On March 26th, a gathering of over three hundred government school students was organized as part of the annual Ecofest event, at the Sri Sankara Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Thiruvanmiyur.
The Ecofest is organized as a day for all the students of the schools who are part of the Schools In Action For The Planet environmental education program, to gather, share and learn from each other.
Given that schools had only reopened in early March, it was nothing short of brilliant to see the students do all the art work, exhibit making and script writing themselves in the build up to the day of the Ecofest in such a small window of time. It was equally fantastic to see how the teachers facilitated but didn’t overly intervene in what the children were doing, giving the students the chance to fully express themselves.
On the day itself, the Ecofest was a space that held an abundance of stories.
Students were brimming with their exhibits and their artwork. A constant theme was the choice we had before us in the kind of planet we wanted to continue living in. So many charts showed the Earth divided in two – on one side a lush, thriving planet with bright blues and greens and on the other, a desolate brown landscape with either industries spewing toxic waste or with no life in sight.
One interesting interpretation of this was how if we continue cutting down the trees at the rate we are, in twenty years we will need to wear space suits to go outside and do the same tree cutting, for lack of enough oxygen and a healthy atmosphere!
Students also showed the different aspects of the natural world they found interesting. One student made a clay exhibit of snakes she found in the backyard of her home in the village. Another group of students put together an exhibit on plants and their medicinal values. While another set of students made a diorama of the water cycle!
Looking back on the year, from the online session asking students to list out the biodiversity in their backyards, to the class on medicinal plants , to the lessons on water and the water cycle, seeing these exhibits at the Ecofest were a testament to just how much the environmental education sessions had made a difference to the students.
Not to mention the class on elephants as well making quite the impression!
It was also wonderful to see students very keen to share their take on plastic pollution and the different ways to address this, something they’ve begun to think about after their lesson on ‘closing the loop’ where they learned about recycling and waste management efforts like waste segregation.
Looking around at all the exhibits and posters the students had thought of and put together themselves, it was astounding to see the overwhelmingly positive impact of an online environmental education program through three different waves of the pandemic!
After the exhibits, came the round of plays written, directed and performed by the students! From showing how the simple act of watering the plants next to one’s school’s cycle stand can make a world of difference to the plants, to addressing issues of farm lands being converted to factories, it was wonderfully inspiring to see the students really put their hearts into their performances and the messages they were conveying through them.
Sea turtle conservationist Raghuraman R. was invited as a special guest for the Ecofest where he treated the students of all the schools to a video clip of turtles coming to nest along the city’s shores. Students learned about setting up of hatcheries and their importance to conservation. After the program, one of the schools, thanks to their willing headmaster, got to go in person with Raghuraman to see baby sea turtle hatchlings being released in to the ocean!
As an extra-curriculular environmental education program conducted in ten government schools in Chennai, the Schools In Action For The Planet program owes its progress to the support and commitment of the teachers, headmistresses and headmasters of every school. Their complete faith and belief in the need for a holistic environmental education for their students is what gave both students and educators the confidence to continue the program through a pandemic, which culminated with the year’s Ecofest.
In recognition of this, they were honoured on stage with organically made herbal products from award-winning herbalist Parvathy Nagarajan’s women-led rural enterprise Amirtha herbal remedies , and with books for their students from Thumbi, the children’s magazine.
Speaking of support, Harish Deshistha Kulkarni, the backbone of Tata Communication’s CSR with Pitchandikulam Forest, attended the event and connected with many of the students and teachers. When addressing the students from the podium about the container gardens in their respective schools, asking the students if they would water their plants regularly, he was met with a cheerfully resounding, “Yes!”
The journey to Ecofest’22 has been a long, adventurous one with plenty of learning for students and teachers alike.
We look forward to what is in store over the coming year and for the next, Ecofest’23!