6. Back to School

On the morning of March 22, 2011, I did something I haven’t done in years. I visited my school. It was World Water Day and I wanted to know how much do people care about the local water bodies. So I approached a few teachers that take Geography and Environmental studies (Miss Feeja, Miss Sangeeta and Miss Archana) with some questions.

But was I listening to them? Maybe not. While they elaborated on their versions of the story, I struggled to keep in check what Ripul, our faculty for research methodology would have called ‘the designer’s bias.’ Honestly, I wanted them to say the course is bullshit, which of course, they did not.

I had complaints. While environment studies is important, the present curriculum did not do much to sensitize me. My head was reeling with these thoughts- I know about some rivers of the country. The geography textbook even had a few from other parts of the world. But it had no mention of any river in my own city.

“I am completely ignorant of their existence and I have no clue what is ailing them, how am I expected to save it from dying?”

Who is to blame for this lack of awareness? Has this more to do with the misleading nomenclature- the city development & municipal authorities calling them nallahs and not rivers, people who design our geography and Evs textbooks that have general content but nothing about local water bodies, teachers who do not relate chapters in textbook with the environment around them or students who are simply not interested in listening?

And the knowledge of these teachers was also limited to what they read in the newspapers. Not knowing much about the local rivers themselves, how does that make them any different from the general public?
Environment studies is a graded subject that was made compulsory for the ninth and tenth standards. The classes happen twice a week for duration of half an hour. Miss Sangeeta said they have to struggle against time to finish all the chapters in the textbook. It would be better to have fewer chapters and more time allocated for activities. She agrees that EVS is a practical subject and cannot be taught in class. When teachers talk about the environment, the students can only visualize what the scene might be, and what they visualize may not be the same as what the scene actually is. But it is not feasible to take kids for outings because of lack of time, issues relating to money and transport and permission from parents. Why would anyone want to invest time for a graded subject when they are already burdened with other seemingly more important subjects they need to score well in?

Miss Feeja said that whenever possible, she tries giving examples from real life. For instance, the place where the school is located always gets flooded during the monsoons. The nallah behind always overflows and water from three directions accumulate there. The nallah was broadened by insistence of the local people there and the situation there has improved. Miss Archana adds that this year they are going to take students to a place called Keshav Shrishti and Adarsh Gaav (Ideal Village) for better understanding of nature and environment.

While some teachers might not be happy with the curriculum themselves, they do not proactively make an effort to approach the education board. Not many people encourage such initiatives and the entire procedure of getting things implemented is too long, said Miss Sangeeta. However she added that while this subject with all its flaws do not show immediate results, it may make a difference in the long run.
I saw a cupboard stashed full of Evs projects that the students have to submit as the part of the course. They were on various issues like Global Warming, Water Conservation, Sensitivity, Eco Friendly Products etc. A few students admitted on having copy pasted information from the internet. Miss Sangeeta said that she does not accept printed material, only hand written projects. Even if they take information from the net, they will at least retain something if they hand write it.

While flipping through a girl’s project, I had noticed a page with the title ‘my opinion’ where she wrote ‘Thanks to this project, I understood the real meaning of sensitivity…’ I left the school wondering and hoping that the girl really meant what she wrote.

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