Prof. Jayant Narlikar, an astrophysicist and Professor Emeritus at Pune University, once said, “The reason for the decline of science in India is the lack of experimentation as part of learning science.” Indeed, India’s education system has maintained status-quo for over many decades now, and no revolutionary attempt has been made to upgrade the quality of content or its delivery.
However, once in a while, one does come upon heartening instances, such as at the Legacy School Bangalore (LSB), where students of Grades 9 and 10 have been exposed to a novel learning experience since 2014. Bindu, a teacher of the school has collaborated with the Jalmitra trust, a citizen group working for revival and maintenance of Rachenahalli lake in Byatarayanapura, to convert the lake into a classroom for these students.
The lake is 6.5 kms away from LSB. The students spend about 40 of the 160 hours allotted to the subject at the lake, during each academic year. This is also included officially in the time table.
Teachers developed a pedagogy that looks beyond the routine methods of either using the lake as an object of study or as a site for exploring the lake ecosystem and environment. In their method, close proximity to nature acts as a critical component, connecting students with urban lakes, their issues and making them feel a part of the urban environment. This approach created awareness among students, and eventually enhanced their engagement with local communities through various initiatives.
This unique learning experiment is offered as a component of one of the subjects under Pearson Edexcel International GCSE curriculum, named Global Citizenship.
The aims and objectives of this education are to:
- Introduce key issues and changes affecting societies across the globe and develop students’ understanding of these
- Develop students’ understanding of how communities interact locally, nationally, regionally and globally in response to change
- Enable students to participate in local community activities and understand the impact of these actions in terms of making a difference to their own community, to the communities of others, or to society.
For this, the school adopted the Environment Education framework of the UN’s Tbilisi Declaration, 1977.
The collaboration between the school and the citizen group led to the improvement of about 100 m of the bund area of the lake which had become an experimental ground for various activities for the students. When the course began, the lake was in poor condition – in a state of disuse, with tall weed growth all along the bund area and open defecation around.
But then, as part of the course, on most Fridays and Saturdays, the students
- Cleaned the lake bund area
- Tested water quality
- Planted herbs and shrubs
- Set up vertical gardens on the fence around the lake
- Engaged in awareness sessions for the local community and walkers on the need to keep the lake clean
- Held community bicycle rides to create awareness on the conservation of water bodies
- Held exhibitions at the lake to communicate various aspects of water conservation, wastewater reuse, lake management etc.
This was a great experience for students as well. As Netra Rajagopal, a student of the school writes,
Our ride consisted of some ups and downs, literally, because of the bad roads. Riding our cycles was an uphill task! After riding a tiring 12 kilometres, our legs felt like they were about to fall off. But determined to go through with it, we walked into the the lake premises, where we were welcomed by chirping birds and blooming flowers. After taking a minute, we proceeded to planting. ‘Purple, green, green.’ We chirped as we planted the herbs along the bund area.
Plant, pray, love. The planting was over. We washed our hands. As the cool water ran over our hands, we finally felt relaxed. Just being in the lap of nature had refreshed our body and minds, I have no words to thank Jalmitra for taking up the cause.
It felt so liberating to ride into the sunset, or in our case the sunrise, without any traffic! What I loved most about this journey was how joyous and energetic people were to ride for such a beautiful cause. I also loved how this activity made me jump out of my comfortable bed and take an active part in my community!
One of the key features of the programme was the close interaction of the students with the local community and various actors within and outside government. They involved themselves in community activities such as planting drives and awareness campaigns, worked with local communities to keep the lake area clean, worked with the fishermen community to clean water hyacinth.
Studying the lake and its entire ecosystem created a new kind of learning for students, as they got to understand how an area is transformed from rural to urban, the impact of land use change on resources, how rapid urbanisation affects the local environment and communities. It also taught them about water and wastewater management, and gave them an idea of changing livelihoods and coping mechanisms among the villagers.
Bindu, the LSB teacher who has been driving this initiative, says, “Many students have used the lake and its environs as a space to learn, experience, reflect and work on their projects. Our experience of engaging students at the lake is not just a fun, novel experience for children; it has also helped them focus better once they returned to the classroom.”
Parents have occasionally pitched in as volunteers too. Many of them embraced lake rejuvenation as a cause, given the outrage over frothing Bengaluru lakes. Some parents that we spoke to described their engagement, “We bought plants from APD, worked with the lake revival collective Jalmitra to clean a stretch of the lake bank and plant our saplings there. That lake is now transformed with several schools and institutions adopting different stretches and contributing to revival and beautification. It’s worth a visit!”
Jalmitra group has been using Rachenahalli lake as a teaching and learning space for many – not only those from middle and high school, but also for pre-university, university, technical and non-technical colleges, working professionals and other citizens. Such collaborative efforts by educational institutions and civil society entities working for conservation can go a long way in preserving the environment. It draws the attention of the communities living around water bodies, and also local leaders and government. At Rachenahalli lake, it has also paved the way for creating environmental stewardship among the communities around.