Environment Lessons By Rural Kids in India

Riju Naik a student of Class VII is keen to know how solar energy can be tapped and used to power schools, homes, and factories, as he says rampant use of coal can increase carbon emissions and eventually harm our planet. Meanwhile, Pallavi Naskar of Class VI is aware of the importance of switching off lights and fans before leaving the room. Saving electricity is important, she tells her parents.

Riju, Pallavi, and their friends dream of a day when their remote village school, in Mograhat in South-24 Parganas, West Bengal, will be run by solar power. The students want to learn more about the environment they live in, and how they can conserve and protect it by using renewable sources of energy.

Far from the talk of sustainability, the environment, and the need to conserve it on global platforms, silent winds of change are starting to blow, in these remote villages in India. And the flag-bearers are young children, who attend special classes, beyond school hours, to know more about environmental conservation, climate change, rainwater harvesting, tree plantation, and 3R (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle), along with various sources of energy, with a special focus on solar energy to bring in sustainable development and change.

The classes are taking place as part of a CRY project Swachch Urja Ujjwal Bhavishya, supported by Vikram Solar Foundation, to sensitize the students and the larger community about renewable energy, environment, and climate change and leverage the subjects of science and math to educate students on the sustainable model of cheap clean green and reliable solar power. The project is being implemented on the ground by Kaajla Janakalyan Samity.

2022 tied for the fifth hottest year on record for the world, says NASA. It was the fifth warmest for India since 1901 when India Meteorological Department (IMD) started keeping weather records.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels across the world are the highest they have been in at least 3.5 million years.

In many parts of the world, people are facing multiple climate-related impacts such as severe drought and flooding, air pollution, and water scarcity, leaving their children vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. Almost every child on Earth is exposed to at least one of these climate and environmental hazards. Without urgent action, this number is likely to go up.  Approximately 1 billion children are at an ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of the climate crisis, says UNICEF. As climate change disrupts the environment, children are being forced to grow up in an increasingly dangerous world. This is a crisis that threatens their health, nutrition, education, development, survival, and future.

The priority today is to raise children as agents of change so that they become aware of the issue and gradually mold the community around them towards adopting renewable energy as a way of life, says Trina Chakrabarti, Regional Director, CRY (East).

Solar model by students

As part of Swachch Urja Ujjwal Bhavishya, two STEM learning centers are operating in two villages in Mograhat since last year, with 100-120 children in attendance. Classes are held twice a week at each center, beyond school hours. The children also attend sessions on sustainability and EVS. Teachers have charted out a special syllabus, keeping in mind the concepts and also the curriculum followed by schools. Frank and open discussions on various topics are further boosted by the specially-crafted Teaching Learning Material (TLM) tools, designed by teachers. The students prepare chart drawings and make hand models to have a better idea of the lessons they are learning.

Periodic assessments of the children are being held, to assess how much they are learning and what all needs to be done to boost the learning process.

The teachers at one of the centers are amazed at how quickly children have picked up the concepts and the eagerness which they are showing, to learn more. “Initially, many children were not too keen on attending classes. The prolonged closure of schools had completely delineated them from studies. But within a week or so, things started changing. They found interest in the topics that were being taught and in fact, they were the ones who convinced their friends to join the classes,” she says.

The parents too are enthused by the new concepts the children are learning. “A mother told me that her son had told her to stop using plastic bags because these were damaging the environment. I am happy that I could make children understand this very important issue.”

Project coordinator and supervisor Vivekananda Sahu is hopeful that things are moving in the right direction. “A student told me how good it would be if the enormous energy of the sun could be used effectively. This is what we are trying to teach them.  What the children are learning today, their parents will learn from them tomorrow. And soon enough, the awareness will spread in the community,” Sahu said.

According to the UN, the climate crisis is also a child rights crisis. It robs children of their ability to grow healthy and happy, and can ultimately cause illness, disease, and even death. Efforts to sustain a livable planet must not only account for the unique needs and vulnerabilities of young people, but they must also include them in the solutions. Children and young people have critical skills, experiences, and ideas for safer, more sustainable societies. On World Environment Day, it is our responsibility to groom them as ‘change-makers’ for the environment so that they can usher in a better tomorrow for themselves and the generations to follow.

Report/Edited by Joydeep Dasgupta | Date: 4th June 2023