Conservation Leadership through education in schools in Uttarakhand
The Taungya community given the proximity of their villages to the Rajaji Tiger Reserve are a key stakeholder and partner in WWF India’s conservation efforts. A key initiative over the past year has been the work undertaken on environmental awareness activities for schools and colleges located around the Reserve. WWF-India with the support of the Uttarakhand School Education Department launched the Ek Prithvi programme in five schools- three in Rajaji, including the NRST Centre and another two in Corbett, in April 2017.
The Ek Prithvi programme is designed to ensure that school students are prepared with requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes for the future they will inherit. It is designed to introduce them to the wonders of the natural environment, developing their commitment towards conserving it for a more sustainable future.
As part of this, teachers through training programmes have been handed the responsibility of developing the skills required for a sensitive approach towards the environment such as leadership, communication, effective thinking, decision making, problem solving and collaboration. The trainings also outlined the outcomes of the educational projects the teachers are expected to undertake as well as provide helpful tips on managing workshops for students.
Mr Atul Bamrada, teacher at the Government Model Primary School at Ganga Bhogpur Malla village, said, ‘The entire program is structured to be experiential - when you see eroded habitats or drying streams, the students understand that these issues are immediate.’
The curriculum for students consists of activity books and activities – such as the collection of leaves, sampling of water, creation of compost and quizzes. Their books are structured to reduce text and to engage. The learning occurs outside the classroom, and on days the students are inside, they write letters to their favourite animal, colour and label pictures. Eco-trails is an activity that brings the students and teachers together in the learning process.
Sonam and Kanchan, students at the Primary School learnt the different tails of birds using hand gestures on one such eco-trail, courtesy of the expert naturalist who was guiding the group. Another activity that brings the students and the teachers together, encourages asking questions. Students are encouraged to choose an animal and frame questions and seek answers from their community.‘If Animals Could Talk’ is an activity that uses role play to serve as a powerful tool to demonstrate to students the complexity of environmental problems due to the differing perspective of various stakeholders involved.
Students like Sonam are encouraged to create their own rendition of conservation messages. A play scripted by the students based on a conversation between a woodcutter, a tree, a tiger, a bird and an elephant brought out the idea of the impact of anthropogenic pressures onforests and wildlife are facing. Sonam, the elephant questions, ‘Why do they blame us for moving on land they have taken away from us?’ Her emphatic query is reiterated by the bird, Kanchan, ‘We cannot speak but we can feel what they feel – hunger, fear, pain. Why are they hurting us when we can work together?’ Laced with informative songs, the students made the message their own in these ways, and spread it amongst their peer groups on different platforms.
Pankaj Joshi, Project Officer asserts, “These students grow up in an area that witnesses cases of human-wildlife conflict. Therefore, it is pertinent to mould their perception to envision a world where humans and wildlife coexist.”
The role of disseminating information during the formative years of students is essential to create conservation leaders. Following the successful implementation of the activities, the environment education programme has now been scaled up and is being implemented in 21 select schools around Rajaji and Corbett tiger reserves, in partnership with the Uttarakhand Education Department. Nodal Officers appointed by the education department have been monitoring the implementation of the programme. Similarly, the Bihar Education Department has also been brought on board to implement the Ek Prithvi programme in 11 selected schools around Valmiki Tiger Reserve.