Forests and the trees in the fragile ecosystem of our planet are valuable from not just a human use perspective but are imperative for our very survival. If you break down the components of anything and everything that is consumed by man –from the water we drink to the mobile phones we use – you will realize that they all come from exploiting the natural resources around us.
However, most of our modern education system keeps us disconnected from this reality. Our school environments are often sterile and teaching and learning happen through textbook rote learning inside closed walls. There is growing evidence that there is a lack of engagement and connection between students and the natural environment, especially in the cities. The city students can often not tell the difference between a coconut tree and a papaya tree when shown on a farm!
At the Somaiya Centre for Experiential Learning (SCEL), we try and bridge this gap. A day in the forest observing, analysing, documenting has helped our students make relevant connections with the world they live in and the ecosystems that help enable their survival.
The aim with which we curate our student programmes is to not just learn about science and research from a technical perspective but at SCEL we strongly believe in the role forest research and education can play in promoting a “pro-conservation” behaviour and facilitate an inquiry and curiosity-based learning attitude. We encourage students to listen to the drumming of a Copper Smith Barbet or observe the Scaly Breasted Munia constructing its abode.
This year, 8th-grade students from K J Somaiya English Medium School Sameerwadi spent 5 days immersed in exploring various topics related to the environment in the Malnad region of the Western Ghats in Southern India. They spent a day exploring ‘Food and Forests’ to understand how forests act as a ‘seed bank’. They ate locally grown food and worked at a women-run seed saving collective. During the week, they also participated in scientific data collection assisting forest researchers from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Topics such as biodiversity, watershed management, food security, alternate energy sources, ecosystem services and conservation as well as conservation as an Indian tradition i.e. the concept of sacred groves were discussed and deliberated upon.
Similarly, 9th-grade students of The Somaiya School visited the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Gharial Sanctuary. They interacted with scientists from Wildlife Institute of India and the local forest officials during their visit. They spent time within the reserve to study the forest ecosystem, learnt about the prey-predator relationship in the reserve and the role of scientific research in management of the tiger reserves.
These curated experiences help to teach students how to be responsible, for themselves as well as for their actions and impacts. They help develop student ability to think from multiple-perspectives – scientific, civic and cultural.
Last week, many students across the globe, took to the streets spearheading the ‘Youth Climate Strike’ to protest the government’s failure to take actions against global warming. They have been championing using social media posts to spread the word and garner the world’s attention to what scientist have called the most pressing issue of the 21st Century.
Using forests as a resource for educating the youth provides a direct personal experience which engages and connects the head, heart and mind. Somaiya Centre for Experiential Learning’s overall vision is to create hands-on experiences that provide practical knowledge and skills to help students in their future careers and at the same time also instil in them qualities to be mindful citizens.