Developing countries face the dual challenge of ensuring rapid development and at the same time being responsible citizens of the planet. When much of the western world developed, environmental considerations were not of concern and the impact of their actions was not known.
Their rapid development essentially fuelled through fossil fuels led to pollution levels which were initially still manageable. Around 250 years ago the population of our planet at the beginning of the industrial revolution was a little over a billion. With the advent of modern medicines and better health care, death rates started falling and populations grew at much quicker pace. At the time several countries including India became independent, the global population was only 3.5 billion. But in the last 70 years, enormous increase happened in the pace at which the world population has grown. Close to 8 billion today, the population of the world and of India is four times of what it was when we started our modern development process.
India faces major environmental challenges with respect to the stress on its natural resources such as biodiversity and water and increased air, water and land pollution. All of these provide major challenges but also opportunities for development considering the path that India would choose to take. The development that is currently seen in the West with its high ecological and carbon footprint is not sustainable. Therefore, the developing countries simultaneously need rapid development, high population, increased aspirations and the need to protect the environment. We need to do this in ways which leapfrog the country to a more sustainable level of development than is visible in any of the models of developed countries today.
The September 2015 articulation by the United Nations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presented immediate targets that need to be achieved by the member nations. Most of these targets require behavioural change, change in aspirations and change in ways of thinking of ownership and sharing and the role of citizens. Decision makers whether in government or private sector need to consider the larger consequences of their actions. They too need to chalk new paths. This transformation therefore is not possible through legislation or technology alone. Education has to play a significant role in achieving the targets and creating the right frame of mind for critical thinking.
The Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) saw the emergence of ESD and brought together practitioners from all over the world to compare notes, innovations, and success stories. For a country like India, ESD goes back many years before the word Sustainable Development was actually used. Much of environmental education in India has a strong emphasis on developmental aspects. Realizing the need for education as an integral part of India’s environmental strategy, the Ministry of Environment and Forests created the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) to set the pace of EE and ESD simultaneously with the creation of the Ministry itself in 1984. The Ministry of Environment launched schemes such as the National Environmental Awareness Campaign (NEAC) in 1986 and National Green Corps (NGC) in 2001-02 for a national outreach. The National Environmental Awareness Campaign involved NGOs and schools in localized mass awareness campaigns adding up to a large scale of awareness programmes. As a part of the NGC, schools set up eco-clubs which get involved in co-curricular action in their school and the community. Over 100,000 schools are a part of the NGC network in India. CEE has been the Resource Agency in 11 states for the NGC since over 10 years. India's size and its diversity are both opportunities and challenges of environmental education. Much of the programmes and materials need to be translated in various languages to reach all groups of Indian society.
As a result of public interest litigation, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgement in 1991 making it compulsory for every formal education programme to have an environmental education component in it. Education being a State subject while a national curriculum provides the guideline, States develop their own textbooks. The National Centre of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) which frames the National Curriculum was given the task of monitoring the integration of environmental issues into the curriculum by the States. The NCERT in 2005 prepared the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), a comprehensive document to guide the process of integration of environmental issues in the formal education curriculum. Along with the textbooks, teacher training in ESD approaches and methodologies is critical.
Today, India faces a large challenge of cleaning up its rivers. National programmes are in place to focus attention on measures for interventions to clean the rivers. Large scale public awareness programmes to involve a variety of people in keeping the major rivers of India clean have been launched. The Namami Gange Swachhata Pakhwada is one such campaign that covers cities on the
Ganges river-bank in the 5 states through which the river flows. Through public meetings, events, rallies and outreach through radio and oi India, the campaign reached out to over 10 million people. Programmes directed at rural communities to save water and practice better irrigation reached out to 100,000 villages through over 8,000 young volunteers who organised dialogues with the village communities in each of these villages, engaging them in planning their water resources.
Some of India’s major campaigns currently are on cleanliness and hygiene at the urban level where the emphasis is on segregating waste, and decreasing the urban carbon footprint through initiatives on mobility. Air pollution has become a major issue in several cities and several campaigns creating awareness are organised. India has a long coastline and programmes preventing pollutants and plastic going into the ocean are underway.
CEE has involved students in taking positive action through its programmes in schools and with youth. The handprint has been one of the innovative ideas which have come out of this campaign in schools. CEE has developed locale specific teacher material, conducts trainings and has been a resource for the schools it works with. Along with the changing nature of challenges, educational inputs have evolved integrating the New Media into teaching-learning approaches.
Public consultations on key policy areas such as the BT Brinjal and the Coastal Zone Regulation are important milestones for ESD influencing policy in India. Policies focusing on the girl child, skill development for the youth, cleanliness, climate change and education are addressing key areas of concern in the country. Education has an important role to play in creation of an enabling environment for such initiatives.
This blog post was first published in a shorter version in the WEITBLICK in German.