Critical to focus on green jobs, entrepreneurship while teaching Environmental Studies

Necessary that teachers go beyond textbook to tackle challenges students will face in the world

By Pratik Phadkule
Published: Wednesday 19 October 2022
Photo: iStock

Focusing on ‘green’ job opportunities and climate entrepreneurship is critical while educating young people about environmental issues. It is important to make them aware of the imminent existential danger that we, as humanity, are facing.

Environmental education and education for sustainable development are some ways to educate school, high school, and college students in different countries worldwide.

The statutory body that regulates higher education in India — the University Grants Commission (UGC) — has taken an important step in this direction by introducing a compulsory Environmental Studies course after the Supreme Court of India’s directions.

Read more: World Environmental Health Day: Green issues need to be actively taught in schools, universities

The UGC designed a curriculum and a textbook was also prepared to teach the subject at the undergraduate level at all universities in India. This was, indeed, a very promising and progressive step in the right direction, although it faced difficulties in its implementation.

The textbook of environmental studies covers topics such as natural resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, pollution, population impact, environmental health, partially environmental law, sustainable development and ethics.

All these topics are important and form the basis of the multidisciplinary Environmental Studies course. But it is required that the teachers go beyond the textbook and include some additional relevant topics to tackle the challenges that students will face in the world.

Also, modifying the teaching methods of the course will be beneficial. It is also pertinent because many students have already studied these concepts in their high school curriculum and would, therefore, see this as a repetition.

These are some modifications needed in Environmental Studies course to make it more interesting and relevant.

Discussing the ‘green job’ opportunities

In June 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi commented that the Indian government is generating a large number of green job opportunities to implement decisions taken in the interest of the environment. However, these green job opportunities are rarely discussed.

There will be three million jobs in the renewable energy sector in the country, according to estimations of United Nations agency International Labor Organization. Not just India, there is going to be high demand for people trained in green skills.

Green jobs are not necessarily all technical jobs, but are available in a variety of roles and sectors.

Some of these roles are: Sustainability manager, wind turbine technician, solar consultant, ecologist and environmental health and safety specialist. There are less specialised roles that range from compliance manager to facilities manager and technical sales representative.

Read more: The greening of young minds

Students studying for undergraduate degrees are still in the process of deciding on a career path for them. Suppose teachers could give them an idea of opportunities in the green jobs sector. In that case, they could take an informed decision about their career paths and make meaningful contributions.  

Green and climate entrepreneurship

With green jobs, ‘green and climate entrepreneurship’ is another subject that has not been given due importance. Green entrepreneurship includes “green innovators and entrepreneurs to bring their best new thinking to market; new ideas, new business models and new technologies.”

It is rightly suggested that “if entrepreneurs can transform industries for the worse of the environment, they can and should be the ones to fight climate change. 

Young climate entrepreneurs are playing an essential role in India. Public policy think tank NITI Aayog also established the Climate Entrepreneurship Hub (CEH) to create an enabling environment for climate entrepreneurship and promote green innovation.

There needs to be a focus on climate entrepreneurship while teaching environmental studies at the undergraduate level so that students know the opportunities available to them and get inspiration from existing young entrepreneurs.

Inviting young environment and climate leaders to interact with students

All over the world and in India, it has been observed that young people have taken leadership to fight climate change and protect the environment. These young people are all less than 30 years old and have dedicated substantial time in the prime of their life to climate change and environmental issues.

It will be useful for undergraduate students of different streams to learn about their motivations, experiences and learnings to relate to their experiences and be motivated to take similar actions to protect the environment and mitigate climate change.

Use of case study method and field visits

Although an environmental studies course has been taught at the school level, generally, it has been taught as one of the seven or eight subjects to pass the examination. The objective of courses like environmental studies should be to make students aware of real-world situations and help them participate in finding a solution.

But most of the time, students are fed definitions, descriptions, facts, and statistics which they can memorise and reproduce in the time-bound examination.

Read more: Teaching children they will inherit the earth

When students get this course in their undergraduate degree, they have the same agenda of somehow passing the examination by writing memorised answers and getting done with it. If we want to change this situation, the teaching and evaluation methods need to be changed.

Rather than only lecturing them based on the textbook chapters, it will be useful to discuss case studies on specific issues, preferably case studies from India, so they could easily relate to them. Also, it will be useful to take students for field visits to places such as waste segregation centres, biodiversity parks etc.

While teaching courses such as Environmental Studies at the undergraduate level, one must remember the objective of introducing such a compulsory course. The vision statement in the textbook accepts that study of the environment has not received adequate attention in the academic programmes in India and this needs to be corrected.

The textbook categorically states a study of the environment and does not mention ‘Environmental Science’ as both are different. Teaching Environmental Studies does not necessarily require a degree in ‘Environmental Science’, but it definitely needs adequate knowledge of environmental issues, the ability to think and reflect and initiative and drive to fulfil the objective of this course.

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