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

Supreme Court in 1991 had directed environment be taught compulsorily at every level of education

By Pratik Phadkule
Published: Monday 26 September 2022

As the world celebrates World Environmental Health Day on September 26, we must remind ourselves of the need for environmental awareness in all ages and in every section of society. 

The Supreme Court of India, while hearing MC Mehta vs Union of India case in 1991, had given directions that environment should be taught as a compulsory subject at every level of education. It had also directed University Grants Commission to “prescribe a course on the environment as a compulsory subject in college education.”

Read more: World Environmental Health Day: Let’s strengthen environmental health to implement SDGs

After its directions in 1991, the Supreme Court exhorted multiple times to implement its directions across the country, but its implementation remains uneven and inconsistent throughout the country

In its judgment, the SC had taken cognisance of the rising population and pollution. Since 1991, pollution has worsened in India and reached levels of a public health emergency

India’s sacred rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, are getting polluted at an alarming rate as well as other rivers in urban areas such as Mithi (in Mumbai) are dying due to pollution and urbanisation.

It is also important to look at India’s ranking in the environmental performance index (EPI) released in 2022 by Yale University. Of 180 countries ranked in the EPI, India stands at the bottom. Against this backdrop, the need for environmental awareness and education for all the population has become more necessary than ever.​ 

The role of school-going children and university students is more significant as they are future policymakers and professionals in different fields who can find sustainable solutions to overcome these issues. 

It is pertinent to see what steps are being taken in order to make the school and university students aware and seek their participation in protecting our environment. 

The National Policy on Education of 1986 explicitly talks about the ‘paramount need to create a consciousness of the environment, which must permeate all ages and all sections of society beginning with the child’. It recommends integrating environmental consciousness into the entire educational process. 

Read more: A river ruined: Are India’s mining laws deterrent enough?

According to the National Policy on Education of 1986, National Council for Educational Research and Training acknowledges that environmental studies has been inducted into primary, secondary and higher secondary stages. 

However, even if environmental studies has been included in the syllabus at the school level, the reality is that there is no active learning in the classrooms. The subject is taught as a set material to be memorised through teaching in the classroom instead of being pursued by students on their own with an open mind.

Protection and conservation of the environment is our collective responsibility. Children and youth today have an important role to play in it.

Also, because children and youth spend most of their time in the classrooms, school and college campuses, teachers, school and college administrators have a major role to play in making students aware of their role in protecting and conserving the environment.

It is important that the schools and universities in the country should implement the directions of the honourable Supreme Court in letter and spirit.

The subject should be incorporated into the syllabus in the schools, but it also should be taught so that students could be exposed to their social and natural environment, could analyse and draw inferences about environmental problems and also they could take environmentally positive actions, however small. 

The schools and universities should facilitate learning by doing for students by allowing/encouraging students to undertake practical projects to learn about the environment. 

The school and university administrators should also encourage teachers to undertake such projects with students so that students could learn by doing actual tasks rather than listening to classroom lectures and memorising textbooks. 

Schools and universities should also seek the help of organisations/experts working in this area such as the Centre for Environment Education under the Union environment ministry and non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

In this context, it will be pertinent to look at the initiatives such as Green School Program by CSE. This is an environmental education program for school children through which it conducts an audit of the school campuses for natural resource consumption and helps schools adopt good practices to reduce the wastage of natural resources. 

Read more: 58% of human infectious diseases can be worsened by climate change — we scoured 77,000 studies to map the pathways

School children play an active role in conducting this audit by conducting hands-on activities. 

The colleges and university campuses should also play their part in adopting sustainable practices by auditing the campus buildings and infrastructure for its resource consumption. Green Campus Initiative by CSE is one such initiative, which aims at developing sustainable practices among students and teachers on university campuses. 

Considering that there are 993 universities, 39931 colleges and 10725 stand-alone institutions in India, the scale of positive change that the educational campuses can bring is enormous.  

Further, it is also important to note that the draft National Education Policy, 2019 will be a guiding document for education in the country. Unlike the previous education policy, it does not make explicit reference to environmental education/consciousness, though it talks about Sustainable Development Goal 4 and the objective to align the education policy with it. 

It is important that NEP should include a section on Environment Education with special emphasis on the role of schools and universities. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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