Education for Real Life

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Building ‘water intelligence’ in future generations has to begin with home, schools and colleges in this era of formal and structured education. Rema Kumar, a passionate educationist who believes that Education can still be part of the solution writes an open Letter to Parents, Educators and Curriculum Planners.

Dear All,

I write to all those concerned about the well being of our children. I write as an educationist who fervently believes that education ought to be about Real Life Issues. I write about an issue that is of the greatest concern now and will have even greater implications in the future.

It is absolutely clear that our children will inherit a deeply water stressed world. It also seems obvious that most, if not all of us will be affected by lack of water or an excess of it in the coming decades. So it is only fair that children get prepared to deal with it; get to know that this crisis is more of a water mismanagement crisis than one of water shortage. They also need to know that:

  • More than a billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water.
  • More than half the population do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • At least 3-4 million people die every year of water related diseases.
  • More than half the world’s wetlands were destroyed during the last century.

To Parents …

While we focus on building self reliance and independence in our children and prepare them to fend for themselves in the larger world, let us bear in mind that self-reliance for water is a life skill that would prove to be a life saver in the coming years!

Children might be surprised or shocked to know that in the past century and the ones before that - no state ever supplied water anywhere in the world! And yet, each human habitation had its own supply of water for domestic and related usage that worked reasonably well. Built over centuries, the indigenous systems of water management suitable for almost every agro-climatic and ecological zones sustained human growth all across the globe.

We need to have conversations with our children, need to draw their attention to the fact that these systems ensured that communities took ownership and responsibility for their water needs and treated their water resources with great respect.

Most importantly, we need to involve them in projects at home where they can practice judicious use of water. We can also encourage them to begin looking at the community they are part of in order to practice water-wise ways of living. Children learn best from example. The day to day water usage habits are picked up most easily from parents - be it avoiding the shower, fixing leaky taps or minimising water use in every little way.

Also, can adults in every locality or apartment actually work together to conserve water and avoid water wastage? Already there are many communities, both urban and rural, who have begun such work, and children who grow up in such spaces are lucky to have parents with water-intelligence. Many have woken up to taking responsibility for water, having learnt that centralised government control cannot take care of our basic needs in a long term sustainable fashion.

To Curriculum Planners and Educational Leaders

There is a great deal of discussion around the issue of making water education mandatory for students. However subjecting them to a content and data overload is not what water literacy should be all about. They certainly need to know the facts and figures:

  • India’s per capita water availability is half of the level in 1947.
  • Technologies, as opposed to community designed and community managed systems, were put in place to harvest surface and groundwater, often causing irreparable damage to hydrological cycle by over-exploitation of water resources.
  • We are one of world’s worst water miners despite being one of the wettest countries on earth.
  • Large scale water development systems have often led to inefficient and inequitable distribution.
  • If 5 to 10% of India’s land were to be utilised solely for rain-water harvesting it would meet all of India’s irrigation and household needs.
  • Expanding people’s participation is one of best ways to ensure judicious use of water and prevent squandering.

Children need to know the context and the current scenario but more importantly there is a need for thinking, discussion, reflection points and exercises that can deeply engage them with the issues and make the connections. The curriculum needs to be hands-on and solution-centred. Success stories of water wise solutions such as the Ralegaon Siddhi which moved from a tenuous one crop village economy to a three crop one or the Tarun Bharat Sangh experience of bringing Arvari river back to life in India’s arid region needs to be shared. There are many other such real-life examples - and the curriculum must encourage children to learn from websites and pioneers in localised water conservation whom we can find in our regions and connect with us as resource people if only we look for them. Engaging with the question of how transformations from water scarcity to sufficiency happens would enable them to consider and work with replicating them.

Practice oriented projects such as water audit for the school, setting up sewage water recycling units (phytorid STPs), rain water harvesting and ground water recharge pits/wells, setting up student water panchayats to study ways and means of reducing water usage, growing only low water usage indigenous varieties of plants and trees. Research projects to study their specific micro climatic zone to ascertain the indigenous system of water management and work to implement those needs to be encouraged. The focus of the curriculum should sharply be on possibilities for water wise living.

To Educators

The curriculum can inform. However, it can stop short of inspiring for action. I believe teachers have a critical role to play in enabling students to be water literate and water wise. Knowledge backed by possibilities for action is what would lead to a proactive and engaged citizenry. Kindling the spirit of custodianship and collaboration and living out water consciousness in the school and their communities needs to be the focus point for the teachers.

Teachers/educators can engage students in big and small projects which will enable them to focus on the micro and macro aspects of the issue. They could study the usage, be alert to waste/misuse, be the conservers who spread awareness and mobilize for action. Involving the students in hands-on construction/maintenance projects for harvesting or recycling, collecting/maintaining climate data are also ways of active engagement.

Other possibilities include studying the water source, following the water trail in their community, conducting surveys to examine end use patterns and including stakeholders to work towards water prudent ways. We may need to strongly reiterate that short term convenience methods will drag us deeper into the crisis.

Can water be considered sacred again?

The 2011 census data reveals that 41% of India is below the age of 20. If we are able to reach out to this group and get at least some of them committed to action we could look at a scenario where water becomes everybody’s business; where water is a precious gift and is accorded the respect it deserves; where the hydrological cycle flows seamlessly without being interrupted; where the flow of abundance is enjoyed by all.

The path ahead lies in reclaiming the sacred and integrating pragmatic action oriented approaches. The community has a significant role to play in supporting such initiatives. I conclude with a Rig Vedic hymn and the wish that water becomes everybody’s business…

Aapo Hi Sstthaa Mayo-Bhuvasthaa Na
Uurje Dadhaatana|
Mahe Rannaatha Cakssase |

O Water, because of your presence, the Atmosphere is so
refreshing, and imparts us with vigour and strength.

We revere you who gladden us by your pure essence.

In deep faith,,
A Concerned Educator