Catching children young in green schools
With classes closed for most of 2020, some schools in Nepal have used the time not just to conduct online learning, but also turn their attention to giving education a renewed focus on nature and the environment.
This means adding new environmental elements to the curriculum, and pushing the ‘green school’ concept to their physical premises with trees and vegetation, rain-water harvesting, waste management, composting, energy conservation, and other measures.
The pandemic period has allowed many schools across Nepal to plan on making their schools places where children learn about conservation and sustainability from a young age not just from text books, but from actually living them.
When she was just 10, Sanjeevani Yonzon used to read the American children’s nature magazine Ranger Rick and this got her interested in nature, conservation and being involved in her school’s various environmental projects.
Having the illustrious Nepali nature conservationist Prahlad Yonzon as an uncle helped, and as she grew up Sanjeevani became passionate about a career in environmental education.
Fast forward two decades, and as founding member of Wildlife Conservation Nepal (WCN) Sanjeevani Yonzon is involved not just in biodiversity conservation, but also working with the government to run a nationwide program of green schools called नेपाल प्रक्रिती पाठशाला (NPP).
“The whole idea is that schools have to be an integral part of the nature conservation, especially when there are growing threats to the environment like climate change, habitat loss, poaching and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources,” Yonzon explains.
NPP has worked since 2006 to integrate environmental education into the school curriculum, trains teachers and works with government schools to turn their premises into models for a greener lifestyle.
The program worked with the government’s Curriculum Development Centre to develop national and local educational curricula, reviewing and re-designing subject content for Grades 9-12 in Environmental Studies.
The emphasis was on integrating local conservation issues, since environmental concerns vary widely in a country of such vast natural diversity. In 2018, the government integrated the Green School Program into the national curriculum, and schools across Nepal have adopted the Eco-Smart School Principles.
“By scaling up, we think we can contribute awareness and bring responsible behavioural changes in students and their parents who will later bring a positive impact on the environment and their communities when they grow up,” Yonzon says.
WCN is also collaborating with over 600 schools all over Nepal in introducing students to birdwatching, getting them interested in conserving the country’s biodiversity, climate change education, disaster preparedness, waste management and recycling, and how the environment is linked to hygiene and health.
Kathmandu’s Triyog High School has been a part of the program, and principal Nildari Parial says the eco-smart concept has transformed the way students, teachers and even parents think about nature and conservation.
“The program has re-emphasised that education should not just be confined to classrooms, and the learning should spread to the community with initiatives like waste segregation and composting, and the children take their learnings home to parents as well,” Parial says.
Nisha Pande at Kasthamandap Vidhyalaya agrees, saying the eco-smart and green school initiative has helped her colleagues and students appreciate the work farmers do, be aware of the importance of organic agriculture, and learn to grow their own vegetables.
Pande is in charge of the green school project at Kasthamandap, and says her school has always believed in practice along with theoretical knowledge and this is a good opportunity to introduce concepts like growing vegetables, zero waste, rainwater harvesting, composting and vermiculture.
The NPP initiative is now working in partnership with 14 municipalities, two metropolitan cities, and four rural municipalities in developing and implementing local curricula. And even though schools are closed, the Covid-19 crisis has been a time to plan to extend the program when schools resume.
When Bina Gurung opened her Montessori school in Maharajgunj 20 years ago, many scoffed at her focus on nature-based learning, since the focus of parents was on reading, writing and text books to pass exams. Gurung’s केटा केटी बारी, where children get their hands dirty working in the garden, is now a model for other schools.
“I remember how some children were reluctant to hold earthworms in their hands at first, but later they got over their squeamishness, and learned by doing why nature’s organic cycle is important,” Gurung says. “The activity makes children learn about food, the culture and even improves their vocabulary.”