The speech delivered by Shri Suresh P. Prabhu, Hon ble Union Minister for Environment & Forests, on October23, 1998 at the State Education Ministers' Conference convened by the MHRD at New Delhi during October 22-24, 1998, is presented here.
I am indeed delighted to be here today to share with you all some ideas, concerns, hopes and strategies relating to a subject that is very dear to my heart, and which my Ministry wants to intensively pursue, namely, Environment Education. All of us accept that education is the single most important factor in influencing the behaviour of individuals. The significance of educating individuals on environment can hardly be exaggerated. I would even go so far as to say that Environment Education is the core concept on which the larger concept of sustainable development is built, since in the ultimate analysis it is the behaviour of human beings whether as Government functionaries, private entrepreneurs, consumers or ordinary citizens and individuals which will reverse the trend of environmentally unsustainable and socially deleterious development.
The roots of Environment Education can be traced back to the times of primitive man itself. Conservation, protection and preservation of the environment have been the corner stone of the Indian ethos, culture and tradition. Our wealth of literature, scriptures and folklore are replete with examples which indicate that our ancestors were environmentally conscious. They not only advocated, but also practised sustainable usage of resources and disseminated these difficult concepts among the masses through many social customs, myths, taboos, tradition and religion. For example, all of us know that the plant Tulsi is venerated by most Indians. The basic idea behind this could have been the recognition of the environmental and medicinal importance of this herb by our ancestors. The five elements of nature - land, water, air, fire and space or atmosphere - were also worshipped by our ancestors. This certainly helped create a respect among the people for these resources, eventually leading to their utilisation in a sensible and careful manner. Can there be a better way of educating people about sustainable use of resources? Is this not environmental education? Thus, in traditional societies, environmental awareness and education came from everyday interaction with the natural surroundings and was an integral part of the learning that parents handed down to their children. However, with the onset of the industrial revolution resulting in alienation of societies from the natural environment and with changing social relationships, this kind of education has ceased to be a part of the natural learning process. In today s world, in our race for progress and prosperity, we tend to attach a high value to knowledge which can help us in achieving short-term material gains. This trend has to be changed and there is a need to fall back upon our time tested theories of living in harmony with nature. This has necessitated the initiation of special efforts to impart Environment Education.
Concern for environment has been enshrined in our Constitution which enjoins the States to take measures to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country . It also makes it a fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have ecological compassion for the living creatures .
The National Policy on Education, 1986 (NPE), states that Protection of the Environment is a value, which along with certain other values, must form an integral part of the curriculum at all stages of education. Para 8.15 of the policy states: There is a paramount need to create consciousness of the Environment. It must permeate all ages and all sections of society - beginning with the child. Environmental consciousness should inform teaching in schools and colleges. This aspect will be integrated in the entire education process. The national system of education, as defined in the National Policy on Education 1986, visualises a national curricular framework which contains a common core including several elements having direct bearing on the natural and social environment of the pupils such as Protection of Environment , Content Essential to Nurture National identity and Inculcation of Scientific Temper . These core areas are expected to occupy a place of prominence not only in the instructional material, but also in the classroom and out-of-school activities. In addition, the curricular area related to work experience, popularly known as Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) is to be reorganised to introduce a rigorous and systematic gradation in the programme with the provision of direct participation of children in environment related field programmes such as planting and caring for trees, environmental sanitation etc. Thus, Environment Education has certainly received a sharper focus since the adoption of the new policy on education.
There can be no doubt in anybody s mind that our country has made a major commitment to Environment Education. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) at the Central level and the State Governments and the SCERTs have, through various initiatives, tried to translate this commitment to concrete action at the ground level. Several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) across the country have also taken various initiatives and pioneered innovative Environment Education programmes - both in formal and non-formal streams - in different parts of the country.
