India’s growth story overlooks an environmental tragedy of great scale, one that may hamstring its aspirations of long-lasting and sustainable development. As a developing nation, India needs to be aware about its degrading environment and where better to start this initiation than at school?
In the quest to sensitise students towards nature preservation, eco-clubs have flourished in school premises. The student-run Salwan club has launched campaigns such as the Green School Project. “We have a recycle ‘lab’, we recycle paper and minimise waste. Each classroom has two dustbins to separate the biodegradable waste from the rest and we even have solar lights,” said Tushar Saini, a Class XI student.
For Ishita Malik, a DAV Gurgaon student and an active participant of the school’s eco-club, environment degradation is a daily concern. “Being an activist with the club, I tell my friends how to adopt eco-friendly habits and spread awareness as much as I can,” she said.
The impetus for change has to be youth-led. Indu Khetrapal, Salwan Public School’s headmistress, believes in the power of children to make a difference – not by words alone, but by action. “The need to create consciousness about the environment must permeate all ages and all sections of society, beginning with the child,” said Khetrapal.
Working on The Ground
The majority of schools encourage activities like poster making, tree plantation campaigns, recycling of waste materials and garbage and the production of street plays to increase awareness.
?The Shri Ram School, Vasant Vihar, was the first to implement rooftop rainwater harvesting in 1999, a practice that has since been replicated across the country in at least 2000-odd schools. “We took up rainwater harvesting when we realised that this was the only way to avert a crippling water deficit in the future,” said Madhu Bhatnagar, head of the environment programme.
Eicher School, Faridabad, has also emerged as a breeding ground for green activists. Starting as an environmental club in 2004 by a group of concerned students, Greene the Gene has metamorphosed into a global movement galvanising students and teachers from across 30 countries. Endorsed by the Ministry of Water resources, its Aqua Revival project, a water recycling mechanism, was implemented to provide clean water for drinking and irrigation purposes and has, so far, successfully recycled and reused over 850,000 litres per year.
?Students are participating in international forums as well. “ I travelled to Germany to attend a conference on sustainability, “ beamed Shvendra Mishra, Class XII student of Eicher. “The experience of meeting students from different backgrounds, all driven by interest in environmental issues, was great.”
DAV Gurgaon’s Green School Club runs a rigorous annual audit on water and electricity consumption conducted by students of Class VI to XII, to measure levels of waste within school walls. “There is a perceptible shift of attitudes”, confirmed Anita Makkar, principal. “Students are more careful and cautious when it comes to making efforts to reduce water and electricity consumption at school”. Today, her school boasts the Centre for Science and Environment’s Green School Awards 2013, awarded this April to recognise its efforts in natural resource management.
Students are transitioning from being passive observers to actors, even educating their parents to adopt eco-friendly behaviour. “I’ve taught my mother ways of using less water when washing vegetables and the benefits of switching room lights off,” shared Ishita Malik. “I don’t know if this makes me an actor of change but it certainly will contribute to preserving our environment.”