How green is your school?

Beyond beeswax block crayons and tree-free banana paper notebooks, a look at how schools, parents and children are revolutionising environmental education

March 24, 2017 03:26 pm | Updated 03:26 pm IST

If you listen to John Hardy, erstwhile jewellery designer, and current co-founder of the Green School, Bali, you will wish your own child could simply kick off her shoes, walk barefoot from one wall-less classroom to another and learn off a ‘blackboard’ fashioned out of bamboo or upcycled car windscreens. That’s what Hardy and his wife, Cynthia, who also was a jewellery designer, wanted: practise whole-ism. Their vision, inspired by the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was to give their four children a ‘whole’ world, not one going to pieces with denudation and plastic filling up the gaps.

Lessons from Bali

Th e Green School, awarded the Greenest School on Earth (2012), by the Center for Green Schools at the US Green Building Council, is set in a gentle jungle bisected by a river. With larger-than-life bamboo structures, the campus is supported by solar and hydro-power, a water recycling unit and a waste management centre. Leslie Beckman, a school administrator, who has three kids studying here, says, “The Kul Kul Connection programme, which is our integration with the Balinese community, allows the culture to happen naturally from within, rather than expats going to ‘view’ a local experience.”

Bandana Tewari, a senior fashion journalist whose child studies here, says, “My daughter came to the Green School for a summer camp and that led the way for us to move here. Issues she was facing, such as low attention span, disinterest towards studying, have now vanished. She’s now a part of the Bio Bus project, where a bunch of children pick up over-used oil from restaurants across the city. The by-product, bio-diesel, is to run the school buses.”

The right pick

All t his does come at a price, which is why parents who opt for the school are often those choosing between a sustainable school like the Green School, the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, or more formal schools in the UK and the US that may offer green infrastructure, but may not necessarily concentrate on a green value system.

Thankfully though, education is not having a Prius moment, with only the well-heeled embracing the concept few others can afford. The good news: you don’t have to drop your job and move to Bali or Hawaii so your child has novel environmental experiences. A lot of these are available at a school close to you and it’s easy to tell whether the school you pick is ‘green’. Here’s how:

Kuldeep Dantewadia, who, along with Gautam Prakash, runs a Bengaluru-based start-up called Reap Benefit, that works with schools, aims at finding solutions to environmental problems through children’s innate problem-solving abilities.

Dantewadia cites an example of introducing a flow-restrictor on taps in a school so that the 12-15 litres of water that simply gushed out per minute would be restricted. Based on this, children implemented a system of drip irrigation in a school, taking it a notch up with a smart system that measured the moisture content in the soil and released water based on this. “Schools can be ecologically oriented through the hardware (infrastructure and compliance mechanisms) or software (where the people are involved). Being eco-friendly is a state of mind,” he says. Dantewadia remembers his school days and the fact that it wasn’t just the nature club that turned him towards his career, but also the teachers who would tackle the little things: How students could use two notebooks through the school year rather than three, how a leaking tap could be fixed. “The emphasis was always on the solution, and that is what we hope to cultivate in school kids,” he adds.

Catch them young

The T rivandrum International School, in its quest to expose children to as much nature as is possible in a city, created a pond eco-system, with lilies, lotus and fish. “We struggled initially, because the fish would eat up the roots and bulbs of the aquatic plants. But when we brain-stormed with the kids in middle school, one of them came up with an idea she had seen somewhere else: to put rings around the bulbs. It solved the problem, and now we have the Indian Pond Heron that comes visiting this self-sustaining pond every day,” says Rema Pillai, Quality Control Head & Middle School Section Head.

A year ago, when the Church of South India realised it needed help to keep to its commitment of turning 1,000 schools eco-friendly by 2020, it approached the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi, that runs the Green Schools Programme. “This assessment measures the impact of environmental measures taken across six sections: air, water, food, energy, land, and waste. The completely online detailed form gets children involved in what their school is doing and how things can be bettered, as they compete for the Green School Awards,” says the programme director at CSE. Green Schools has an enrolment of 2,600 new schools this year.

Walk the talk

When out of 5,500 children in a school 1,500 bike it, and almost all the rest come by the school bus, it’s something to be proud of, says R K Trivedi, the principal of O P Jindal, Raigarh. In addition, even the staff is advised to avoid cars every Thursday. As a part of the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network, the school aims to make small changes that have a big impact. The paved area on the 1.25 lakh sq ft campus is restricted and grass is grown on all walkways, besides the 2.5 acres of playgrounds. Plants are watered with recycled water from the school.

Diverse and inclusive

In Sikkim, where environment education was introduced way back in 2002, a few schools, like the Government Senior Secondary School in West Sikkim, are surrounded by cardamom fields, for which the seeds were donated by parents. “Our children can identify local flora and fauna. We want our children to be green ambassadors even when they go out of our State,” says Thomas Chandy, Principal Secretary, Forests, Environment and Wildlife Management Department, Government of Sikkim.

Swati Sinha’s daughter studies at The Shri Ram School, Gurgaon — the school that has provided solar panels to surrounding villages. She says, “We choose schools for their value system, not because they are sustainable. It’s these schools that invariably show children the way towards sustainability.”

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