic, experiential and timely. Educating and examining at the end of the year is indeed celebration of a ceremony. It only helps to feed the huger of the ‘Achievement Syndrome’ of the learner. The learner has to gain experiential knowledge and practices on an on-going line. There is no linearity in solutions as far as the environmental problems are concerned. Many of them are complex, inclusive and inter-dependent. Hence problem-solving skills and crisis management skills need to be comprehensive, well-considered and with an understanding of its social implications. They need to be dealt with empathy, compassion and sensitive human considerations.

The existing curricula in environment education largely do not reflect on such concerns. Therefore, there is a case for reimagining the environmental curriculum.

4. In environment education, the part is not the whole

Given the fact that environment is a large issue and has a thousand facets, focus on a couple of issues alone doesn’t justify an approach to its totality. For example, disaster management is one vital aspect of the environmental implication. It certainly calls for preventive as well as its post-disaster managerial competencies. It needs currency of vision specific to its social geography. Further, the typology of disasters is not universal and have multiplicity of impacts. Thus, knowledge of disaster management is a vital part of learning in environmental curriculum, but to marginalize other aspects to negligible to position disasters, will not pay the right dividends. We need a holistic vision. The curriculum needs to address both the concerns of the present and the future.

5. Environment should be defined through an economic dimension

All types of environment and its influences on the local geography and agricultural produce have a significant economic dimension on a community and state. The environment education curricula hesitate to host this idea. The priorities are set to meeting and managing challenges rather than developing processes impacted by environment. Possibly, an education on this dimension might create more awareness with environment as a wealth producer. Positive action towards environment might influence our attitude rather looking at the concepts of environment always threatening and destructive. It is said that “Economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, and not the reverse.”

6. Education in environmental laws need to be focused

There is little effort in education to sensitize learners about environmental laws. The need and urgency for their compliance need to be highlighted. This becomes imperative, because even if learners become entrepreneurs or managers of industries, they need to be doing right things. Ignorance is not a bliss. Non-compliance to environmental laws need deterrent actions. Unfortunately, we have developed attitudes by which we skip over all these challenges by misinterpretations. I fondly recall my visit to one of the schools with about a thousand students in a satellite city. I found an industrial outfit nearby from which gases were being let off and the air in the whole area was smelling bad. When I checked with the school authorities about how it could impact the health of the students, the people in the management said “Sir, we have taken it up with the pollution control department” But the interesting point was that the factory was there for the last fifteen years, while the school was set up only a year ago. I was surprised how they could get clearance from local authorities.

7.Environmental pedagogy has to be non-urban

High profile approaches to teaching of environmental studies may park the subject as a discipline of learning only. The pedagogy has to be developed on the basis of case studies, impact studies, experiential anecdotes and local rural experiences which have given rewards for decades. Belief systems in traditional methods, approaches which are born out of indigenous thoughts and practices, micro-management experiences with powerful results but without recognition and support systems have to be brought to light and the learners should celebrate the concept of “think globally, act locally.” May be sometimes, the reverse could also be true- “think locally, act locally.” Field trips to producing lands, waterbodies, Agri-universities, relevance of cattle and animal support systems, understanding of the importance of organic produces with support bio-recycle practices need to be commended, illustrated and highlighted to impress on the learners that ‘Nature’ and ‘Environment’ are self-supportive.

8. Environmental sensitivities should impact the affective domain of the pedagogical strategies

The impact of environment on day to day living concerns, personal health profiles of all individuals, its extended impact on all living organisms, the concern about the extinction of species both plants and animals, the desertification of the land and its loss of productivity have all to become a part of informal and interactive discourses in classrooms and outside. Stratified formal approaches may provide information and knowledge, but will become volatile and fade with setting in of other priorities. Impacts on affective domains through emotionally competent stimuli will certainly elevate their attention and lead to long-term interests. Eco-clubs in schools have to function not as window- shops for gravitating public views in the institution but should become as agencies in community participation.

9. Environmental perceptions should become central to any definition of growth and productivity

Universally, it is felt that growth happens at the cost of exploiting the nature and excluding the nature. The elimination of environment is seen as portals to progress and re-engineering it within concrete profiles through some internal dressings is indicated as re-positioning of environment in an evolutionary economy. This idea and approach have done more damage than necessary. It is important to develop the idea that elimination or subjugation of environmental processes is not an indicator of growth. Growth has to be considered within the ambience and profile of the maturing environment. Expansion of human comfort zones through the annihilation of the environmental comfort zones is detrimental to biological diversity and balance of Nature that holds us as their representatives on their earth.

10. Environmental sustainability and its increasing valuation should be considered as Gross National Productivity

As the existence of the future depends exclusively on the wealth and health of the environment, it must be considered as vital component of national productivity and not as dead assets. This positioning will help examining the environment not as a sub-system to others, but all others as sub-system to that eternal vibrant nature. This warrants encouragement of several subjects that would contribute to the wealth and health of nature – like Ornithology. Veterinary sciences, pisciculture, marine studies and engineering, species care and security, nature watch and security, land conservation, eco-scientific tempers and their nurture and so on.

Environmental education is not yet another discipline for achievements and certifications. It doesn’t to be glorified as one that could bring laurels to those learn and practice. It has to be introduced and empowered as a basic humanistic approach to a sustainable living. It has to be recognized as our deep appreciation to Mother Earth for all that she has rewarded to us in this planet. “The Environment is everything, that isn’t me.” – Albert Einstein.

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