Connecting India’s urban and rural future is important for biodiversity conservation
We all know that the younger generations are the future of planet Earth. Older generations of humans have left them with a planet riddled with environmental problems. Climate change and species extinction are among the major challenges they will face in the decades to come. Thus, young people in all countries of the world must receive the right kind of environmental education that will provide them with the knowledge necessary to tackle the environmental crises prevailing today. In developed countries, this education is generally accessible to everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status. In developing countries like India, however, the quality of education received by students from rural and urban communities is often very different. This difference affects their perception of nature and the conservation of biodiversity. However, the conservation goals of a country like India cannot be achieved when its rural and urban youth are not in sync. Both sections constitute large proportions of the population. They must act in unison to protect the environmental health and biodiversity of the country. And this is only possible when they are given an equal education and the opportunity to interact and exchange knowledge and resources during their student life.
To find out how this synergy can be achieved, World Atlas spoke to Biswajit Dey, founding president of WildRoots, an NGO working in the field of environmental education in India. De, an educator and designer by profession, launched Wild roots in 2008 to strengthen environmental awareness and implement conservation actions involving the energy and enthusiasm of young India. Here is the conversation between World Atlas and Biswajit De:
Why the name WildRoots?
Our journey began with our love for the “wild”. Exposure to natural spaces inspired us to explore, observe and realize the connection we have with our planet. Therefore, we have decided to use “Wild” on behalf of our organization. It all depends on “roots” as well. WildRoots is focused on laying the foundation for conservation and grows with opportunities and successes. Our tendency to involve indigenous / grassroots communities in our activities is another reason we have “Roots” in our name. We want to create a space where we embrace the era of ICT (information, communication and technology), while remaining connected to the roots.
Why is it important to connect urban and rural student communities to achieve conservation education goals?
Global warming, habitat loss, deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, green consumption issues and almost all other issues cross borders. Solutions to these problems require integrated and sophisticated thinking, involving student communities in both urban and rural sectors. It is this scope of integration – a “bridging approach” that we saw as a strategy that could be successful.
For 2 to 3 years, we have studied student communities in urban and rural education sectors in the eastern and northeastern states of India. We have observed that the old sector thrives far from nature and natural spaces and has been operating in isolation for years. The latter is deprived of modern facilities and resources of quality, in particular ICT, and of structured methodologies of environmental education. However, it is closely linked to forests and natural biogeographic zones.
We understood that it is not possible to address most conservation education problems with an isolated approach and discipline (separate environmental education strategies for the urban and rural sectors) and solutions. . We needed active contributions and the engagement of a diverse and informed group.
How is conservation perceived by students in urban and rural student communities? Is there a difference?
The urban space student community is more inclined towards environmental education and awareness taught through books, prescribed programs, ICT tools, publications and occasional trips and camps on the campus. ground. The community is usually engaged in conservation activities that are limited only (or mainly) to the celebration of important calendar dates like Earth Day, World Environment Day or International Day for Biological Diversity. These activities have all become stereotypes, without any structured action plan or follow-up. The perception of conservation has permeated the minds of students coming from the urban sector through pseudo-adventurous activities that mimic the survival programs and television series they see on most channels. In some cases, associating these students with organizations that advocate touching and capturing wildlife in the name of awareness raising is a matter of concern. Usually there is hardly any effort to get them to have the real “mud on their boots”.
The rural student community, which stays close to natural spaces, has a better understanding of forest resources. Students in this area can identify various species of flora and fauna. They were exposed to the age-old family customs of (sustainable) hunting, gathering, the use of medicinal plants and natural or forest products, sustainable agriculture, etc. Knowledge of conservation comes naturally to them, passed down from generation to generation. However, awareness has declined somewhat for socio-political and socio-economic reasons. Market pressure and many other crises have encouraged practices such as hunting and poaching.
So what is WildRoots doing to establish a connection between these two sectors?
Our sustainable action plan for bridging urban and rural education sectors has the realistic vision of bringing both student communities together under a common climate and environmental education platform. Over the years, various programs led by WildRoots have enabled rural and urban student communities to work together to find solutions to local problems. We have also organized teacher training programs in urban and rural schools to empower community educators. In this era of globalization, it is also important that our students are aware of developments related to conservation elsewhere in the world. Therefore, we also connect Indian schools and colleges with those in other countries like USA and Australia.
What are the challenges?
Achieving “conservation education outcomes” with educational institutions, both in urban and rural areas, is not easy in India. The challenges became increasingly complex and interdependent as the two sectors barely met or had significant interactions.
First, the two sectors have been reluctant to participate in collaborative activities. There was a huge communication gap between the two student communities. However, we used game-based and design-based (arts and crafts) strategies to fill these gaps and helped students collaborate and engage with each other.
Sometimes we even faced the challenges of geographic barriers and fought against the forces of nature, when trying to reach some schools in remote areas of states like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. I remember an incident when we were trying to reach a small school near the Eagle Nest Wildlife Sanctuary and got stuck in a landslide, for almost two days.
What are the main achievements?
It took us about 3 years to set up a common sharing platform. Knowledge exchanges and dialogue began to occur between urban and rural student communities. They discussed local problems, imagined collective solutions and many other promising avenues opened up.
On the one hand, we put the pupils of the city’s schools in touch with those located in the villages and on the edge of the forest. On the other hand, we have designed student internship programs for universities and colleges to secure volunteers for our community connection programs. We trained participating student communities to follow a model of – Evaluate, Plan, Implement, Analyze, Adapt and Share. Finally, we were able to create a “student-led approach to the delivery of our programs and activities.