This would probably trigger an avalanche of brickbats, but I am going to take my chances anyway. I think its time that the Education sector in India opens up to a fresh set of quotas.
Ok, I have said it. Now I shall push my luck a bit further. The Reservation this time has to be based on the candidate’s ‘environmental’ achievements. Its going to work like this….all Universities and professional colleges in India would reserve seats for students who have shown exceptional enterprise in playing the role of environment managers. Tough job, did you say? Well we can turn to our southern neighbour, Sri Lanka, for some hot tips on how to go about it.
No, the island nation has not launched a green quota system yet, but it offers special credits to a select group of high school students who manage to win Presidential medals for their ‘green deeds’. And then permits them to cash in these precious points while seeking admission in the colleges of their choice. Isn’t it a rather neat system? In fact, the conditions set for choosing these fortunate medal-winners are even neater.
But first the basics. During a visit last week to Colombo I met a team of senior education officers who are deeply involved in the process of integrating environment into the national curriculum. It is not too different from the efforts being made here at home. We have a net work of eco clubs in schools, supervised and funded by the National Green Corps units of the State Environment Directorates. The Central Environment Authority (CEA) in Sri Lanka sets up Environment Pioneer brigades in schools with 25 handpicked students from Grade VII upwards.
Quite similar, right? But look more closely and the differences begin to surface. The most glaring one is at the level of commitment to the programme. Both of the schools and of the nodal agencies. In India eco clubs can function effectively only if the teachers concerned have the interest and the energy to work up enough steam. They are offered very little support, or, more importantly, incentives to even put in that effort. The Sri Lankan authorities, on the other hand, have institutionalized the entire system. A slim ‘guide book’ lays down the criteria for selection of schools and then goes on to constitute a full fledged hierarchy for running the green brigades on the ground. So there are Environmental Pioneer Officers-in-charge, Assistant Commissioners and a Commissioner, chosen from among the teachers on duty. Each is appointed directly by the CEA, given a identity card and then a service certificate at the end of the term. There is no doubt about it, being associated with the Brigade is a feather in the cap for any Sri Lankan teacher. Can the head honchos in the Indian education bureaucracy please take careful note of this?
Now what benefits do the actual actors, the students, get? Well they have a range of medals to aspire for. Green, Silver and finally the crowning glory, the Presidential Medal. So what feats do they have to perform to qualify for this super prize? The standards are very interestingly intermixed. The candidate must
be associated closely with a citizens’ group or groups which carry out conservation activities locally. If there are no such organizations to be found, the Brigade members are welcome to set up one in school, but the key factor here is working with the local people and communities. Then the student must launch a year-long project of her very own, focussing on a particular environmental problem that has been plaguing the locals. She must also make sure that a solution is found at the end of the term!
Then there are some essential skills that she needs to hone. Like interacting with government insititutions—the Department of Forests Conservation, for instance. Like interpreting an environmental law or standard with accuracy and intelligence. Like learning to write a cogent proposal for an eco project. In other words, the highest honour in the Brigades contest goes to candidates who can prove themselves to be Environmentally Literate, in principle and in practice. Young men and women any nation can be proud of.
Why can’t we do the same? Just as the most accomplished cadets receive awards from the Hon’ble President on the Republic Day, can we not announce special honours for the most innovative environmental managers from the same platform?