Educating for a More Sustainable Tomorrow By Nimesh Ved, Radha Gopalan and Suresh Jones


Educating for a More Sustainable Tomorrow

The ecological crisis is at its peak and calls us to take up the shared responsibility for transformation. Are we prepared to go beyond excessive consumption patterns and lead a life that is in harmony with the cause of nature? Are we ready for a sustainable today before a sustainable tomorrow?

Nimesh Ved enjoys taking up actions that help him understand wildlife conservation better. He loves cyclying and blogs at
  Jones has been associated with biodiversity conservation and ecological work in the Eastern Ghats since 2 decades. Towards this he also founded the not for profit ‘LORIS – The Biodiversity Conservation Society’ during 2007.
Radha Gopalan
is an Environmental Scientist by training. She has taught at Rishi Valley School for over 7 years In addition she continues to be engaged with small farmers in the surrounding villages trying to understand human-nature relationships.

The Scenario today

The rift between human society and nature is probably at its widest today. Human lifestyles, especially in the more affluent countries have put life on the planet at risk. This has not only increased inequity in society but also compromised the resilience of natural systems. We have alienated ourselves from nature to the extent that most of us are not even aware of where our food, water and fuel come from. At the same time most discussions on changes in consumption patterns are largely in the form of token gestures, and policy makers believe that technology possesses all solutions.

This alienation, to a large extent, is born out of an education system that is factoid, data and information driven, devoid of attention to understanding the inter connectedness that is integral to all life forms. The increased specialisation and creation of new disciplines has further fragmented the system which bears very little relationship with the situation on ground. Politically, civil society is vibrant, activism is strong but as the educator Ken Robinson said about the British educational system ‘We are living in revolutionary times, but our educational system is a relic of the 19th Century Industrial Age” (Robinson, 2011); it holds true for India as well. As a corollary our approaches to addressing these challenges are fragmented and alienated from socio-cultural issues of justice, equity and democracy.

Environmental education in India – by and large – appears to be stuck in a rut. The curricula are fragmented and piece-meal and there is limited recognition of the need for an integrated ecosystems based approach. Learning through multiple knowledge systems built on experience do not find a place in our mainstream education process.

There also exists a strong reluctance to question effectiveness of the ongoing efforts and the contradictions within. We continue to talk about conservation of charismatic species at one-time events and organize events focusing on climate change in five star hotels – with huge ecological foot prints.

Road ahead

There is an urgent need for a transformation of our education system if we are to meet the challenges presented by the 21st century. “An education which teaches people to learn how to inquire inward, into their deepest selves, to find out what is important to them and their futures, and then to connect their knowledge more deeply” (Brzycki, 2014) and which encourages diverse perspectives in designing sustainable ways of living within our environment. (Environment  Education Framework, 2013).

This education system must lead to an integrated social – cultural – ecological approach which informs how we live as societies and as life forms. This is an imperative if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and commitments under Conference of Parties (COP) 21 are to be met in their entirety. Without such a transformation meeting these goals and commitments will be very difficult if not impossible.

Such an education or learning process is what might be called sustainability education. Education for sustainability must be cross-disciplinary, as no single discipline provides all the essential knowledge and understanding to enable students to contribute to sustainability. Appropriate knowledge and skills must be interconnected throughout the learning years and across the disciplines if the idea of sustainability is to inform thinking and decision-making (Sustainable Curriculum Framework, 2010).

What is the first step in thinking about such a transformation? The authors propose that a beginning be made by critically reviewing the practice of sustainability education in some institutions in India where attempts are underway through philosophy, theory and / or practice to understand the idea of sustainability. It is expected that from this understanding will emerge a way forward.

Approach and Framework

To understand how the current education system addresses ideas around sustainability it is necessary to undertake a critical and indepth exploration. The approach proposed is to first develop a framework which includes the following elements:

1. Review of literature. Review of academic papers, case-studies on practice of sustainability education in select locations nationally and internationally to determine questions raised, best practices and lessons

2. Understand ground reality. Associate with select institutions to obtain a firsthand understanding of the situation on ground. This will attempt to address the theory – practice differences and congruences.

3. Discuss and analyse. Extensive deliberations will be undertaken with students, teachers, adult groups and other interested practitioners towards a freeflowing and critical analysis of the ongoing efforts.

4. Documentation and plan. Comprehensive documentation of the process will be taken up. This will be a small step to address the void that exists in documentation, on the subject, in India. This will also help the framework will come out with a ‘way ahead’; a road map for long term and detailed plan for the short term. The entire process must be in synchrony with the initial framework undergoing refinement in the process. This framework proposes to:
1. Use a uniform lens for terms such as environment education, earth education,
Progress? Or destruction of nature?conservation education and sustainability                                                                         education.
2. Limit its exploration to India to allow for a deeper engagement.
3. Perceive sustainability education as a learning ecosystem where adults play a                                                                          significant role along with young adults and therefore also addresses engagement                                                                  with adults. Questions, diverse and critical, will form the core of the exploration.

These questions will attempt to:

1. Bring out connections between human consumption patterns and sustainability such as:

a. How do we look at ourselves as being a part of the planet rather than apart from the planet?

b. How do we understand that every action has a consequence and we have a responsibility to other living beings on this planet?

c. How do we integrate the interconnectedness of life into our thought and action?

2. Comprehend how sustainability education is engaged with in schools today, like:

a. Is the term sustainability used in curriculum? At what stage is it introduced and in what form?

b. Is there a formal, dedicated subject called sustainability science or is it infused into the various                                          formal subjects taught? If the latter, how is it done? c. What pedagogical tools do we need to put to                                  use to introduce the concept of sustainability?

d. Outside the classroom how is it experienced? Is there a conscious effort to develop an integrated sustainability plan for the institution?

3. Devote due time to the specific needs of institutions that are being engaged with in applying the framework. For e.g.:

a. How does one encourage the students to be in the outdoors? Why do interest levels for outdoors fall significantly as students cross an age?

b. How do we enable students to not fall for the consumerist race?

c. How does a student get exposed – from
class 1 to class 12 – to sustainability? Do connecting threads exist?

4. In context of engagement with adults look at aspects like:

a. Effectiveness of conversations as medium.

b. Usage of non conventional spaces like tea-stalls.

c. Whether outdoor activities like bird watching and trekking have raised sensitivity on select ecological issues and as     a corollary on sustainability?

Next step

Over the next three years the authors of this paper intend to develop, refine and apply the framework through their engagement with select institutions to understand the framing and teaching of sustainability. The eventual intention is to use these engagements to develop a larger framework that could be used in the review and teaching of sustainability across the country.

The authors recognise that this is only the beginning. It is hoped that this will trigger greater participation and a much wider engagement in the understanding and practice of sustainability. Through this effort, it is also hoped that experiential knowledge and diverse learning processes that rest with local communities across the country and globe will also inform and enrich the mainstream education process. This is critical if we are to address the greatest crisis that the planet has ever faced – climate change.


Brzycki Henry G (2014). : Accessed on 20th December 2015.

Ireland Liza (2013). Environmental Education Framework: Pathways to Environmental Literacy in Alberta Schools, Supporting Alberta Education’s Curriculum Redesign. The Alberta Council for Environmental Education.

Robinson Ken  (2011). : Accessed on 20th December 2015.

Sustainability Curriculum Framework: A guide for curriculum developers and policy makers (2010). Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Australian Government.

This article is published in The New Leam, JANUARY 2017 Issue( Vol .3  No.19) and available in print version. To buy contact us or write at

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