Can the learning environment in India's schools and colleges cope?
Last year, the Supreme Court of India had made environmental studies a compulsory subject up to the senior secondary level in schools. A two-judge bench of Justice N Santosh Hegde and Justice B P Singh appointed the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) the nodal agency to monitor how environmental education up to class XII would be implemented. In April 2004, the apex court approved a model syllabus NCERT came up with; for this, NCERT had consulted more than 500 institutions, state governments, the Central Pollution Control Board, individual experts and non-governmental organisations.
For students of class I to VIII, the subject will be part of the social science aspect of the syllabus. Students of classes IX to XII will study it as an additional subject. Separate marks will be awarded for this paper. The apex court has now asked NCERT to seek the opinion of the states on the model syllabus, before proceeding to implement it. NCERT is to submit states' opinion to the bench on July 23, 2004.
On another front, the University Grants Commission has made environment studies a compulsory subject for all under-graduate students.
Now that environment studies are poised to become part of students' lives, Ashish Shah of the Environment Education Unit, Centre for Science and Environment, saw fit to put some questions to eminent educators.
We asked the following questions:
Is this shift in educational policy -- that makes environment a separate, compulsory subject -- sustainable?
Is this change in the education department's stance towards environment a step in the right direction?
Is the educational system capable of sustaining this change in its spirit?
Who do you think should be the teachers of this new subject?
Environment as a separate, compulsory subject will develop capacity amongst future generations, but can our society and economy create enough applications?
"Our system can absorb such changes"
This shift in policy is a sustainable one. Also, governments have no other choice. Moreover, it is very important that our youngsters understand this subject. I believe the change in the education department's stance is right, for who else can take such a step?
Our education system can absorb such changes. Present teachers in both schools and colleges can teach the subject. Society must develop this capacity; there is no other way. If you want only growth without caring for environment that model will fail. We need to carry this message to every one concerned.
Professor and Head, School of Energy
PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore
"Close to the heart"
Environment studies will sustain itself, due to increased awareness and interest amongst students and society. This is a subject very close to the heart and soul of an individual. Without environmental education, no country can be ecologically safe. The system should manage, for environment studies has already been accepted by many countries, universities and governments. It must be taught by those who possesss at least a Masters degree in ecology or environmental science. Our society cannot create applications for environment studies. But the programme can be started with available infrastructure. It requires less money than any other science subject. The reward of this little expenditure will be immense.
suresh vir singh rana
Professor, Department of Environmental Science
Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh
"Such education is badly needed"
The policy has to be sustained because it has support from the judiciary. But infrastructure has to be develop. The syllabus should be localised, such that it must enable students to incorporate their surroundings into their study. In this way, the subject would become sustainable.
Environment education is badly needed. It emphasises natural resource conservation, pollution problems, flora and fauna and bio-diversity. Such issues must be conveyed from the primary level itself, because attitudes cannot be changed after secondary education.
Right now, the education system does not seem to fulfil the spirit. But in the long term, political will and society's willingness is required to perceive the spirit. The willingness of teachers, and students' willingness, also matters.
At primary level, Primary Teacher Certificate holders with specialisation in environment are desirable. For secondary and higher secondary levels,
b ed. holders with similar specialisation would do the job. Preferably, the teachers should be graduates with specialisation in the subject.
So far as applications are concerned, the battle between the environment and the economy remains forever. And developers and planners would always prefer the economy to the environment and conservation. So our future generations would not get enough applications, but they have to find the opportunities. They have to find the applications for better environment management and sustainable development.
Program Coordinator, Envirolegal cell,
Paryavaran Mitra, Ahemdabad
"Upgrade course content constantly"
The subject is sustainable. However, the course content of the subject would have to be constantly upgraded. Our education system till now has not shown such agility. Over time, the course curriculum must not become dogmatic in nature. There would also be a need to adapt the course content locally, especially in the school curriculum. Environment is not an abstract subject like mathematics, that it has the same content across the whole country. That said, the shift is a good one: a beginning had to be made in this direction.
I believe the current educational system is not in a shape to sustain the spirit of the change. It is highly dogmatic and non-experimental. There is also a fear that environment may be converted into one more technical subject, whereas environmental problems are also socio-economic and political problems. If that is not understood well, the purpose of the course gets defeated.
Teaching the environment is a multi-disciplinary activity. Teachers must be drawn from physical sciences as well as social sciences. However, the curriculum content does not include the social sciences content. Our society as well as economy may not survive for too long if environmental concerns are not taken care of. Hence, there is a dire need of environmental studies. However, the course has to be more broadly defined than than the manner in which it has currently been developed.
Professor, School of Planning, Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology, Ahmedabad
"No theoretical bias in the syllabus, please"
Sustainable development is important for humankind. Therefore the future citizens should be well aware of their environment and this can only be possible with the shift in educational policy. Introduction of this new discipline is expected to attract students because of the general awareness about the importance of the environment among today's youth. However, at present, job opportunities in this area of specialisation are rather limited and the government must take the initiative to create adequate employment in this field.
The direction is the right one, but it requires proper perception and thought, to be applied via case studies. This may be possible if institutions and organisations co-operate with the academician. Teachers can be from subjects related to the environment, namely science and social science subjects -- especially geography, chemistry, anthropology and sociology. An appropriate mix of the teachers from these subjects should constitute the faculty.
There are umpteen number of applications. It is the teachers' responsibility on how they project the physical and social environment to the future generations. The syllabus should not be a theoretically-biased one.
Department of Geography, University of Mumbai
"It depends upon sincerity of schools"
No, the shift is not sustainable. It depends upon sincerity on the part of schools. Remember it is the Supreme Court that is directing the effort. Personally, I don't think the education department is serious about it. The job can be done by teachers who are already in-service, if they keep in mind that the aim of teaching environment is not acquiring knowledge or passing an exam but to make our lives meaningful and sustainable.
Teaching this subject is not for creating employment opportunities. Employment should be viewed as only a by product.
Principal, Daystar School, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
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