All students must study climate change, sustainability

All students at India’s universities will have to study subjects such as environmental education and climate change in order to graduate, starting from the about-to-begin 2023 to 2024 academic year, according to guidelines from the University Grants Commission (UGC), the country’s higher education apex body.

The new course will include the national obligation to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The UGC recently directed universities and colleges to introduce a compulsory core subject on environmental studies for all undergraduate programmes, including general engineering, medical, architecture, pharmacy, management, among others, according to the UGC guidelines issued on the direction of the Ministry of Education.

According to the UGC, the new environment education curriculum will be multidisciplinary and encompass areas such as climate change, sustainable development, conservation and management of biological resources and biodiversity, pollution, sanitation, waste management, and forest and wildlife protection.

Environment education was offered as an elective or optional course, but now it will be included as a main subject where students will focus more on practical knowledge and aspects rather than theory.

Institutions will have the flexibility to choose how to teach the subject, according to the UGC.

However, it also said that course design should be based on community engagement and service, practical understanding of threats to the environment and ‘value-based’ education to learn about environmental protection and sustainable development.

According to the UGC the proposed credits for the course can be acquired over six to eight semesters.

UGC chairman Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar said recently that a high-level committee had prepared a blueprint for environmental education in line with the recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which stresses environmental education and making students more aware via field work and community engagement.

Mainstreaming environmental education

Many academics noted that the compulsory course represents a major step forward in incorporating environmental education into the mainstream education system.

Many academics have noted that as India has witnessed extreme weather events in the past few years, including huge loss to life and property, extreme heat waves, unprecedented floods and excess rainfall, landslides, glacier bursts etc, believed to be triggered by climate change and environmental imbalance, the environment as a subject has become of prime importance.

The course can provide students with a better understanding of the science behind environmental issues, as well as the tools to address them, according to some academics.

Nagraj Adve, a founder member of Teachers Against the Climate Crisis, said the effectiveness of a compulsory course would depend on what the course covers and how it is covered.

“Certainly, I think it seems to reflect the fact that the environmental issues are affecting us, and the crisis is deepening. So, there’s a need for students to build awareness beyond what they might learn in senior (high) schools,” he said.

“This is something that’s needed,” he told University World News, adding that climate change topics also needed to be brought into the curriculum, in a detailed and specialised way.

He said: “Students could be made aware of carbon taxes and similar topics that are linked to the economy.”

Many universities in India are already offering diploma and degree courses in Environmental Science, Environmental Management and related fields.

The College of Climate Change and Environmental Science under Kerala Agricultural University has been one of the pioneers in Asia, launching an undergraduate programme in Climate Science. They started a five-year integrated BSc-MSc in Climate Change Adaptation back in 2010. However, they changed this to a four-year BSc in Climate Change and Environmental Science in 2020.

“Even before the world seriously started thinking about the challenges of climate change, Kerala Agricultural University went many steps ahead by starting this academic programme, thereby training quality manpower, many of whom are now placed in institutes of excellence within and outside the country and thus serving mankind,” Dr P O Nameer, dean of the College of Climate Change and Environmental Science told University World News.

“It is extremely important that we start similar undergraduate programmes in all the major Universities across the country as we need a huge quantity of trained manpower in the days to come to handle the challenges being faced due to Climate Change,” Nameer said, adding that climate change and environmental sciences also needed to be included in the syllabus of schools.

According to a Ministry of Education official, speaking anonymously as he is not authorised to speak to the media, it is crucial to educate students about issues impacting the environment and ways of protecting, conserving and sustaining the environment by using multiple channels.

He said: “Environmental Studies is not a typical course pertaining to a particular stream (of studies).”

The Education Ministry’s online free e-learning portal ‘SWAYAM’ is also offering teaching materials, videos and other online content for the subject for use in teaching the course.