Schools, students and the environment - GulfToday

Schools, students and the environment

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Climate Change

Picture used for illustrative purpose only.

Inculcating environmental awareness and conservation in our children is an imperative, well-recognised, advocated and implemented issue at local, regional and global levels.

On the occasion of World Peace Day, commemorated on 21 September every year, schools across India participated in the world’s largest and longest environment online event ‘Peace Is Green’.

Hosted by principals from India’s top schools, the 24-hour long symposium brought together the stakeholders of environment conservation from over 100 countries across the world. The mammoth online event explored several themes like ‘I want my forest to grow – I want to Act Now’, ‘The sky is in the blues – give it back its hues’, ‘Act Now, Our lungs are full with air of doubt – take it out’, ‘Act Now, Every drop counts’, ‘Act now, Fire in our hearts – not in our forests, Act Now’!

This brings into focus the role that students have to play in preserving the environment. Teenager Khushi Chindaliya from Surat, India, was recently appointed as the Regional Ambassador for India by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – Tunza Eco-Generation (TEG). An avid nature lover and passionate environmentalist, she will work with the TEG on various environmental awareness programmes till February 2021.

The ‘Tunza Youth Strategy’ is a long-term strategy for engaging young people in environmental activities and in UNEP’s work. The word ‘TUNZA’ means “to treat with care or affection” in Kiswahili. It is an initiative that is meant to develop youth activities in the areas of capacity building, environmental awareness, and information exchange, with a vision to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens, capable of positive action.

Young activists have contributed immensely to the environmental and climate change movements in India in the recent past. In 2019, Ridhima Pandey, a 12-year-old girl from Uttrakhand, attended the United Nations Climate Action Summit. At the event, along with 15 other activists, Ridhima filed a complaint against government inaction on the climate change crisis.

The United Nations has often reiterated that the deterioration of the natural environment is and must be one of the principal concerns of young people worldwide as it has direct implications for their well-being both now and in the future. Sustainable development has and must become a key element in the programmes of youth organisations throughout the world. While every segment of society is responsible for maintaining the environmental integrity of the community, young people have a special interest in maintaining a healthy environment because they will be the ones to inherit it.

It has repeatedly pointed out that youth around the globe are seizing the opportunity by initiating awareness events and sharing ideas with family and community members on how to protect the environment. Youth are increasingly using the power of their collective voice to advocate, lobby and lead campaigns towards adopting environmentally-friendly practices and policies. As more youth grow up in a world characterised by advanced technologies and information sharing, many are harnessing this opportunity to create innovative, sustainable environmental solutions.

Another UN programme for schools is looking to make education a central part of the international response to climate change, and empower students with the knowledge they need to fight the crisis, and adapt to its impacts. 258 educational establishments in 25 countries took part in a pilot project. The UNESCO programme aims at integrating sustainability, including climate action, into every aspect of school life. It demonstrates the importance of making climate action a part of every aspect of school life, from teaching to the way schools are run, and the impact they have on the local community.

Encouragingly, a UNESCO report released in December 2019 has revealed that nearly all countries have committed to climate change education. The study found that the most common commitment is to the raising of public awareness, and that cognitive learning is more commonly discussed (i.e. integrating climate knowledge into classroom teaching), rather than social and emotional or behavioural learning. However, it also showed that actual progress is currently hard to monitor, because of lack of data.

The UN is calling for nothing less than a transformation of the global economy in which technology, science, finance and ingenuity are all focused on ensuring a sustainable future for all. However, this will only happen if school-leavers have the skills needed to answer the demands of this new, greener economy, and that will require strong leadership from all sectors of society, including governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society.

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