They play a key role in grooming future citizens, say education authorities

K. Gunasekaran, (name changed) a Class 8 student of a Government High School at Vedar Puliyangulam, off Tirunagar near here, had the habit of spitting on roads and urinating in the open.

He also liked to roll in the mud while playing with his friends.

Similarly, his schoolmate R. Murugeswari of Class 11 (name changed) was generally untidy and reluctant to bathe daily.

But both now declare proudly that they have changed for the better after they became members of the school’s eco-club.

According to K. Muniyandi, District Environmental Coordinator working under the School Education Department, it is mandatory for every government as well as government-aided private school to create such clubs by identifying 50 interested students studying between Classes 6 and 10.

The aim of establishing the clubs is to create awareness among students of the need to protect the environment, understand the ills of environmental pollution, encourage them to contribute their mite for the prevention of global warming and teach them waste management.

Fifty students in each school-level club are divided into five groups and made to focus on different themes such as water management, land management (maintaining gardens and planting saplings), preventing air pollution, energy management and waste management.

Mandatory annual activities of the club include a training session for 30 hours, in-campus work for 40 hours and social work (off campus) for 50 hours apart from conducting an environmental awareness camp once a year, in September or December.

The Directorate of School Education pays Rs.2,500 to every school annually for financing the activities of the eco clubs. Of that, Rs. 200 should be spent for purchasing a notice board and Rs. 300 for buying equipment such as shovels and pots required for planting saplings. The rest of the money should be spent on purchasing registers to record the activities of the clubs, distributing prizes to winners of drawing, elocution and essay writing competitions conducted by the clubs, taking photographs of the events and buying refreshments for the children.

C. Thenkarai Muthupillai, headmaster of a Government High School, says that generally parents are under the wrong impression that such clubs exist only in private schools.

They are not aware that these clubs exist in government schools too.

“In my school, I make use of the club to instil the importance of maintaining good health and hygiene among the children because almost all children studying in government schools are from poor families and, therefore, not likely to be aware of the rules of hygiene,” he adds.

However, the headmaster of a government-aided private school claims that eco-clubs in a majority of the schools are not functioning because of a lack of effective monitoring and delay in disbursement of the annual fund for the clubs.

Preferring anonymity, he says that eco-clubs are more involved in organising activities related to World Environment Day on June 5, World Day to combat desertification and drought on June 17, World Population Day on July 11, International Day for the preservation of the Ozone layer on September 16 and so on.

But as per the annual plan drafted by the School Education Department, the eco clubs should create herbal gardens on the school campus, divert waste water generated in the school to the trees and plants within the campus and celebrate the smokeless Bhogi festival ( a bonfire of discarded possessions).

“Though the objective behind establishing the clubs is admirable, its implementation at the ground level remains unsatisfactory. Many schools do not involve the children in anything beyond planting a few saplings because of the absence of a robust monitoring system,” he alleges.

However, M. Joy Ebenezer Getsi, Assistant Director (Eco Club), School Education Department, says that it is to make the clubs work actively and compete with one another that the State government selects three best clubs each year and gives away cash awards ranging from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs.5 lakh.

She denies that the fund flow to the eco-clubs is erratic, adding funds for the current academic year were expected to be released soon.

To date, more than 6,360 eco clubs were functioning in the State, with a membership of over 2.54 lakh students. To encourage active participation, every student who has served the eco club for 360 hours between Class 6 and 7 is given an A-grade certificate signed by the Chief Educational Officer. Likewise, students who serve for 600 hours between Class 6 and 10 are given a B- grade certificate.

“Every district has a District Environmental Coordinator who monitors the activities of eco clubs and submits periodic reports to the School Education Department. Our aim is to create eco-conscious citizens and I think we have succeeded in that,” Ms. Getsi claims.

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