Environmental education is one of the most important aspect for the successful conservation of bio-resources as they involve the common people of a nation. More importantly, it includes the educational awareness of our younger generations in understanding the importance of ecosystem, environment and conservation efforts.
Without environmental education and awareness among ordinary citizens and without including the common people as important stakeholders in the process of preservation of our natural environments, fragile ecosystems, virgin forests and majestic wildlife wholeheartedly, no long-term conservation efforts can ever be successful in any nation.
India being the second most populous country on the planet and the largest global democracy, appropriate and successful dissemination of environmental education and awareness among the masses will translate to a monumental change in human attitude towards sustainable practices, environment-friendly approaches, green technology adoption, tolerance towards wildlife and efficient management of natural resources at a global scale.
Transforming India is equal to transforming a significant part of the globe towards better environment, healthy ecosystems and efficient conservation of precious natural resources.
India, as a nation has come a long way in successful introduction of environmental awareness for the students at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education in the form of Environmental Science or Environmental Studies. Both print and electronic media across the nation have also matured to accommodate serious environmental stories and reports way better than how it has been a couple decades back.
Prime time slots in many television and cable channels highlight outstanding nature related documentaries in both English and regional languages across the nation from premiere global documentary making agencies like Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc., to name a few.
Several NGOs have been also working sincerely towards promoting environmental education and awareness among the masses in different parts of the nation. Research and development related to various challenges of ecosystem and environment pollution, forestry, sustainable agriculture, alternative/green energy sources, wildlife and biodiversity conservation, meteorology, environmental physics, chemistry, biology and geology have been taking shape in several Indian universities, state and central research institutes. This is indeed a great achievement for the nation!
But unfortunately, most of this valuable research content is restricted to academic communities in the form of publications in journals, proceedings, scientific magazines, bulletins and newsletters and that too only in English. Although some scientific publications are now made available in Hindi and some other Indian regional language, it is way too short for the huge national demand for scientific literature in regional languages.
Furthermore, the print and electronic media is also limited to the educated section of the society. Beyond this educated population, there exists a vast uneducated and illiterate India that lives in remote rural areas, inaccessible border locations, isolated valleys, mountains, deserts and forest fringes – far from modern amenities of modern life and comfort.
Lack of electricity, fuel for cooking, banks, post offices, schools, rural development centers, health centers and media outlets make them even more vulnerable to lack of education and awareness, not just regarding environment and ecosystem, but towards life as a whole. Superstitions, witchcraft, discrimination, abject poverty, untreated diseases, unemployment, family violence, lawlessness, liquor and drug abuses plague their life equally with natural calamities like earthquake, flood, landslides, droughts, snake bites and wild animal attacks.
But the important point to understand is that these are the communities that live closest to the national forests, sanctuaries, reserve forests and biological parks dotting across the nation. These are the poorest and most vulnerable communities of the nation that are heavily dependent on their immediate environment (read local forests) for their daily sustenance.
Unless the quality of their life is improved to a certain level, conservation success for India will be a myth to achieve. Furthermore, it is these communities that are in need of environmental education and awareness since they live their entire life in and around nature.
These are the front-line communities that suffer from negative human-animal interactions, impacts of poachers and insurgents taking refuge in our virgin forests, human, drug and wildlife trafficking, and often, unfortunately victims to the system due to poor economic growth in the region, unemployment and abject poverty.
Unless these communities are made a partner or beneficiary of their natural resources and made important stakeholders in the process of conservation of forests, wildlife and biodiversity, no effective and long-term solution to the perennial challenges of conservation of ecosystems can ever be realistically made.
Hence, environmental education and awareness campaigns in India have to be targeted towards these communities without failures for target success in the area of conservation priorities. It is also important to look into the course curriculum depending upon the target audience.
Students from an urban area impacted with industrial pollution cannot always comprehend the environmental challenges of rural India, similarly it is quite difficult for a student from a remote rural location of the nation to grasp the basics of city environmental pollution. Hence, the level of environmental sensitization of the target audience varies from rural to urban, from higher income groups to the middle and lower income groups and from educated to the illiterate masses.
The awareness content that is appropriate and relevant for remote rural communities may or may not be applicable and important for residents in the cities, towns and municipalities of the nation. A very large proportion of rural women spend the maximum time of the day in the nature searching for food, fuel, fodder and fertilizer for their daily sustenance of the families.
Hence, empowering, educating and making rural women aware of their immediate environmental and ecological issues is an important approach in their development. In addition to this, the education of rural children should be given a priority.
A well-balanced and comprehensive environmental education and awareness campaign policy will be necessary to cater to varying needs of different communities across the vast nation for future success in conservation of our rich forests, wildlife and biodiversity.
(The author is a Canada and India based freelance journalist specializing in global geo-political, strategic and foreign policy issues, science & technology and environment & conservation related themes.)