Painting the college green: An environmental course framework for +2 and college: Part 1

We have previously made the case that, for real progress to be made in reversing the environmental crisis, a pervasive and profound change is needed in all aspects of education.

At EcoUniv, we will continue to generate ideas for both gradual and radical transformation of education. In this essay, we provide some simple and implementable ideas about introducing environmental content in higher education.

In Part 1, we will discuss a couple of new course ideas that colleges/high schools/school boards can consider at the +2 level.

The +2 level has been an inflection point for Indian students just like it is globally. In these 2 years, students are expected to find their interest or specialization and prepare for entry into a college degree program. Traditionally, Indian students have had to pass the 10th std. board exam and choose one of the three streams of arts/commerce/science as per their inclination. Some students choose to enrol into a ‘diploma’ course after the 10th std. exam, instead of going for +2.

Traditionally, +2 was either completed in a school or as ‘junior college’ in a college environment. In the New Education Policy 2020, +2 is envisioned to be completed as part of school education up to higher secondary.

Either way, the importance of +2 as a way to enter into a college degree program remains. At a personal level, this is also a place and time where you try to ‘find yourself’.

The +2 level already has a heavy curriculum in the form of required courses. In addition, many students are preparing for various college entrance exams and studying more advanced content. In this situation, if we wanted to introduce rich and engaging environmental content, what would be the best way to do it?

We believe the following two course ideas may serve the purpose.

 

EcoUniv i-1101: A Fieldwork course to explore nature and man-nature relationship.

This course, offered at the 11th std. level, would be an entirely fieldwork-based course. It would ideally be a required course under the curriculum. It will consist of 10-12 half-day or full-day field trips (one per month) with two objectives:

  • Understanding natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Here, local and easily accessible ecosystems and landscapes like rivers, wetlands, streams, forests, or grasslands should be given preference.
  • Understanding man-nature relationships in nature-centric modes of living (e.g. hunter-gatherer, pastoralists, fishermen and farmers, or a combination of these)

In the first type of field trips, students will draw upon their prior understanding  of ecology until +2, and create observations, field notes, discussions about the ecosystem, material and energy flows within it, food chains, habitats, biodiversity, and the stresses if any faced by the ecosystem. There would also be a component of appreciating nature’s beauty and design and expressing it through art.

In the second type of field trips, students will understand the central role that natural resources, be it forest food, agricultural land, water, fishing stocks, or pastoral lands, play in the sustenance of a nature-centric occupation. They will enquire about aspects like seasonality, family economics, sources of income, education, lifestyle, the carrying capacity of natural ecosystems, role of government policy, environmental justice, dependence of the family on the larger economy, and any other challenges faced by the households.

 

EcoUniv i-1201: A Fieldwork course to understand human impact on nature and restoring nature.

This course, offered at the 12th std. level, would be an entirely fieldwork-based course. It would ideally be a required course under the curriculum. It will consist of 10-12 half-day or full-day field trips (one per month) with two objectives:

  • Understanding human impact (particularly due to the agricultural and industrial modes of living) on natural ecosystems, landscapes, and biodiversity. The impact ranges from land use change, waste creation, pollution of local/national/global commons, or radical changes in ecosystem dynamics and species population. The impact also includes that on human health, psychology, and human relations. Field trips could include constructed / under construction / proposed construction sites of various development projects, roads, waste collection depots, factories, housing complexes, sewage systems, industries with complex technologies, intense farming sites, etc.
  • An introduction to nature restoration principles through field trips. Here nature restoration’s scope would include actual ecosystems restoration, nurturing of habitats, projects/ideas/simple technologies that minimize human impact on nature, and reduce or slow down land use change. Field trips will include potential sites of restoration (e.g. stone quarries, wastelands), in-progress or completed site of restoration, sites of sustainable architecture and landscapes, places where simple technologies are still being practiced, organic farming sites, etc

 

In the first type of field trips, students will document, discuss, and reflect on the various types of impact humans have on nature, in the agri/industrial mode of living. They will also compare it with the nature-centric occupations observed in the 1101 course. Finally, they will discuss this impact in a holistic way by visiting basic concepts from economics, policy, lifestyles, technology, population science, etc.

In the second type of field trips, students will learn that restoration in a wider sense of the word, is indeed a powerful solution to human impact on nature. They will learn to appreciate the rebuilding of nature’s cycles, ecosystem linkages, and biodiversity that comes through restoration.

 

Notes

  • The field trips should ideally be facilitated by naturalists, environmentalists and other subject matter experts in the local area. If the school/college professors have the right kind of training to cover such material, they can consider conducting the trip, but ideally involve local experts in most cases.
  • The field trip size should ideally be restricted to 20 for a meaningful learning experience. Mass trips of dozens/50s/100s of students are not envisioned and will fail to impart the learning that is expected. In case of a large student body, multiple such trips should be conducted for smaller groups.
  • These course ideas can also be considered for Year 1 and 2 of ‘diploma’ courses (for students who do not go for +2 stream)
  • Clearly, there is value in conducting these courses at the bachelor’s and master’s level as well. What will differ at each level is student maturity, the scaffolding of their prior knowledge, and the level of analysis expected from them. E.g. For the same field trip, a +2 student will be expected to appreciate the complexity of the system/issue being studied and it’s linkages. A bachelor’s student will be expected to do formal data collection and analysis with some analytical rigour. A master’s student will be expected to do an interdisciplinary, root-cause analysis and explore practical short-term and long-term solutions.
  • These fieldwork courses should ideally be backed with theory either during +2 or soon afterwards (in college).
  • In the new education policy 2020, students are expected to have a wider course choice at the +2 level. These field courses, as well as associated theory courses with content appropriate for the +2 level, can be considered.
  • The ‘i’ next to the course number indicates that it is merely an idea, not an actual course that has been created and taught at EcoUniv (as yet). We encourage educators, parents, curriculum designers from education boards, and students themselves to start discussing these ideas, so that meaningful, holistic models of environmental education can be established.

Do get in touch with us at EcoUniv to discuss these courses and other ideas in environmental education (ecouniv.in@gmail.com)