While there may still be debate over whether climate change is happening, and to what extent, it is an undeniable fact the Earth will be passed on to today’s children. They will need to understand and work with their natural surroundings, and be future-proof — something that most education systems fail to emphasise.
It is to fill this void that the Chennai and Pudukottai-based Ramnath Chandrasekhar set up ‘The Planet and You’. “It is a six-month conservation education programme for middle school children, to introduce them to conservation using natural history and conservation documentaries, photo stories and interactive activities,” he says. “Through a process of slow learning, my team and I worked with 3,500 children across 21 schools in Tamil Nadu to teach them about the Western Ghats, coastal areas and backyard wildlife.”
During the time of ‘The Planet and You’, Ramnath was the executive director at Youth for Conservation, founded by filmmaker-conservationist, Shekar Dattatri. He also happens to be Ramnath’s mentor. “The knowledge I gained in conservation, photography, filmmaking and effective communication, during the seven years I worked with him is priceless. The work I do today is built on what I learned from him.”
Ramnath has been involved in conservation education since 2009 when, working on a National Geographic documentary led him to realise his passion and purpose. He iteratively improved his outreach programmes with a lot of on-the-job learning. “The more I worked with schools and the more I understood about how children learn, I was able to design nature and conservation education programmes that provide a platform for children to learn.” He works with a team of creative professionals, volunteers and HLC International — the IGCSE school — educators. In fact, Ramnath works out of HLC International’s social incubation centre.
He explains his rationale, “As people move away from nature, we must create opportunities where students learn about the interconnect we share with the natural world. Such programmes must be created and facilitated so that they develop a deeper and rational understanding of nature and conservation.”
Understandably, schools are hesitant to commit to long-term programmes beyond the established curriculum. Regarding the challenge, Ramnath says, “Most schools agree to one-off programmes during World Environment Day, for example, but not for focused and sustained ones.”
He continues, “But one of the most important challenges I face now is training young graduates to take part in conservation education and public problem-solving.” On this front, Ramnath and his team will be working on setting up a fellowship programme for young graduates.
Ramnath is now working on a six-month diploma for children, on public problem-solving. It’s first run, called Karthavyam , was in mid-2016. “This programme was taught through stories from nature, human-centred design and book-making. Children identified environmental problems in their neighbourhood and spent time understanding them. They then used various methods to find solutions by talking to experts, field visits and prototype making. Around 20 students worked on storybooks about their chosen problems and used them to sensitise the public about the need for their involvement in those problems,” he shares.
Schools interested in working with him on Karthavyam or similar projects can get in touch through www.ramnathshekar.com