India is one of the few countries where environment education is compulsory at all levels of formal education. The concepts introduced at school are centred on the need to conserve for future generations, halt resource depletion, reduce pollution, and protect wildlife, with very limited focus on the effects of greenhouse gases, impacts of chlorofluorocarbons, and other topics of immediate concern.
Be it the central (CBSE, ICSE, etc.) or various state boards, environmental education is limited to mere facts and figures, with little practical value. Consequently, students are unable to grasp the gravity of the issue. Specific environmental problems at the national and state, city, or district levels need to be emphasised such that students will be able to understand and relate to the issues. If you are talking about plastics in our water bodies, you’ll grasp the immediacy better if your school shows you a pond in your neighbourhood. Efforts to capture the complexity, interconnectedness, and various perspectives surrounding a problem—social, gender, economic, and ecological—will help steer students away from creating black and white scenarios of the problem, the drivers, and the solutions.
As world leaders gear up for COP26 – or the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference – India needs to move from environmental education to climate change and skills for a green future.
Going beyond textbooks
When students will realise how closely linked environmental issues are to their lives and future, they will be motivated to conceive solutions. To this end, students should be encouraged to get involved in citizen science and experiential learning initiatives. Citizen science introduces students to the rigours of scientific assessments and the difficulties associated with conservation efforts. One way of promoting experiential learning programmes is to award credits for getting involved. Another way is to introduce children to environmentalists, climate change activists and experts as icons, just the way Jawaharlal Nehru and M.K. Gandhi are studied now in books.
Although environment education is a start, there is an urgent need to introduce climate change as a topic of education in schools, as it is a global crisis lurking around the corner. Given that climate change is an intergenerational issue, there is a need to educate and build climate skills in students through environmental and climate education.
Teaching should go beyond textbooks to simulations, field trips, visiting environmentalists and inviting lecturers who can educate students about the ground reality – be it in India’s sanctuaries, rivers or city drainage systems. Museums are informal learning centres, and local science museums should be encouraged to tackle climate change in their exhibits.
Skilling up for green jobs
Realising the need for conserving biodiversity, arresting habitat loss, reducing pollution, and addressing climate change, governments worldwide have formulated ‘green’ plans for economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic. The European Green Deal, Indonesia’s medium-term development plan (2020–2024), and Colombia’s ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction roadmap are some such efforts. These measures demonstrate the commitment of governments to ‘build back better’ by transitioning to less carbon-intensive economies while conserving nature and creating green jobs. However, the successful implementation of these plans requires a trained and skilled workforce.
To develop climate literacy among students, the central and state education departments can start by including chapters on climate change in science and/or social science textbooks. The recently announced National Education Policy (NEP 2020) can be adequately modified to address this. Maharashtra is one state that has already incorporated into its higher secondary education topics related to systems thinking, population, knowledge growth, resource use, energy, and climate change. Other state boards need to follow suit. This will ultimately lead to the climate literacy of India’s nearly 25 crore school students studying in the country’s around 15.51 lakh schools. Even if half of these students take up climate issues seriously in the future, it will provide a huge impetus to India’s fight against climate change.
Climate education needs to be taken beyond the school level and into undergraduate courses of various disciplines, particularly technical courses. This will equip students with the skills and techniques needed for building a green-jobs-ready workforce (jobs that contribute to conservation and/or preservation and restoration of environmental quality), a green consumer movement, and an educated and engaged citizenry.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, green jobs are on the rise, and many young job seekers are interested in environmentally conscious businesses. This requires environment and climate literacy, training, and civic skills.
Green jobs are an attractive sector now. We need to start telling students that it is a valuable career choice early on – like young children are told doctors, engineers and teachers are good professions.
Movement to policy
Climate literacy and skills hold the key to addressing climate crisis. They will prepare the youth of today on a range of fronts—from holding politicians and policymakers accountable, to taking up green jobs that can stimulate green growth and economy. And it shouldn’t just be an urban project. Moreover, it will open up avenues for citizen engagement at every level—from green project demand to design, implementation, delivery, monitoring, and maintenance.
Students need to learn about successful environment movements in India, so they can see real change that comes through social movements. They can see the protest-to-policy effect.
Education will help nurture knowledgeable, environmentally conscious, and climate-skilled citizens. The awareness that comes with education will trigger more climate-sensitive behaviour at a personal level and lead to informed policy debates on better climate and environmental action. Incorporating environment and climate education into the core curriculum from school to collegiate level will equip India’s youth to chart a path towards a balanced, greener, and safer tomorrow.
The authors work at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a research-based think tank.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)
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