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Global warming, inconsistent rains, droughts everywhere – Manmade disasters are taking a toll. The need of the hour is a manmade revival. Can your child be that environmental crusader? Here’s what environmental educationist, Meena Raghunathan has to say on this topic
Almost every young person we meet is concerned about the environment. As they should be. If it were not for the idealism of the young, what would the world be? Young people today are very well informed about climate change; they spearhead campaigns for endangered species; they vociferously protest against tree-cutting by the civic authorities. When the young Greta Thunberg stood up against the most powerful political and business leaders with a stirring campaign, the world stood up and took notice. She has become an overnight sensation not without a reason. She has woken up an entire generation.
It is indeed a good start. We all just love the way Greta and a whole bunch of young guns have stood up for a cause, but are we doing our bit too?
The question we have to ask ourselves is, in this world where information is freely available, and opinions are freely expressed, are these translating to personal values, behavior change, and sustained action? In simple words, we are all ever so keen to witness that change happening in the world, but are we taking requisite measures to make small changes happen at home?
We know it would be good to cut down on fossil fuel use, but does that translate into cutting down on personal vehicle use? Do we try to walk, cycle or take public transport? We know that plastic is choking our land and water, but are we strictly abandoning the use of plastic bags and instead, carrying cloth bags? We know that garbage is a huge issue, but do we consistently segregate? Do we reduce, reuse, recycle? Do we compost?
Did these questions hit you? Unless environmental action and activism is about ME, MY RESPONSIBILITY and MY ACTIONS, environmental education (EE) has little meaning.
The term ‘environmental crusader’ has been aptly chosen for this article for ‘crusader’ means ‘one who wages a long and determined attempt to achieve something that they believe in strongly’.
So how do we ensure that our environmentally well-informed young people are environmental crusaders? For this, we have to recognize the essential difference between EE and other ‘subjects’ we want our children to learn.
Let’s look at a well-accepted definition of EE proposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “Environmental education is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem-solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions.”
The responsibility of an environmental educator is not to just impart information. According to the EPA, it is about creating ‘awareness and sensitivity’ about the environment, and ‘knowledge and understanding’ of environmental challenges. EE should create attitudes of concern and motivation to improve the situation and impart the necessary skills to achieve this objective. Finally, it should make people participate in activities that resolve the challenges and improve environmental quality.
All educators strive for awareness and knowledge. The difference is that an environmental educator must go much further and develop attitudes; must create motivation; must impart skills. And finally, all this must result in action – action to improve the environment.
So, the evaluation of an environmental educator is not on whether the students KNOW, but whether they are able to think through and DECIDE what is the right thing to do, and finally if they care enough to ACT!
There is another very important aspect that differentiates EE from education in other subjects. EE is values education. Environmental concerns have a deep moral underpinning. For instance, the notions of justice and equity - the concept that individual actions have consequences for others, and hence I need to be mindful of my actions. It requires deep thinking:
Given this backdrop, here are some ‘green’ things you can do to bring about that change at home. After all, it starts at home, isn’t it?
Inculcate everyday habits: Habits are a key part of resource use and conservation. And these are best formed at a young age. From closing the tap while brushing teeth, to not littering, to not wasting – a lot of these are habits. And, habits are inculcated in children by parents.
Be a role model: In environmental education, as in all values education, actions have to be consistent with words. Children do as you do, not as you say. So, unless environmental consciousness gets into every aspect of our everyday lives, it is difficult to set an example. From being meticulous in segregating garbage to not wasting food; from taking public transport to avoiding over-packaged products, parents have to take care of their own actions. In fact, as parents, the main responsibility is for you to be environmental crusaders! Your children will take the cue from you.
Developing empathy: It is quite easy for your child to get carried away in an urban lifestyle we are all so accustomed to. Secure life in gated communities, moving around in AC vehicles, studying in AC classrooms, drinking packaged and purified water, etc. can make life and the environment seem so healthy. He may not be able to understand the challenges of day-to-day living faced by a large part of the less privileged across the world. What does it mean to not get water in the tap; to not have a toilet in the school; to not have electricity 24x7? How can you as parents develop this empathy in your children? There is no easy way of doing this. Maybe the next time you go to town, use public transport instead of driving your car. Resolve not to use the AC for a few days. Consider volunteering at an orphanage or an old-age home. Choose whatever works for you and your family but remember what you are trying to achieve in doing so - EMPATHY.
