People R. Selvi, a biology teacher inspires her students to look out of their text books towards Nature and learn about their wonderful world. K.Jeshi sits in one of their outdoor classrooms
“A rose ringed parakeet” S.P.Gokul points to the bird that darts by. And a group of students scribble the name in their notebooks. A class VII student of Kadri Mills Higher Secondary School, Gokul is the winner of Salim Ali Centre's young bird watcher award for three consecutive years. “Egret,” says another student and looks for ma'am's nod. She acknowledges with a smile and tells them: “It is periya kokku, a large egret. You also have little egret (chinna kokku).” Gokul, the star bird watcher, also spots the nest of Asian Palm swift (made of dry leaves stuck together with saliva) on a tree.
A Biology teacher at Kadri Mills School near Ondipudur for 25 years, R. Selvi initiates children into the magical world of Nature through a number of outdoor activities. “When they learn from outdoors, they remember,” she says. “Rote learning helps them achieve grades but connecting with Nature makes them aware about environment.”
“Why is the pond filled with water hyacinths? Asks Selvi. “Because of industrial effluents ma'am,” they chorus. We catch a glimpse of the tailor bird ( thayyal chittu) golden oriole ( mankuyil), white breasted kingfisher ( ven maarbu marankotthi) and pond heron ( kuruttu kokku) as we make our way to Senkulam, or Aaachankulam on Neelambur Bypass Road.
As members of Nature Club, every year 45 to 60 students enrol and bring laurels to the school in bird watching, plastic awareness campaigns, sapling distribution and a number of real time science projects. On a tie-up with RAAC, the students collect plastic wastes from schools; they also gather saplings that sprout under trees. “They have planted 25 saplings on our campus and distributed 300 saplings to Siruthuli,” Selvi says with visible pride.
The starting point was an interaction with Dr. P. Pramod, senior scientist of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) at Anaikatty, who showed them the way. “We started with making our own campus clean and green,” says D. Krishnaveni, the Head Mistress. “It is pertinent to save our environment. If 10 students become aware it reaches their families too. Our students have taken up projects on medicinal and herbal plants to rediscover the benefits of traditional medicine which are forgotten now,” she says.
Selvi says co-operation from the school management has been motivating. Thousands of little cormorants ( neer kaagai) flock the school campus in the evenings. K. Vaishnavi, a class IX student watched the birds for 30 days, recorded the nature of flight, feeding place and the roosting ground and presented the project at Children's Science Congress. “Every day thousands of birds travel from Sulur Lake to Singanallur. One particular day I saw about 9,000 birds. When it rains, the birds fly above the clouds,” she explains.
A group of class VII students Soumya, Amrita Nandhini, Nithya and Ramya, collected well water, stored it in mud containers, and studied the medicinal values of soil. They visited Thulasiaama in a nearby village who stocks up her grains and pulses, corn and raagi under the soil. Do away with refrigerators and go back to Nature is their message. S.A.Soumya has formed a children science circle in her village in Irugur and creates plastic awareness, distributes saplings and is involved in street cleaning. K. Sambath, a class IX student visited the nearby Chinnakuyili village in Pappampatti to study the depleting lakes, and fall in rainfall attributed to the presence of some 38 windmills in the area.
The students are brimming with ideas; you just need to ignite their minds. “One of the students even asked ‘why can't we stuff all the plastic wastes and make cushions.” Selvi remembers. “Every new project is a revelation, a learning experience. I was amazed when I learnt that every day a butterfly larva eats 20 leaves, observed by a student who studied the life history of the common rose and daphni neeri butterflies. ” The students cultivated Radish on the school campus, to experiment with different types of manure such as urea, cow dung, ash and vermicompost, which turned out to be a big hit. “We distributed radish to all our teachers,” she recalls.
At the end of the Senkulam outing, the students sit in groups under a tamarind tree, munch biscuits and listen to Selvi. She asks them why insects are important? “If there are no insects, there will be no forests and no rains. Like we carry water bottles, we'll be forced to carry oxygen masks,” the students reply. She enlightens them on carrying cloth bags and gives them handy tips on identifying birds too. This teacher says when she is out with her students, all her stress vanishes and it becomes an enriching experience. “When I was in college I could identify only crows and sparrows,” she laughs. “During a spot the bird competition, I saw the carcass of a dead vulture but didn't know the name. Now, I learn so much from my students,” she says. They have recorded birds in Top slip, Silent Valley other than lakes in Sulur, Singanallur, Pallapalayam and the Kurichi tank.
Selvi recalls watching the fascinating sight of the black and white kingfisher (pied kingfisher) rotating in the air before taking a plunge to pluck the fish, and the beautiful white ibis and purple moor hen.
Watching birds is a good way to explore Nature, she says. “Don't idle in front of television sets. Concentrate on your studies, but take the time off with Nature,” is her message to her students.
Photos(Cover and Centrespread):