The education for environmental awareness is essential for the young generation as well as for the older generation. It also needs to cover both urban and rural populations. The beneficiaries at the grassroots level are as much a clientele for environmental education as are the policy makers, the decision makers and the project implementers.
Hence, environmental education needs to be conveyed to these different categories of people through formal education systems, non-formal education systems and the use of mass media.
I) Among Students Trough Education
Education in India is mainly a state subject and the responsibility is that of the Ministries of Education at the Centre and the States. The education system is divided into two major stages, namely, school and university education. Let us see what is the place of environmental education at these two levels.
Four components are required to build up the social awareness about environmental education at the school level. These are awareness, exposure to real life situations, concepts of conservation and sustainable development. These four considerations can be further adjusted in terms of the requirements at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels.
Awareness involves making the individual conscious about the physical, social and aesthetic aspects of environment. One has to appreciate the fact that man is only one of the numerous species on earth and is linked with the life support systems with six elements: air, water, land, flora, fauna and sunlight. These elements are crucial to the well-being of human kind as well as other species.
Real-life situation bring men closer to the environment. These conditions are location-specific, with different environmental aspects being emphasized in different states. For example, states like Maharashtra and Karnataka may need the emphasis on air and water pollution due to industrial wastes, while the students in the Himalayan belt would need exposure to real-life situation related to the negative impacts of deforestation and grazing. Agriculture based areas may lay emphasis on pollution due to agricultural practices.
As far as conservation and sustainable development are concerned, the main focus would be on utilization of resources and not on exploitation. Utilization stands for long-term sustainability of the resources. As contrary to the earlier notion of resource like water, soil and air being unlimited, the emphasis would be on their finite nature and thus the limits to the growth of living systems.
Sustainable development aims at utilization of resources by not only the present generation but their preservation for the future generations also, so that life can be sustained for a long period of time. Population growth and planning also form a part of this thinking.
At primary stage, emphasis will be more on awareness followed by real-life situation and conservation. This would prepare the child to understand the need for sustainable development at a later stage. Attempt will be only on sensitizing child to environment.
From the lower secondary stage onwards, the focus on awareness will begin to decrease in favor of increased knowledge about real-life situations, conservation and sustainable development. And at the higher secondary stage, the conservation will get a priority over other factors. The methodologies will range from observation to practical experience and action-oriented feedback. Khoshoo (1986) has summarized the school as well as college education on environment.
For the school stage, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has done substantial work in designing syllabi, developing suitable text books and support materials like guide books, charts and video tapes.
Environmental education at this stage is being looked after by the University Grants Commission. At present, environment finds a place only through the biology courses and there is no holistic approach. University education has three major components-teaching, research and extension, the last being the weak link.
The various aspects about environmental education which can be emphasized at the post-graduate level are grouped as follows: environmental engineering including subject like architecture, civil engineering, town planning including human settlements, slum improvement, industrial design, conservation and management dealing with land use, forestry, agriculture, energy wastes etc; environmental health which will take care of public health and hygiene, sanitary and chemical engineering, occupational health and safety related biomedical sciences; social ecology covering topic like human ecology, social planning community organization, environment effects, etc. There is a need to design new courses in these areas with proper advocacy systems to attract more and more people to this type of multi-disciplinary education. More important is to share this knowledge with the community at large.
II) Among General Population through Various Media
So far we have been dealing with the clientele which are well defined and within the boundaries of formal education system. But there is a need to cut across the boundaries of illiteracy and reach the masses. This can be done only through the channels of adult education.
Though programmes for adult education are already in progress and are duly emphasized by the New Education Policy, the time has come to emphasize environmental education for sections like women, tribals, agricultural labor, slum dwellers and residents of drought-prone areas. The neoliterates from these groups will help to spread the environmental message to the grassroots level. Voluntary agencies have played an important role in adult education apart from the Directorates of Adult and Continuing Education. Some methods for creating environmental awareness are:
1) Incorporation of topics in regional languages and local dialects in the primers of adult education programmes.
2) Information packs like posters, slides and audio-visual materials, which can be utilized by the adult education centers as well as by the workers of other developmental agencies like agricultural extension services and primary health centers.
3) Special exhibitions in rural areas at the time of fairs and festivals.
Ours is still a society where information spreads through personal encounter and by word of mouth. The audio-visual media have certain limitations in a society like ours. But media provide use and views for the community leaders and opinion markers who in turn influence the beliefs and attitude of others.
The environmental education in formal and adult education programmes needs to be supported by the media. For a literate population, one alternative is the print media like newspapers and magazines.
a) Create awareness about environmental matters;
b) Enable exposure to real life situations;
c) Acquaint with the conservation needs, problems and efforts; and
d) Acquaint with the philosophy and practice of sustainable development.
Another problem is the language. Most of these programmes are either in Hindi or in English, which are not easily understood by many people. But it is possible if the output of these national media is supported by specific programmes in the local languages so that masses can be educated.
III) Among Functionaries and Opinion Leaders Involved with Environmental Management
There are various kind of people engaged as functionaries in environmental management. They may be government officers at various levels and in various departments like irrigation, power, agriculture, industry, health, town planning and so on.
There are voluntary organizations also working activities in these areas. Politicians and social workers also get involved in environmental issued from time to time. Those functionaries and leaders who are concerned with critical decisions should be given necessary orientation and training from time to time through carefully designed courses at their training institutions or in specialized institutes.
The National Institute of Rural Development can play an important role as far as rural functionaries are concerned. The university department of Environmental Studies/Sciences can also undertake such orientation or training for specific groups. All stage governments have their staff training colleges and programmes. Environmental education should become a necessary part of their curricula.
The Department of Environment of the government should have a list of clientele group for systematic orientation. They should plan a series of publications for mailing to these people regularly. It should be the responsibility of the functionaries and opinion leaders to first get educated in these matters and pass this information on to other levels.