Teaching interdependence: Related to the concept of empathy is the concept of interdependence. As people, as communities, as countries, as continents, we depend on each other – more so in today’s world than ever before. If people uphill pollute water, people downhill suffer. If one person in a community draws too much groundwater, the others suffer. So, basic concepts like sharing and caring for others are a part of the values that need to be inculcated – and no place better than home to do so.
Motivating cooperation: Inherent in this interdependence is the need for negotiation and conflict resolution. Today’s education system and life are about competition and winning. EE, at its core, is about cooperation and optimizing. So, a key role for you as a parent is to see how you can inculcate the value of cooperation, and the skills of negotiation and conflict resolution in your child. Try motivating the children in your neighborhood to take up the task of convincing all the households to segregate waste. The children will have to convince the indifferent and cynical people they come across, to cooperate. To do this, they will have to clearly explain the benefits of segregation – reduction in total waste, composting of organic waste, recycling, and so on. They will have to point out to their neighbors what a big difference a little effort on their part can make.
Developing critical thinking skills: It is important to understand that EE does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action. Rather, it teaches individuals how to weigh various sides of an issue through critical thinking. In the current school system where the focus is on ‘right answers’ and rote learning, there is little room for doing this. So, it becomes important that this happens at home. For instance, if you are planning to buy a vehicle, help your children understand the factors that need to be considered: initial cost, looks, dependability, running cost, among others. How important are environmental considerations in this decision-making? This will make children ask questions and weigh alternatives. If your child talks about terms like electric cars or emission norms, you can rest assured he is getting environmentally conscious. EE is about choices, weighing options, and making the best decision in the light of current knowledge.
Having discussions at home: Other aspects that schools are unable to tackle include integration of concepts, the inter-disciplinary nature of environmental education, and relating textbook concepts to everyday life. Your child may be studying the benefits of the Green Revolution in science. Somewhere else, she may be studying about the harmful impacts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers; and yet somewhere else, the increase in inequity brought about by the very same Green Revolution. Discussions at home could help in piecing these various bits of the jigsaw puzzle together and getting a proper perspective.
Devising projects to enhance learning: The environmental crisis is real and looming, but it is important to enjoy the process of learning; it is important to develop skills; it is important to take whatever action one can. In this spirit, here are a couple of small projects I have devised that you can do as a family. First up is a research-oriented one – becoming aware of energy use in transport, which can motivate a change in personal habits.
Tracking your transportation use as a family once a week over a month will help children under the nuances of energy consumption on the road.
The second little project has to do with another resource that’s depleting faster than expected – clean water.
As parents, we let our children learn from what they observe. We take our kids to our farm regularly where they get to know about natural farming practices and also learn how to conserve water. We let our kids grow like a banyan tree on a farm – we don’t restrict them too much. They get the fundamentals of eco-friendly living from what they see around them.
Raghu Venkat, father of 15-year-old twins, who spend time on their farm regularly
Remember, the fundamental purpose of EE is to create a generation of young people, who will make the right decisions for a better world. Not just in their personal lives, but as professionals and as responsible citizens.
To sum up, I would say Environmental Education is good education, one that impacts the HEART, the MIND and the HAND. Environmental Education is the education about the environment, through the environment, and for the environment. Environmental education is education that makes a difference in how we live our lives and the world we will leave for the generations to come.
In a Nutshell
An environment crusader needs to wage a long and determined war to achieve something that positively impacts the environment.
Environmental education (EE) is more than imparting knowledge – it is values education.
EE in school has its limitations. Parents can do a great deal to make their kids think eco-friendly.
Environmental crusade begins at home and in little elements like waste segregation, carpooling, etc.
About the author
Meena Raghunathan is an environmental educationist and has worked for two decades at the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in India. Currently, she is involved in projects to enhance the quality of education in government schools, as well as preschool education and skilling. She blogs at https://millennialmatriarchs.com/