Since Environment Education is a life-long process touching every member of our society - young and old, literate, employed and unemployed - an all inclusive approach encompassing formal and non-formal methods of imparting Environment Education is essential. Realising the importance of educating each and every citizen of the country about environmental issues, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, since inception, has been giving considerable thrust to the promotion of non-formal Environment Education among all sections of the society to make it really a people s movement. Several major programmes of the Ministry such as the National Environment Awareness Campaign, Eco-clubs, Paryavaran Vahinis, production of audio-visuals on environment, setting up of Centres of Excellence on Environment Education, etc., are aimed at sensitising the people of the country to environmental and developmental issues. However, there is a growing feeling that there is a tremendous need to bring about a significant and perceptible change in people s attitude towards environment.
Since taking over as the Minister for Environment and Forests, I have had several opportunities to discuss various aspects of Environment Education with a wide range of people. These discussions have reinforced my feeling that although several initiatives have been taken both by the MHRD and the MOEF for creating environmental awareness amongst the people and sensitising them to the environmental issues, adequate attention is still not being given to this subject. While non-formal methods of Environm today are the citizens of tomorrow, any initiative taken in educating the children will pay the country maximum dividends. I feel that the whole approach to Environment Education needs a drastic change, not just in the contents but more so in the teaching methods. The present approach which is heavily dependent on the book learning and chalk-and-talk method needs to be generously supplemented with practical hands-on and outdoor/field activities. For example, while teaching about water pollution, isn t it better to actually let the children see for themselves a badly-polluted stretch of river and check the water quality themselves, using simple water testing kits which are readily available? Similarly, instead of simply talking about biodiversity, which is an abstract concept for children, I should think that it would be more interesting and effective if the teacher takes the children to a park/natural area close by and initiates/encourages an interactive process in which the children learn through active participation. In the same way an actual visit to a slum - of which the city of Delhi boasts of several - will leave a lasting impact on the young minds and set them thinking about the various inter-related factors such as health, hygiene, pollution, waste disposal, state of the environment, etc. These kind of teaching methods will encourage the students to ask questions such as: What causes water pollution? Why was DDT banned? How and why are slums formed? Why are species increasingly becoming extinct? Is modern agriculture sustainable? etc. I am sure you will all agree with me that our present methods of teaching do not encourage such interaction between the students and teachers.
To address these and other issues, several rounds of discussions have been and are being held between the MHRD and my Ministry and our associated organisations such as the NCERT, the Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad, and eminent educationists, environmentalists and academicians. Based on these discussions, an outline of a strategy has emerged which, I feel, can give us a good start in our endeavour of making Environment Education in schools more effective, purposive and locally relevant. This strategy has been described in the Discussion Paper which has already been circulated amongst you. I shall take this opportunity to share the salient points with you as I fully realize that implementation of this strategy is squarely dependent on your endorsement and support.
The NCERT has developed syllabi, curricula and text books incorporating environmental concepts at all levels of school education. I am given to understand that while some States are using these in toto, other SCERTs have made their own attempts at infusing environmental concepts into the school curricula. I wish to take this opportunity to request you as Education Ministers of the States to get a review conducted in your respective States and see to what extent the NCERT syllabi and curricula needs to be adopted or adapted suitably in your States. Your efforts in this direction and suggestions and ideas for strengthening the infusion approach to Environment Education shall greatly help in our endeavour of making Environment Education more relevant and practical.
In every discussion relating to Environment Education, one of the points that has been raised time and again is that of teachers' training. Almost a total lack of pre-service training in Environment Education and inadequate in-service training have been identified as significant factors in the way of effective Environment Education. I am aware of excellent work being done by the District Institutes of Education Training (DIETs) in in-service teacher training. There is, however, an urgent need to introduce Environment Education components in these in-service training programmes. If we want the teachers to adopt the activity oriented project approach to the teaching environment pro-actively, we have to prepare them to become Environment Education facilitators. The Government of Maharashtra has taken up a State- wide massive and rigorous training programme for primary teachers since 1997 for training in competency based teaching and learning. I understand that one session has been devoted to Environment Education in this programme. I am sure that other States too would have taken similar measures to address the crucial issue of teacher training. There is room for vast improvement in this area and the role of State Government would be of utmost importance in this. While some specific activities that can be initiated immediately have been mentioned in the Discussion Paper, I would like to particularly stress upon the inclusion of Environment Education in the DIET and B.Ed programmes in all the States.
