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Environmental education in India is mostly an one-off activity. The speaker comes with a presentation, film or an educational material to spread awareness among children. The students are excited because, this outreach activity is a break from their routine. They do get additional knowledge, but much more needs to be done to build empathy towards nature. When we combine empathy with learning by creating, questioning and enabling, children will surely deepen their understanding of the environment. I realized this myself when I conducted one-off outreach programs in school across Tamil Nadu. Following this, I decided to design and develop ‘The Planet and You’ program along with my longtime mentor Shekar Dattatri.

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Working on the planet and you program gave me an opportunity to design a unique module and work with children for a sustained period of time. My team and I selected twenty-one schools for this six-month program. During this time, we worked with middle school children for one day a month for a period of six-months using documentaries and photostories and activities.

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The sessions were carefully structured to take students on a journey of discovery. The first three sessions were designed to increase their knowledge about forests and wildlife, and the intricate connections between humans and nature; we also dealt with global ecological issues and India’s major conservation threats. Subsequent sessions helped students establish a personal connect with nature by getting them to explore their surrounding environment. The final session was structured towards enabling action, and emphasized the critical importance of people’s participation.

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Working on the Planet and you program was a priceless experience that made me set my goal for the next ten years. It gave me opportunities to identify gaps in environmental education. Engaging with schools increased my understanding of the mainstream education scenario in India too. These lead me to believe that everyone can be an environmental educator irrespective of his or her chosen career. This will build an army of young people who are ecologically conscious citizens. Do contact me if you would like to be involved in environmental education for children.

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