Merging environment and education is crucial for sustainable development

Merging environment and education is crucial for sustainable development
01 / 08 / 2019
By By Haein Shin and Anchal Sharma - -

Over the course of the past few years, the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD)’s educational mission has focused on bringing together environment and education. In this era of sustainable development, environment and education need to be truly integral, with the well-being of future generations and the planet at stake. What better way to begin tackling sustainability issues than through meaningful education on the environment, where learners take ownership and action on the issues in their physical surroundings?

Take CSD’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Center as an example. In addition to teaching digital, language, business and life skills to women in India, this solar-powered facility helps to build awareness about environment-friendly practices. The women who attend are not only acquiring skills, but also acquiring the skills to train and mentor others, so that the center and learning can be sustained, according to the blog of Earth Institute of Columbia University.

Within three months of the ICT Center’s opening, the trainees got used to the spirit and culture of the center, which helped them take ownership of their own learning. They displayed increasing comfort and confidence in the program by coming up with questions and utilizing computers at the center with their recently acquired computer skills, to independently look for answers. To further develop this curiosity, the environmental education piece was introduced. The idea was to see how aware and concerned trainees are about their surroundings and motivate them to have an attitude to work both individually and collectively toward solutions to current problems and the prevention of new ones. The environment sessions were meant to start an open dialogue that will help them stimulate their curiosity as well as engage with real-world issues that transcend classroom walls.

During the introductory session, trainees were divided into small groups and were thrown a series of questions ranging from current climate changes they are observing, to the use of plastic in houses. The approach was simple — by using inquiry-based learning, making them aware of practices and attitudes around them toward the environment and helping them to inquire into those. The facilitator guided the discussion by interjecting at critical moments, asking the right kind of questions and creating a friendly environment so that trainees can share their thoughts without hesitation. The entire classroom became engaged in discussions; they were comfortable and sharing confidently. They were actively participating and were themselves driving the discussion. It was clear this was something they could relate to their everyday life experiences.

The discussion led to a time of sharing ideas and the trainees came up with many interesting ideas about what factors are responsible for climatic changes, pointing to different kinds of pollution, ozone layer depletion, increasing greenhouse gases and the resulting global warming. The ideas were encouraged to be transformed into possible solutions to tackle these problems. Trainees pointed to many already existing, as well as very imaginative solutions, such as “collect all the garbage from the earth and transport it to some other planet.” At least now they were thinking of the possibilities, but with more brainstorming guided by the right questions, the discussion progressed from using “we statements” to “I statements.” The session left trainees feeling a sense of agency and that they were in a position to do something, starting with their own surroundings and eventually on a broader scale.

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