Our Nature, Our Land, Our People... Let Us Learn to Value and Conserve...

Dr Ganesh T, Senior Fellow at ATREE is a Conservation Ecologist and specializes on bird and small mammal conservation. He believes in proper and factual education of children and youth to foster conservation ethics in the young minds.

Abhisheka K, is a Senior Research Associate at ATREE and trained Visual artist and an ecologist. She uses her experience in field ecology and the medium of art to teach children about the environment. She is also an urban wildlife rehabilitator.

“Hey... what’s that? A black bird witha long tail had just moved in the bush. Sujay and his friends were looking around in the bush to identify it. This was the beginning of a 3 week Vacation Training Programme conducted by ATREE during the summer vacation for children to learn about and explore their environment.

The most convenient way to relatewith nature today is to watch television or pay an occasional visit to some natural area. Academically, children have to clear the Environmental Studies course, which may have limitations with relevance to the local environment and issues.

The Vacation Training Programme (VTP) on Bio-resources was startedby Department of Biotechnology (DBT), GoI in 2002. The idea is to expose school children to various fields and experts through a 3-4 weeks summer vacation programme in several cities in India with help from various partners. The program, besides focusing on promoting interest and knowledge about the natural resources andthe environment, also provides opportunities to acquire attitudes, values and skills needed to protect and improve the natural environment.

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) at Bangalore is one partner of theDBT and has helped conduct this programme since its inception. ATREE also ensures to expose students to various possible courses of study and enable them to choose future careers in related fields.

Advertisements for the VTP programme are circulated in all popular newspapers, online groups, websites, and personalised letters to schools each year in the months of February and March. Students are requiredto send in a write up as to why they wish to attend the course. Based on their level of interest, a maximum 30 students are selected.

The three-week course at ATREE involves lectures, field visits, assignments and project submission. The lectures are made using power- point presentations to hold the attention and interests of the students. Some of the topics discussed are - diversity of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and amphibians, issues related to bio-resource conservation such as wildlife living in cities, rehabilitation of displaced wildlife, waste management, sustainable agriculture, sustainable living and forest products, indigenous people living in the forests etc.

Field trips to places like Biligiri Rangaswamy Wildlife Sanctuary, Ranganthittu bird sanctuary and Butterfly Park in Bannerghatta National Park take the students close to wildlife and offer a chance to see them at close quarters. The observations impact students greatly to realise the importance of protecting natural habitats for the wild plants and animal.

The students are also exposed to field activities that make them learn new skills such as tree climbing to appreciate the tree canopies, map reading and navigation to orient themselves in a new landscape, sharpening observation skills by sketching birds and plants for identification, identifying plants, insects, diatoms, testing the quality of water and learning to read and taking latitude and longitude of a place using a Global Positioning System.

In addition there are movie sessions on wildlife and conservation which give students an opportunity to gain insights into some of the important issues related to the environment and assignments/ projects independently.

What has the course done to the young minds?

This course, running for severalyears now at ATREE, has proved tobe an eye opener to the students in Bangalore and surrounding areas, bringing them directly into contact with experts from various fields. It also gives an opportunity to learn hands-on about disciplines that students may have theoretical and textbook understanding of. The VTP helps students to look at issues, concerns and solutions from a very fresh and unbiased perspective that they may have thought is the domain of adults.

The immediate impact of the programme is ascertained from the feedback from the parents. Mostly parents reflect that the course is an important and useful way to spend a vacation. The parents also get to know and learn about bio-resources among other things that their child observed or learned each day. Each interaction brings some change in the routineat home. For instance, parents have reported purchasing clay idols, natural colours, practicing rainwater harvesting and composting at home.

The programme also helps build team spirit. At the end of the course the students build a network and wishto work together and collectively find solutions to societal issues/concerns. While some of the students have taken up courses in environmental science and related subjects, many are finding their own ways to build awareness in their residential areas or institutions.

Mythri, a student of the 2006 batch, pursuing her Masters in Ecology says “The VTP has been a great influencein my choice of a career. The network established during the programmehas strengthened my will and passion to continue working in this field. Sometimes, I refer to the notes and reading material that was provided during the course. I am highly grateful for the programme. The trainers have been an inspiration for me and are thorough mentors even after 5 years of doing the course”

Rohan Krish Menzies, a student of 2008 batch, pursuing his Bachelor’sin Environmental Science says “Itwas only after the VTP that I madeup my mind about what I would liketo pursue, what I would like to study and what kind of life I would like to lead. It changed my perception about wildlife and how to approach it. I learnt many interesting things on our field trip to BRT Hills. Many of those lectures still encourage me and I recollect the knowledge I gained during the course.”

“The VTP is an excellent platform for young and enthusiastic students to gain exposure to the work that is being done by many senior scientists and conservationists. I am sure that this experience, especially the time spentin the field will inspire many of the young participants to take up careers in biological research and conservation. Even for those who do not pursue careers in research or conservation, such exposure will make them more sensitive to research and conservation initiatives. Given the environmental problems and conservation crisis that we are currently facing, such programmes play a key role in informing and inspiring the younger generation.” says Dr. Ravi Chellam, Director - Research, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology.

There have been instances of parents joining the students in their campaigns. A few students also volunteer with organisations like ATREE and help in the research and outreach programs.

The programme makes the students think about the importance of environment and bio-resources in our life, no matter what profession or course they choose. This may be a small step but a very cost-effective initiative by the government to create future guardians of our environment and would ultimately reach out to the larger community to conserve our bio- resources.

For more information contact:
Dr T. Ganesh and Abhisheka. K
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment,
Royal Enclave, Srirampura,
Jakkur Post, Bangalore – 560064
Ph: 080-23635555 ext 219
Email: tganesh@atree.org, abhishekagopal@gmail.com

Vacation Training Programme
The National Bioresource Development Board, Department of Biotechnology supports the programme on Bioresource Development and Utilization.

Each year, the Department invites application from Universities, Research Institutes, Colleges, Registered Societies (NGOs) which are involved in active research, have equipped laboratories, and technical expertise on bio-resources/biodiversity/biotechnology to conduct the Vacation Training Programme for school children.

The programme is designed to train school children and enhance their awareness about the relevance of Bio-resources, and the relationship between Bio-resources and Biotechnology. The training programmes comprise of laboratory work, interactive lectures, individual projects, field visits etc. Each batch consists of 20-30 students.

Duration: Three to four weeks. Eligibility: Students who have appeared for class X examination

For more information visit: http://tinyurl.com/DBT-Vacation-Training


Sarvesh Srinivasan said...

I'm so glad that i came across this blog. I was one of the participants in the pilot VTP in 2002. I still have really fond memories of the time spent listening to lectures, participating in programs and visiting different organisations. I believe most of my beliefs connected to the environment have a strong basis towards this program.

Sarvesh Srinivasan said...

I'm really glad to have come across this post. I was lucky to be part of the pilot batch that attended this program. Till date I cherish memories of the lectures, discussions as well as field trips, where i was exposed to a huge number of topics. I now believe that my views and beliefs connected to the environment got its strong reinforcement through this month long program.
Hope many more students graduate out of this program.