The Association of Geography Teachers of India encouraged school kids to study bio-diversity in their neighbourhood. And the results are impressive

The volunteer members of the Association of Geography Teachers of India (AGTI) are a determined lot. For 50 years now, this mostly women group has been working to stimulate classes of middle-school children to see how geography is central to all learning — starting from “My school is in Madipakkam”. This year, their call was for a study of bio-diversity in their neighbourhood, done systematically through transect field survey. “We invited teachers for a field study workshop at MCC,” said Geetha Aravind, AGTI, “so they could pass on the methodology to the children.”

The kids took off, as they always do. At Children’s Garden School, they made their presentations with collages, photographs, videos and vocal explanations. They had mapped their journeys into the observational area, measured the girth of trees to determine their age, touched mimosa plants to check pressure-points, matched notes with photographs. They then connected the dots in their data to arrive at the food chain, reasons for deforestation (“finding no food, elephants pulled the palm trees!”), forest fires (with before-after pictures) and bio-webs. After speaking with aplomb about their findings, they took questions from the audience, answered them with assurance. In enthusiasm and quality of work, there were hardly any points to distinguish one group from another.

A tiny tribal school, Vidya Vanam from Anaikatti near Coimbatore, participating on special invitation, stole the show. “We don’t need to do a special transect to observe Nature,” said a confident student, speaking flawless English. “We live among trees, birds and animals.” With the introductory statement “Our pictures may not be perfect, but they were shot entirely by us”, they named every one of the birds, insects, snakes and plants they had shot. “Butterflies migrate to Anaikatti because we don’t use pesticide; golden beetles are used to embellish jewellery,” they stated. To the audience that sat enthralled, they made a final offering — a collection of beehive, sun bird nests, cobra skin, unusual tree pods and kestrel feathers.

“The school is in the foothills of Nilgiris,” said Srividhya, their science teacher. “Our 270 kids learn without formal books; we source material from the Internet.”

City school Vidya Mandir, which had marked the transect areas precisely and collated findings in neat columns took the first prize for adhering to guidelines. Theirs was a tough job, finding bio-diversity in the concrete jungle. In contrast, Sholinghur Vidhyapeetham kids who won the second prize, had no problem bringing a rabbit, crab, frog, caterpillar, snail, to the show. “We have fields all around in Bodaparai,” said the students. “We see cranes coming in all the time.” The bio-diversity competition saw more participants from places such as Chittalapakkam, Kelambakkam, Thiruvottiyur, Walajapet and Kundrathur — pointer to what kids in inner city schools are missing out on?

Even those who didn’t follow the transect study had much to say about the flora and fauna in their neighbourhood, displayed their new-found fascination in common insects (“these dragon flies aren’t found in residential areas”), birds, and trees to the exotic species in plants and animals. This is where AGTI scored the most: it influenced the kids to go out, dig around, be curious, observe Nature. Getting kids of the digital age to do that is no mean achievement.