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  • Nishant Shah

The Green Response- developing Eco – Schools Prototyping an eco-friendly ecosystem

How Dare You!!! Remember how Swedish teenage Environment activist Greta Thunberg caused a stir at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2019 with her blistering criticism of world leaders' inaction on climate change. We saw how the entire world stands up to notice if a child takes charge and leads from the front. She forced the adults to question themselves and think about their methods and attitude towards handling these environmental problems. If one child can do this then imagine if the majority of children get awareness about the environment then how effective and huge change they can bring about. But it has been almost 2 years since then, and we, as a planet, still are standing in oblivion on from where to start?

India has the third heavier ecological footprint in the world and its resource use is double its bio capacity. The total ecological footprint of India is heavy because of its population of over 1 billion people, which is a seventh part of the global population. Looking at the way the climate change is affecting seasonal change, something needs to be done. After all, it isn’t wise to let things deteriorate around us and be spectators to our own deaths due to steadily polluting environment. The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) was recently organised by the United Kingdom this year in October and experts across India and world have high spotted schools, colleges and educational institutes to be hub of environment reforms that holds the key to trigger a steady and widespread change. The experts have re-iterated that amidst the hue and cry about saving the planet,  children, being the future policy makers of this planet, needs to be trained and empowered enough to hold the eco baton firmly for all of us.  

Eco – Friendly schools – Baby steps towards sustainable eco-living

So, while we first agree to go eco – friendly is the need of the hour, it is also important that just conducting seminars, writing thesis, switching off the light while going out, or closing the water tap after use or waste segregation shall not help. We need to have a practical, holistic approach that influence how communities, businesses and individuals conduct themselves. Reflection is also needed regarding the relative importance of environmental education in schools, not only with respect to curricula but in lifestyle, in action and in thought processes. 

While schools remain the hub for bringing in change and larger impact in the society, the concept of Eco-schools were taken as pioneering model to teach and give children, a hands on experience on how to develop and sustain an ecologically sustaining world. Influencing children at an impressionable age can actually be a game-changer. To instil a sense of care, it’s significant to build a habit of precaution for an environmentally sensitive society. Taking the first baby step to change the way we live, we can make students as our agents of change and schools as the ground of experiment. We here are suggesting to go for ‘Eco-schools’. To encourage children to engage with their environment, eco-school is an initiative that allows them to actively work develop, run and sustain it.

The concept of Eco – schools resides on making young learners into responsible citizen towards sustainable, eco – friendly lifestyles while making a way for schools to embark on a meaningful path towards improving the environment in both the school and eventually to the local community. Starting off in the classroom, the initiative expands to the school and ultimately fosters change in the community at large. It is also about having a life-long positive impact on the lives of young people, their families, school staff and local authorities.

What can be done?

India is one of the few countries in the world where environmental education is compulsory at all levels of formal education. While environmental education has become an essential part of our education, combating climate change requires an educational response that goes beyond the curriculum. Reflection is also needed regarding the relative importance of environmental education in schools, not only with respect to curricula but also in terms of the opportunities it creates for students and the impact it has on the physical and cultural environment.

Students should be given opportunities to develop prototypes that tap renewable sources of energy like the sun and wind and design contraptions that use the mechanical energy of a moving bicycle to charge a rechargeable battery. We also saw this in the climax sequence of a famous Bollywood movie too. 

Not just creating or installing infrastructures that promotes use, re-use and recycling of energies, children should be empowered to assess the impact of the intervention too. Like to calculate how much water was saved after installing rain water harvesting structure in school? Or how much electricity was saved after equipping the building through solar panels? That’s where the ‘WHY’ is answered. 

No plastic, No Sound, No Vehicle zones are some of the easy steps, a school can pick up without any hassle. Adding to it, waste management, waste water management, recycling or up cycling of papers, plastic can be an easy interventions. Self-sustenance quotient can be criteria of evaluation like making their own electricity, growing own food in nutrition gardens, compositing through bio-waste; make utensils through wastes, recycling water for sanitation etc. 

Not just installations, but monitoring & evaluation of the intervention are of equal importance. Schools can develop and empower Green Committees, develop Green Ambassadors, Pollution Control Boards, whose members should be chosen, remunerated and promoted on the basis of an ‘Annual Eco-footprint report’ of the school. The SOPs and policies of Green Committees should be technically sound, which should produce some cognitive and quantifiable numbers to assess the performance. 

The curriculum should not just ‘talk’ about the environmental issues, but making it more practical and reflective, equipping teachers with the right tools and training in environmental pedagogy, partnering with the community and valuing students' voice, which will help us develop an education system that combats more than just climate change.

Schools should adopt UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) to inform discussions in Model United Nations Conferences. School-wide projects around UNSDG no.13 (Climate Action); programs like an annual energy audit will ensure to take active action to curb fossil fuel use.  It is evident that options are many and easy, but it’s the first step that shall count. 

The larger Impact 

The net-zero emission targets by the years 2050, 2060 and 2070 that are being pledged by governments across the world certainly require that we dramatically switch to greener sources of energy. Eco – school is itself a journey that shall make child into an ecologically sensitive and responsible citizen. It’s a simple experiment, where the schools are turned into prototype of an eco-system, and children are gradually trained to make it sustainable, eco – friendly and happier at the same time.  Imparting environmental education skills in schools will help them shape and sustain future policymaking. Nurturing critical thinking and problem-solving skills are the bedrock of progressive education. Environmental Education can become the medium that delivers these goals in a manner that is meaningful to society and humankind at large.

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