By Navdha Malhotra, Associate Campaign Director, Leading Purpose Campaigns
Twenty years ago when Delhi students first took a stand against burning fire crackers, their movement initially faced skepticism, but soon grew to be an unprecedented success. The movement has lasted until today, showcasing the power of young voices, as new students join the cause every year. As one of those former students who participated in the first few years of the firecracker ban, I am a witness to the potential of students action for change. My Right To Breathe have joined together to empower students from public and government schools to fight air pollution, and I am proud to support this campaign. This is however, only the beginning of the fight against air pollution.
What past movements and campaigns taught us
Past movements and campaigns have taught us that educational institutions are the ideal places to create a change. Places open to new ideas and behaviors, will inform our actions for the rest of our lives. This impacts our curriculum and has on our interests, behaviours and values as adults are incalculable. While many Delhi schools have a robust environmental science program, it is often not compulsory especially when students get older. Students are taught science, but they are not always taught about the impacts of climate change and human activity on their lives and how they can make a difference. Awareness programs in schools and colleges, particularly those that focus on solutions for air pollution inculcate in students not just an awareness of the problems but a proactive attitude to solve them and a sense of ownership over their city.
Importance of including air pollution and environmental science in the school curriculum
The second long-term change that is critical for this movement is including issues like air pollution and environmental science in the school curriculum. There are often campaigns that work with schools to educate them about air pollution, water harvesting or recycling but these are rarely a part of the formal curriculum and are easily discarded when traditional subjects become a priority. This is not to say that these programs are exceptional in their awareness-building and the way they activate students. But it is time to make subjects like air pollution a part of the basic syllabus for every school. Understanding the causes and the solutions for air pollution empowers students to believe they can make a difference in their own lives with their own actions. Only by incorporating these topics into classes from nursery school onwards, can we truly strike a change in the next generation and ensure their future is safe and sustainable.
Benefits of actions taken by schools
These changes should include actions taken by the schools as well as teachers and administrators who can use their school as a functioning example of the benefits in taking action. For example, as part of the 2016 Delhi Solar Policy, the New Delhi Government has marked 200 government schools for the installation of rooftop solar in the next few years. Having schools convert to solar energy would make a large impact to Delhi’s grid, cut down on power plant activity and demonstrate to students that their institutions practice what they preach. Other actions like sorting waste, recycling, encouraging carpooling and cutting down on waste burning are all activities that students can take at home or at school. Empowering students with the tools to speak to their families and their communities and to move beyond air pollution masks and air filters is a powerful step that only schools can take. Imagine a whole generation that takes public transportation and carpool, segregates waste and cuts down on waste burning also powers their homes from the sun as a matter of course and not as part of a fight. A generation that lives long and healthy lives and never needs to buy an air mask for a child again.