“You have eyes, does he have eyes?” asks the class instructor talking about a dog, her friend. “ Yesss ,” roars back the class. “You feel happy…have a family, does my friend too?” The class echoes a long yes yet again. And after a series of such agreements, they all readily conclude that animals are no different from humans — they are alive and have feelings. The class of primary and middle-level students then watches a video that shows them simple ways of responding better to other species during their daily encounters. And then the students and teachers shoot their queries back to the instructor.
It is a Compassionate Citizen programme in progress at the Sister Nivedita School in South Delhi conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
A bid to instil values of respect, kindness and compassion among the new generation, the programme believes that developing dignity for the weakest life forms is a sure way of creating a value-based, non-violent culture among humans. “If you teach a child to be kind to a mouse, you do as much for the child as you do for the mouse,” says PETA activists, adding that it is well documented that lack of respect for other species can translate into insensitivity and cruelty towards other human beings, too.
Endorsed by the Animal Welfare Board of India and the Central Board of Secondary Education, Compassionate Citizen is PETA India’s version of the organisation’s internationally recognised humane-education programme ‘Share the World’. PETA has been running it for students of 8-12 years in different States from its head office in Mumbai with the help of volunteers from like-minded non-profit outfits.
In Delhi alone, many schools including Delhi Public School-RK Puram, Springdales School, Mother’s International School, Sanskriti School, St. Columba’s School, Vasant Valley School, Mount Carmel School, Air Force Bal Bharati School and The British School have benefited from it. Apart from classroom talks, the package includes guides for teachers and reproducible worksheets through which the schools can take the course forward on their own.
Since PETA conducts the programme free-of-cost, the only major investment for schools is to make room in their schedule. Former director of Social Awareness and Outreach, St. Columba’s School, Gayathri Ramachandran, feels that since primary classes are not so much pressed for time, they can easily incorporate the “unique and amazing” course in their curriculum. “We introduced the concept in the value education class. The children of Class IV and V really loved the idea of adopting pets and caring for them. More than anything else, children lose fear for animals and begin a new outlook. Every school ought to introduce education that cares for our biodiversity and all that becomes part of it. Lessons of being compassionate ought to be part of growing up,” she says.
Some volunteers suggest that the programme can be integrated into eco-club activities, which are a norm in most Delhi government schools.
The cause of humane-education is also shouldered by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Through its ‘First Concepts in Animal Welfare’ programme, WSPA claims it has introduced animal welfare education in nearly 50 schools in West Delhi (30 government-aided and 20 private).
Even as animal activists push for integration of humane-education into the school curriculum, volunteers feel that a long-term transformation can come about only if school authorities realise the urgency of imparting values along with teaching other subjects, especially in the current social scenario.
“I hope educational institutions recognise the immense importance of including moral values for building a safe world for future generations and adopt this programme as part of their curriculum rather than limiting it to just as an isolated activity,” says a Compassionate Citizen volunteer.