In 1904, a young Indian boy took his first tentative steps down the corridors of London's prestigious Harrow school. Years later, when this boy went on to become India's first prime minister, Harrow knew its India connection had been sealed.
Now, students and teachers from eight schools in Harrow — a borough in London — will visit seven top schools of Kolkata this year as part of a joint initiative of the UK government and West Bengal's School Education department.
The focus of the three-year programme is environment education, which was made mandatory in secondary schools after a Supreme Court directive last year.
"The selected schools will collaborate on environment projects for three years. Students of classes VI, VII and VIII will be taught to keep their environment clean and will take up environment projects — something students of Harrow schools routinely do", Sudeshna Banerjee, one of the coordinators of the project and a teacher of Sakhawat Memorial Girls' High School told the Hindustan Times.
Schools in Kolkata have environment education as part of their syllabi but it has never been taken seriously. For students, environment classes are a good time to have some fun. Schools say they have been unable to take it more seriously as funds were a problem.
"Government schools depend entirely on the state for funds. With the little resources that are available to us, we can at best organise an occasional Banomahotsav but we need more money to carry out projects like soil testing, rainwater harvesting and so on. This initiative will provide us the required funds," said Rupak Hom Roy, principal of one of the participating schools. The UK government is expected to spend 12,000 pounds on the programme.
Most heads of schools, however, say that the two countries face different environmental concerns. "We have problems like littered streets, faulty sanitation, arsenic poisoning and so on. But for students of UK, the issues are mostly global," said Banerjee.