Environment Education in the School Curriculum

Sanskriti Menon, Centre for Environment Education

Over the last few years, environment education in the formal school curriculum has been influenced by two national policy documents: the National Curriculum Framework 2005 of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the directive of the Supreme Court in response to a 1991 petition filed by Shri M C Mehta. The Supreme Court gave its final pronouncements on the matter of the writ petition in December 2010.

The key document illuminating the way forward for EE in the formal school system, as approved by the Supreme Court, is the Affidavit filed by the NCERT and which advocates the infusion approach. This means that an environment perspective is to be added to all subjects, from Standard I to XII. (See interview with Dr Jaishree Sharma, NCERT)

There are many advantages to the approach, since EE draws from the different subjects of science, social studies, maths, language, art etc. However, experts and practitioners point out a number of constraints as well, the main one being the lack of opportunities for synthesis of the learning that may take place in different subjects. Another major constraint is the lack of a common course at the XI and XII level which is taken by students of all streams into which the core content could be infused. This may necessitate a separate subject of 50 marks at the XI and XII level.

A letter dated 15 March 2012 from Ms Jayanti Natarajan, Minister of State for Environment and Forests to Shri Kapil Sibal, Minister, Human Resource Development, highlights the need for careful infusion as well as exclusive time and space in the school time table for EE. (see box) 

Dr Erach Bharucha, Director, Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute for Environment Education and Research agrees, “The infusion approach should continue as it is. In addition, there is an absolute need for a separate time and space for EE and ESD as a separate core module with its own curriculum, textbook, and exam system so that it is given the same sanctity and weightage that other major subjects are given today.”

According to Dr Jaishree Sharma, NCERT, infusion has been done carefully and systematically in the latest set of textbooks developed after the National Curriculum Framework, 2005. Key steps were orientation of textbook writers to the syllabus for EE that they needed to infuse and, after the textbooks were developed, a report of the content infused.

It remains to be seen how the different State Education Departments are able to implement the infusion approach. Given the importance of textbooks in Indian schools as the primary teaching aid, there is an enormous scope and need for some very creative textbook writing efforts that meet the challenge of infusion of environment and sustainability perspectives into subjects.

Dr Jayashree Bahulikar, member of the Board of Studies for EE of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education says, “We have been working over the past few months with the Boards of Studies of the different subjects. In this process we find that textbook writers typically feel that they already carry environment related content, such as poems and lessons on the beauty of nature. Firstly, they need to understand that the infusion now required to be done has to be of specific topics of the EE syllabus approved by the Supreme Court. Secondly, the traditional approach of textbook writing has to change. The idea is not only to provide information but to help students construct their own learning which is emphasized in the NCF 2005 as well as the State Curriculum Framework 2010 in Maharashtra. The textbooks thus need to help the students learn by doing and build upon the students’ experiences and knowledge. Thirdly, teacher training that takes place to orient about the new textbooks will also need to highlight the EE content in the different subject text books. Otherwise the point of infusion will be lost.”

Shri BMS Rathore, Joint Secretary, EE Division, MoEF, sees a lot of synergy between the efforts of the MoEF and MHRD for EE. (See interview with BMS)

Ultimately, the objective is to help students develop appropriate competencies for taking steps towards sustainability. For this, teachers need adequate capabilities for Education for Sustainable Development. These two critical aspects need to remain central to the efforts of all concerned agencies, even as the discussions continue on marks, grades, and time table space.

Need for ‘Exclusive Time and Space for EE’ in addition to Infusion Approach

Excerpt from a letter dated 15 March 2012 from Ms Jayanti Natarajan, Minister of State for Environment and Forests, to Shri Kapil Sibal, Minister, Human Resource Development, Government of India. 

“The infusion approach, in the absence of focused attention on Environment Education (EE) may lead to dilution of focus. Past experience shows that the EE in schools through infusion approach has only worked in cases which brought in some influences that had been external to the regular curricular teaching, and were focused specifically on EE. Studies that involved questioning teachers across the country on infusion approach to EE have shown that ownership for EE with subject teachers remains weak. The EE has often been taught in a completely fragmented way, in isolated and unconnected project-based activities in different subjects. Also, the assessment of EE under the infusion approach has remained problematic. The schools may continue to measure the EE content in the same cognitive manner, as they measure other subject contents, thus defeating the very purpose of EE.

This however does not mean that the infusion approach is to be abandoned; on the contrary there is an urgent need to provide for strengthening of the infusion approach, where content on Environment in different subjects could be dealt meaningfully. Exclusive time and space needs to be built in the school time table to translate the EE content into the EE experience, using project work, observations, and going out in nature, thus allowing learning beyond the confines of text books. A separate period to integrate the teaching and learning of infused content therefore is required. This would in-fact provide for an integrated and inter-disciplinary learning experience, that draws up on the infusion and other skills learnt through different subjects. Measures need to be developed to determine the adequacy of infusion and projects, quality of teaching and learning. The strategy to succeed needs capacity building of the whole school through trainings and materials.

The MoEF has key stake in EE, with more than 27 years of experience that has engaged state Nodal Agencies, Centres of Excellence and various associated expert institutions. It has a stake in keeping the priorities of environment and sustainable development at the core of education systems in order to keep the citizens aware of the concerns and actions required to resolve them. MoEF may continue to provide the expertise gained over the years, particularly with school systems, through programmes like Environment Education in the School System (EESS) and Strengthening Environment Education in the School System (SrEESS). The EESS targeted capacity building of teacher trainers, textbook writers and curriculum development. The flagship programmes of the MoEF like National Green Corps (Co-curricular Eco Club approach), offer great insights and opportunities to support universalization of EE.

The experience of MoEF in Environment Education, developed along with its Centres of Excellence, State Nodal Agencies and other institutions, can come to the fore to strengthen HRD Ministry and the NCERT in implementing the directives of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in letter and spirit.

I would therefore urge that the infusion approach to Environment Education be taken with utmost care. 
I assure you of my Ministry’s utmost support in treading a different path. This would go a long way in building up a leadership of children and youths on environmental issues that we face in the country.”

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