Teaching sustainability at an early age

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How many of us wish we had learnt something different back in school? Something that would be immediately transferable and useful once we got out of there. What if we taught Book of Life in schools? What if “investing is for boys” is not the message we gave out to our kids. What if drawing was not just a separate class in school but a tool to help us learn? Oh how we complained what we taught was not practical enough.

As a matter of discussion, my husband and I pondered about how primary education should be based on values (Value Based Education). After a give and take of thoughts, we came to a conclusion that it is easier said than done. Not all children of schooling age have the understanding of life as we adults do, although prodigies exist. Minds can be molded and influenced, which makes it tricky because we all perceive things differently, both kids and adults. I ask you, ‘Should value based education be implemented in the school curriculum?

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

– Khalil Gibran

Research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology tells us how our brain learns. How we learn depends not on our IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but our LQ – Learning Quotient, making IQ a symptom and learning a process for one and all, fair and effective, and may be customized. The question therefore is, can kids be prepared for tomorrow’s world? What is a sustainable world of any use to the next generation if they don’t know how to live in it?

I remember how environmental education was imparted to my class. I say that with a sardonic smile because our class would write its paper with books on the table. The times when I actually learnt something was during our trip to a national park. Here, a few things were permanently etched on my mind: water lilies, vermi-composting, and Gir forest. Then there were a group of volunteers explaining my class the effects of CFC, HCFC and HFC on the environment. The hell I knew what any of these meant but I listened to them anyway. I got a general idea that these chemicals were harmful to the environment. I made my parents buy a CFC free refrigerator and it’s still operating at my home back in Mumbai.

If formal education can have such an impact on students, how far can informal education go? As a kid with limited resources I would get resourceful with waste paper and cardboard. Back then I even managed to sell a product for Rs. 2 to my friends. I don’t remember how I spent it. May be I gave myself a vada-pav treat, a popular choice of snack during school times. It was a small writing pad made from unused school notebooks. I feel good about recollecting this. I feel better when I think of how my mother nurtured exploration and resourcefulness in me. She once said this as she hugged me, “You can make gold out of trash.”

The world needs skilled parents who can lead by example. For instance, the kitchen gardening workshop that I attended, witnessed a daughter and father. I don’t remember who brought who, either way it was pretty inspiring. So much information has lost along the way, it’s time somebody brought it back. Primitive skills are as important as modern technology, says the apocalypse thinker in me. Wouldn’t you or the kids love to build a house using natural materials and without using modern tools? This man does and its fun to watch him.

An untapped potential exists for environmental education. In Japan, school kids follow precise instructions for their lunch period to become independent as well as green. This Japanese style student-led operation teaches students at an early age how to manage food and the waste created while consuming it, a contrast to the kids surviving off trash.

The Green Schools Initiative, founded in 2004 by parent-environmentalists, catalyzes and supports green actions by kids, teachers, parents, and policymakers to reduce the environmental footprint of schools by:

  • Eliminating toxics
  • Using resources sustainably
  • Creating green schoolyards and buildings
  • Serving healthy food and
  • Teaching environmental literacy and stewardship.

Such are the examples of how green habits can be inculcated to children. This is how parents can ensure their children will remain healthy and safe, with or without them. It’s easier now with tons of resources available for everyone to get this started. Here’s sharing some of them:

2 thoughts on “Teaching sustainability at an early age

  1. A great article, thanks for all of your research! I have a friend who is also a teacher trained in values-based education and we’ve been talking about ways to incorporate values with environmental education into curriculum…I will definitely check out these links, thanks!


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