She doesn’t mind being on the college attendance blacklist and has even been pulled up for not completing her class assignments in the past.
However, not once has Ekta Pange, 20, a zoology student at Wilson College, bunked her nature interpretation lectures conducted by Ecofolks Ventures, where she enrolled for a certificate programme in 2010.
“In spite of having a long week in college, I always looked forward to the weekend lectures at Ecofolks, where we used to learn through field trips and went on nature trails to Tungareshwar, Vasai Fort and the national park,” said Pange, who completed the course last month and plans to take up a course in ornithology (study of birds) this summer.
Like Pange, many Mumbaiiites are honing their eco-conscience and making a serious bid to understand and study the environment. Enrolments at green certificate and diploma courses offered by nature groups and non-governmental organisations are on the rise.
“Over the last two years, people’s perception of the environment has changed drastically owing to greater news coverage and exposure to the dangers of ill-treating it,” said Dr V Shubhalaxmi, centre manager, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which offers five environment-based courses, including field botany, biodiversity conservation and marine conservation. “Our class comprises college students, professionals and housewives,” she said, adding that most of them have already had their encounters with the environment through their camera lens, books or on the internet.
Virendra Adhikari, 31, is a real-estate manager and an amateur photographer. The biodiversity course he pursued at BNHS in 2010 fuelled him to go out and shoot new plant and animal species. “With a hectic professional life, it was almost impossible to motivate myself to go out in the wild and click photographs,” justified Adhikari.
“It also felt great to get back to reading from notes and submitting assignments like a school student,” he added.
Swapna Prabhu, who heads the field botany course at BNHS, said the newfound interest in the environment could be linked to the changing mindset of the youth.
“As a child, I never thought of enrolling for an environment-related course because people would have termed my interest as strange,” rued Prabhu, adding that the new pattern of introducing environment studies at the school level was bridging this gap between old beliefs and fresh interests.
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS)
Within a month of their marriage, Vile Parle-based Nidhi Savla, 23, and Hiren Savla, 25, decided to take their passion for nature and trekking more seriously. They enrolled for the online leadership course in biodiversity conservation in June 2010.
“The online course was extremely flexible, we worked on our projects together and even went on weekend treks,” said Nidhi, a housewife, who along with her husband, a professional trekker, plans to organise nature trails for children in her locality. “The course exposed us to theory and the practical side of environment, making it simpler for us to impart our knowledge to the younger lot,” added Nidhi.
BNHS runs five educational courses. While 39 students registered last year for the Leadership Course in Biodiversity Conservation and 10 students enrolled for the entomology (study of insects) course, this year, the registrations are still trickling in. “Certain courses are extremely niche and specific, making it interesting only for students coming from a science background,” said Dr V Shubhalaxmi, general manager, education, BNHS. “However, with two courses available on the net, there is a sudden surge of young professionals, who have chosen to multi-task,” she said, adding that the weekend treks have now been made mandatory for students after a low turnout in the previous year.
Moreover, the course does not end with the declaration of results. “The students are asked to start a campaign to create a greater impact on the environment,” said Swapna Prabhu, who heads the field botany course. The students organised the ‘Save Rani Baugh Movement’ last year.
Zoology and biotechnology were subjects that always interested Nitin Wasnik, 35, an assistant professor at Ruparel College. In an attempt to branch out of the theoretical bonds of the subject, Wasnik enrolled for the year-long Certificate Course in Nature Interpretation (CCNI) in 2007.
“The course gave me a great deal of practical experience. I got to see species in their natural habitat instead of in glass cases in laboratories,” said Wasnik, who continues to be associated with Ecofolks, a non-profit group, and participates in their weekend treks.
“The Ecofolks Office project is my favourite. We were divided into groups and asked to recommend environment-friendly changes inside city offices after carrying out extensive research,” added Wasnik.
With environment experts such as Aadesh Shivkar, Dr Pardish Pandya, Amol Patvardhan and Anand Pendharkar on the faculty panel, Ecofolks has numerous courses that attract college students and teachers.
“The courses are meant to not just to create awareness, but also to ensure that we manage to keep our students hooked to the environment,” said Paresh Pimpale, who heads the organisation. “We plan to introduce courses in wildlife photography this year, considering it has already become a rage,” he said, adding that they also celebrate ‘eco-birthdays’ to encourage children to celebrate their big day in an eco-friendly manner and ‘fotothons’ where they exhibit nature photographs taken by the students.
The organsation guarantees employment. They absorb students to conduct nature trails for school students and others.
Even as the state education department has included environmental studies as part of the course syllabus in state-run schools, the exposure is limited to the classroom.
To create a new generation of environmental activists, Green Yatra, a non-profit organisation, has formulated a new course called ‘Go Green Kids’ from this academic year.
“It is a unique and innovative technique wherein we have opted for a retrograde approach to save our planet,” said Durgesh Gupta, director. “Children aged between 6 to 18 years will teach and inspire their families by going green in their daily lives.”
To encourage greater participation, the organisation has decided to give a cash prize of Rs 4 lakh, which is divided between the students and their schools to execute green concepts suggested by participants. They also offer educational scholarships.
So far, the organisation has tied up with coaching classes such as Ken Tutorials and Vivek Tutorials, and is planning to affiliate itself with Bhayander-based schools such as Mother Mary School, St Francis School, Abhinav Vidya Mandir.
“Students nowadays spend a considerable amount of time at coaching classes, making it easier for us to discuss green concepts and initiatives,” said Rakesh Sangha, owner of Ken Tutorials. “We have decided to organise lectures and meetings every weekend and during their school vacations, ensuring that the SSC and HSC students studying here do not disturb their school schedules.”
“We want to form the largest network of young students in India and the world that would not see environmental preservation as a chore, but would understand its importance and act willingly towards a greener present and future,” said Dr Pradeep Tripathi, executive director. “We plan to accomplish this feat through our campaigns, talk shows, events, dramas and plays, eco-natural picnics, tree plantation.”