I am particularly keen to see that environment is introduced as a separate discipline in the middle and higher levels of school education. No environmental issue can be dissected into seemingly different components and each component allotted to a different subject of study, under the assumption that by covering the parts, the whole is covered. The whole in Environment Education, is more than the sum of the parts. The infusion approach that we have been following so far has failed to take into account this aspect, which is why this approach has not had the desired impact. I am aware that introduction of an additional subject will, no doubt, add to the already considerable burden of the school children. However, I am hopeful that with proper teaching methods and aids about which I have spoken earlier, the subject can be made interesting, useful and not simply burdensome. I would like this matter to be examined with an open mind by the experts of the Ministry of HRD and my Ministry would be glad to associated itself and I would very sincerely await the outcome. I am happy to inform you all that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra has already made an announcement that Environment Education would be introduced in the school curriculum in the next academic year in the State of Maharashtra. The details of this are being sought and shall be shared with all those who are interested. This is an issue which needs to be deliberated amongst all and I hope that you will use this occasion to discuss this important issue.
I must also touch upon a major factor in our schools influencing the attitudes of both teachers and students. I am talking about examinations and evaluation. Since our education system is heavily examination oriented, we need to develop and put into place appropriate test instruments for the subject Environment . Not much work has been done on this aspect so far. Systems need to be created to ensure that the student goes through a minimum number of out-door and non-formal learning experiences besides the classroom teaching. These systems can be both compulsory and optional. One example of such a system can be a requirement that each child has at least one camping experience and the option of joining a nature club in his/her school. I am sure that there are many such examples which our educationists can come up with.
Lastly, I would like to touch upon one of our country s great strengths, namely - the NGO movement in the field of Environment Education. There are a large number of NGOs which have been functioning either in isolation or in collaboration with the Central or State Governments to see that awareness about environmental issues is created amongst the people. Some NGOs such as the CEE, Ahmedabad, CPR Environment Education Centre, Chennai, the Uttarakhand Seva Nidhi, Almora and Ekalavaya, Bhopal - to name a few - have been successful in devising innovative non-formal methods for imparting Environment Education within the formal system. These are being carried out in schools through active collaboration with the State Departments of Education (SDE). I would request you all to identify such potential NGOs/institutions in your State and involve them in developing similar programmes. This NGO energy must somehow be harnessed so that the efforts of the Central and State Governments are supported and supplemented. The MHRD and my Ministry have been interacting with a large number of NGOs and have benefitted substantially from such collaborations. I strongly urge the State Governments also to forge a lasting relationship with local NGOs as they can implement educational programmes more effectively.
In conclusion, I would like to state that the many initiatives taken oven the past 15 years by the MHRD, MOEF and the State Governments coupled with the experience and expertise gained by the NCERT, the SCERTs and other institutions in the area of Environment Education, along with that of voluntary organisations working in this area, provide a strong base for strengthening Environment Education in schools. The time is now ripe to consolidate and strengthen these initiatives and provide a new thrust and orientation so as to make Environment Education in schools more meaningful and effective. It is necessary to focus upon the formal education system in the country since it offers a tremendous opportunity for moulding the children into environmentally conscious citizens and help in achieving the goal of sustainable development.
These are some of my ideas and suggestions regarding Environment Education. I thank the Ministry of Human Resource Development for inviting me to address an eminent audience such as yourselves who are the key players in taking Environment Education to each and every corner of the country. The discussions and deliberations would, I hope result in, among other things, the development of an innovative, practicable and effective strategy for making Environment Education an interesting and useful part of the school curriculum. I look forward to receiving your cooperation in revitalising Environment Education in schools. On my part, I assure you of all the possible cooperation from my Ministry in this effort.