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3. Environmental Education in India

I'd like to give you a basic idea of what education is in India. In India education is a free and fundamental right enshrined in the constitution for all children up to 14 years of age. Now that's a very strong statement if you look at it from its purest sense. In reality there are many children who still have no access to schools and education. Legally speaking education is free and compulsory up to 14 years of age. And it's in the constitution.

Under the national policy for education which was in 1986, the initially focus was making sure that children were getting admitted into schools. Government and NPOs just worked to admit students nonstop without following up as to what the rate of achievement was, how long they continued to stay in the schools, or what the drop out rate was. These things were never looked into. But now the focus is more on retention and achievement rather than on enrollment.

They also try to standardize education at different levels. For example the NCEIT (National Council for Education and Research in Training) is an institute that prepares school curriculums and textbooks for the whole country. This approach is a problem because you cannot have the same type of textbooks for the whole country in a country like India. There isn't too much point in teaching children about the desert ecosystem when you have children staying in a subtropical ecosystem, and vise versa. So now NPOs are trying to play a role in helping such institutions develop curriculum, textbooks.

Basically education is free and compulsory and interventions are needed. There are institutions working to develop such textbooks and trying to integrate local environmental programs and issues into the school system.

In terms of higher education, just to give you an idea, there are 207 universities in India, which are the central universities, besides these, there are also state run universities. Universities are under what is called the Union Grants Commission, which takes care of each of this.

When we talk about environmental education, like in many parts of the world, environmental education is not a program of the education department. Countries like Australia have a much more specific focus approach. It's a pioneer country in terms of environmental education, but in most Asian and South Asian and maybe even the larger Asian Pacific region, environmental education is still not with the ministry of education, but with the Ministry of the Environment or other related ministries. In India it is with the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Human Resource Development. These are the two ministries, which are pushing environmental education despite the fact that they have nothing to do with education.

Talking about the legalities, interestingly, just last week, in India, the supreme court of India literally had to force the states of India to have environmental education up to grade 12. Unfortunately, the judgment to have universal environmental education was made in 1989. Till today, it is not being implemented. So last week, the Supreme Court in a libel action sued many of the states. The suit included monetary fines to answer why states arae not doing anything about environmental education.

Unfortunately, environmental education is not a priority for education departments, or even teachers. For many teachers it is not a priority. It is an additional burden, an additional subject when teachers already don't have enough time to cover the regular curriculum. For many teachers environmental education is a science related subject. They don't realize that it is a subject that can be taught in humanities, art and in so many other ways.

So basically environmental education is like an orphan that is nobody's child. And when I say environmental education is like an orphan, I think it's even so in Japan. It's like an orphan that no one wants to say, "I'm the father," or "I'll take care of it." Everyone wants to show some charity so they look good in front of others. Everyone wants to be linked somehow in environmental education, but nobody wants to take full responsibility of it. For example the education department isn't yet.

In other experiences in India we have looked at environmental education from a number of ways. One is formal, which achieved very little. Sometimes you have textbooks and you have everything ready, but teachers are not trained to be involving themselves in environmental education.

There is also non-formal education and also a lot of environmental education activities that are donor driven. They don't have anything to do with the country's national policy or state policy, and some which are policy driven.

We will focus more on the non-formal and policy and donor driven activities as we go along.

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