Friday, September 06, 2013

earthian and sustainability education

Author:- P. S. Narayan
Vice President and Head - Sustainability, Wipro Ltd.

earthian, Wipro's flagship program on sustainability-in-education is in its third year now. Started in 2011, earthian seeks to engage with schools and colleges across India on different dimensions of sustainability thinking and action. Why did we start earthian and what was its driving vision? Since the inception of our sustainability program around five years back, we have been grappling with the many questions surrounding the ecological crisis that humanity seems to be facing. The problems of climate change, water stress, loss of biodiversity, the pollution of air, water, land and urban decay are not really separate instances of environmental degradation - at a deeper level, they represent a critical gap in our education; they point to the fact of how little our understanding is of how nature works and of our own relationship with the natural environment that we are a part of. We realized that the ecological crisis requires more than just technology solutions or better management - it requires an entire new way of thinking that encompasses the cognitive and the emotional. As much as it requires that we develop a systems understanding of the forces of nature and society, it also demands of us to rediscover an integrative, holistic sensibility that we seem to have lost along the way. Such fundamental change can happen only if it is part of the formative learning experiences of our children in schools and the young in college.

We thus conceived earthian, drawing upon our decade long work in school education and our more recent experiences in sustainability. Launched in 2011, the first year itself drew wide, enthusiastic participation with nearly 1000 schools and colleges participating in the first phase of writing a critical paper on one among different sustainability themes. Based on independent jury evaluation, the best twenty entries are selected for a more comprehensive engagement that is designed to run over a three year cycle. The second edition in 2012 saw a similar response from hundreds of schools and colleges, this time not only from India but even from countries in Europe and the Americas. One of the highlights of the two earthian editions has been the awards program where the winning teams were felicitated by Azim Premji followed by a rich tapestry of events - to just name two, the first year saw a curated interaction with the legendary Ruskin Bond, while the second year's event saw the audience being taken on a virtual tour to some of the most remote places on the planet by Anil Ananthswamy, writer-journalist and chronicler of leading edge scientific research. But at the heart of what we are trying to do through earthian is the continuing engagement program, which seeks to institutionalize experiential learning on different facets of sustainability. Designed jointly with a network of our partners, these are long running programs that involve students and teachers in a varied set of learning activities: Measuring the ecological footprint of school campuses / Outbound learning about forest ecology and communities / Place based learning / Using the 'Theater-in-Education' approach to internalize sustainability learning are some of the programs that have either already started or are slated to start soon. This year, we also launched an internship platform for the winning colleges that seeks to develop meaningful summer internship projects in areas like Water, Forests and Product Life-Cycle Analysis. If the response from the student interns as well as from our partners is anything to go by, such a program is very much needed. We intend to expand this program in scope and scale in the years to come.

The third edition of earthian is currently in full swing. An interesting change to the format of the participation for schools this year is that (a) it is around the specific theme of 'Water' and (b) it asks the teams to carry out a series of interesting activities around the measurement of water demand and water quality. Drawing from their empirical observations, the teams then get down to writing a paper that is expected to blend actual data with conceptual articulation on the challenges of water and its inter-linkages with the other dimensions of climate change, agriculture and biodiversity.

Designing and running a program like earthian that tries to break new ground has been enriching and exciting but it has also been exacting in getting the different elements to work together in a coordinated fashion. Voluntary engagement is central to the success of many of these elements - for example, as part of our outreach efforts, we try to tap into the passion and interest of other stakeholders who may not be directly involved. Many Wipro employees have actively volunteered as mentors for schools in their area(s). We also run an 'Ambassador' program where anybody outside of Wipro can volunteer to work as an ambassador for earthian and spread the word around.

Albert Einstein famously said that "We cannot solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them". The big challenge for education in the twenty first century will be to transmute our ways of thinking such that it is able to unravel the mess that has been created by us. We hope that earthian will be one such vehicle of transformation - one that creates a quiet revolution, ushering in changes in thinking and mindsets as well as in actions and behaviors

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you your thoughts and ideas on some of these issues.

Narayan P.S.

For more details on earthian, visit