Green Schools

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A documentary on Green Schools by Aditi Banerjee shows  how a few schools are taking on a pioneering role in helping children build a stronger consciousness about green living...

‘Environment’, ‘Ecology’, ‘Conser-vation’,‘Sustainability’,‘Green’, ‘Organic’ are some of the buzzwords of our rapidly changing and evolving world; and it’s only natural, given that we’ve actually begun to feel some of the effects of  environmental degradation that scientists had foreseen decades ago.

This imminent threat to the wellbeing and survival of our race has sprouted into a refreshing thrust of educational initiatives, awareness campaigns and the adoption of various activities centred around conserving, recycling and using alternate technologies to mitigate the consequences of years and years of environmental pollution and destruction.

What’s more interesting though is that illiterate farming and tribal communities whose livelihoods are actually dependant on the environment, have never been the perpetrators of adverse/ large scale destruction, but intuitively use sustainable methods to co-exist in harmony with their environment.

Personally, I feel this comes from an inherent respect and acute understanding of their interdependence rather than fire fighting techniques we’re adopting now, and that’s where I feel the crux of all environmental initiatives lies. We need sensitivity and understanding of the connections between us and our environment, and further, we need to be conscious of the unity and symbiotic relationships that exists between all living beings that constitute our entire biosphere.

‘It’s easier to create a new pot, than to change and make an old pot better’ goes an old saying. One of the areas I find compelling in the vast diversity of green initiatives are the educational activities being undertaken at schools, where children are the creators, innovators and change makers.

Refreshingly, gradually more and more schools are adopting actual practical environmental initiatives as part of their curriculum and even as a way of functioning, a philosophy, and a way of life. J.Krishnamurti’s Rishi Valley School stands out as a prime example of such an institution.

A little more research and I hit upon a whole bunch of schools that have done some fabulous work and received awards like the CSE Award, founded in 2006 as part of the ‘Green Schools Program’. This year over 5000 schools across India participated in the program, and 20 of the ‘Greenest’ schools received awards for initiatives ranging from alternate water management practices to effective use of solar energy to balanced land use policies.

I then watched a short film titled ‘First period – A film on green schools mady by Aditi Banerjee, from TERI, New Delhi. The film focuses on green initiatives across three schools: Sister Nivedita Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Rishi Valley and Sanskriti School. For each one, the film highlights a different aspect of what it means to be a ‘Green School’

SNSKV showcases interesting innovative devices the children have created to recycle environmental waste and convert it into compost. The school has installed a machine called the ‘Rolly-Polly’ which is essentially a compartmentalized box in which they place cut up leaves, limestone powder and some manure. All of these are mixed by rolling the Rolly-Polly and within 45 days they get excellent compost for their planting activities.

This invention is a way to get children interested in composting – an age-old practice which teaches us how the environment has natural ways of renewing itself and what we consider waste like fallen leaves, vegetable / fruit peels actually constitute 50 -80% of the nutrients that a tree gets from the earth.

Modern farming activities involve the use of chemicals to provide the NPK – sodium, phosphorus and potassium that plants need for their growth. This however degrades and acidifies the land over time, unlike NPK obtained from natural processes which keep the soil alive with zillions of micro-organisms.

Similarly, students also reduce their paper consumption and recycle all their notebooks through simple and effective methods.  It’s amazing to see how a little bit of sensitization and awareness can go a long way to preserve and nurture our environment. Moreover, the kids love it! They love getting out into the soil and getting dirty and that I think is inherent in all of us -- the raw way of connecting with the earth and nature. It’s strange how a hard day of labour on a farm can provide such a beautiful sense of contentment and peace.

In Rishi Valley, the film focuses on their intricate water management systems & a sustainable agricultural model, where we see their vegetable garden, which is largely nourished by recycled water from the cow sheds. As a result no fresh water is used for agricultural activities, and the cowshed water is naturally rich with nutrients comprising of cow dung and urine which act as natural fertilizers.

Further, the film demonstrates how a large variety of crops can be grown on a relatively small piece of land, and here they lead by example - A large part of the food consumed by students and the staff is grown on campus.

The students also took part in a project where they explored local crops like millets which are better suited for the soil and climatic conditions and are also more nutritious compared to growing mainstream crops like rice, which if cultivated in a dry area lead to problems of water scarcity. The project is interesting that it asks us to adapt to our environment and effectively use its natural resources rather than trying to adapt the environment to suit our needs.

Sanskriti School explores the design and architectural elements of building a ‘green school’, one that is constructed keeping in mind ventilation, climate & plenty of natural light. Systems like solar panels, arched rooftops, huge drains and an underground reserve for rain water harvesting add to the eco-friendly policy the school affirms at various levels.

The children here make us aware that good design and good ideas can also be very simple, and yet executed in a manner that stands out for its finesse.

As a film maker, I definitely see a large part that media has to play in creating social change. While the film itself is narrated simply, and is not really creatively or aesthetically executed what stands out is the excellent initiatives and commitment from both teachers and students to truly make a difference to the world we’re living in.

However, I was really happy to see this film primarily because it made the initiatives, the students, and the teachers so much more tangible, so much more real than just reading about a list of activities.

And that’s where the magic of cinema lies. Making film, one of the most powerful tools to create awareness; especially in social media initiatives where it’s not so much about the craft, but about communication.

Accessible and relatively cheap technology has made it so much easier for just about anyone to make a film and upload it on the web today, and while there is a flip side of just information overload, in some ways it’s a revolution for absolute expressionism.

Also, social media can be used effectively to create awareness and change and can also foster many green initiatives in schools.

Reminds me of a couple of things: Change does not require complex processes; big endeavours begin with small steps; and, all the solutions lie within... We just have to be willing to take the first step!

Green Schools Programme of CSE, India.

The Green Schools Programme is an ‘inspection’ or ‘survey’ of schools done by its students as regards its environmental practices (called environmental auditing).  Every year thousands of students prepare environment audits of their schools and help them  move towards becoming ‘Greener’ schools.The audit is done with the help of an interesting handbook called the Green Schools Programme Manual. This manual gives you  step-by-step guidelines on how to conduct an environmental audit in the school.

Students form teams and they take an exploratory journey within the school premises to try and find answers concerning environment issues such as water management, air pollution, waste management, energy use etc. The students assess the situation and prepare a report card of the school on its environmental performance.

The Green Schools Program encourages students to take up assignments independently and tests their skills of communication and analysis. It helps schools to prepare an inventory of their resources, the analysis of which can be used by a network of schools in cities and State Governments to do a comparative evaluation.

To join this movement and for more details contact:  Ashish Shah. Email: ashish@cseindia.org