How “Paryavaran Mitra” Reinforces ESD in schools in India: A Case Study

By Shalini Bhorkar

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Practical Implementation of ESD Curriculum

4. Analysis

5. Conclusion

6. References

7. Notes

8. About the Author

1. Introduction

The importance India has always placed in the environment and its conservation can be seen in many of its age-old religious scriptures, traditions, and in the incorporation of environmental protection as a fundamental duty in the Indian constitution drafted in 1950 (NCERT). In 1972, at the United Nations’ first global conference on environment, the then Indian Prime Minister delivered a speech linking deteriorating environment with poverty (Toner & Meadowcroft, 2009). Following that, several programmes were planned as part of the government’s efforts toward spreading knowledge of Environmental Education (EE) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). EE has occupied a central focus in the Indian national curriculum from the time it was introduced in schools in 1986, leading up to its inclusion as a compulsory subject by the Supreme Court of India in 1991 (Banga Chhokar, 2010). However, like other subjects that follow an ‘examination-oriented curriculum’ and one-way ‘classroom teaching’ (Tilak, 2003, p. 375), EE lacked experiential learning. For a subject like EE, however, a more constructivist way of learning is paramount to bring about any actual results (CEE; Schweisfurth, 2011). In order to reinforce the EE curriculum with activity-based projects, Paryavaran Mitra (hereafter referred to as PM when referring to both the programme and the participants), meaning "Friends of Environment”, was launched in 2010 by a national-level institution, Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in partnership with the Indian government’s Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and a private organisation, ArcellorMittal. This entry chronicles the procedures undertaken by PM to make EE curriculum bring about actual change, and concludes with a discussion of the adherence of this programme to some prominent ESD theories.

2. Background

PM was established with the primary objective of providing a ‘local-specific, practical and activity-based’ (Bodzin, Klein, & Weaver, 2010, p.67) approach to give fruition to the EE and ESD curriculum prescribed by the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005. Envisaging the need for the practical implementation of EE and ESD topics beginning right at the grassroots level in India, PM set up an ambitious plan. Spread out over a period of three school years, this sustainability and climate change education programme aims to reach out to 20 million students from Grades 6 to 8, encompassing 200,000 schools in 626 districts across India. In order to ensure its reach to every part of this diverse country, the programme is offered in 15 different languages. CEE planned a hands-on approach involving the entire school community including educators, parents, and the local community, in not only raising awareness and building necessary skills but also by giving them a chance to bring about change originating in their own microcosm. The multi-pronged initiatives ensure effectiveness right from the stage of conception to execution by providing necessary technical and logistic support throughout the entire programme.

3. Practical Implementation of EE and ESD Curriculum

The implementation process kickstarts with the voluntary registration of the school as a “PM School”. This ensures that the school gets all the necessary support from CEE in the form of teacher handbooks, student booklets, and continuous guidance. The teacher handbook has ideas for projects based on the NCF syllabus to help teachers supplement their lessons with action projects. The handbook explains the paramount role of the teacher as a facilitator in bringing about a change in the mindsets, which is essential for the successful implementation of the projects. The handbook provides step-by-step instructions right from identification of an issue, to planning the process and achieving the outcomes. Teachers and students act collectively in choosing a topic most suitable to their social, economic, topographical, ecological, and cultural context. Detailed case studies have been included in the handbook for the teachers to get a complete picture of how the projects may be executed. The student booklets provide a menu of “Action Ideas” and offer guidance on gaining practical knowledge relevant to the local surroundings and enlisting help from the local community. They also help in evaluating the changes at the end of the project and preparing “PM report cards”.

Keeping in mind the regional diversity of India, the projects are classified into five themes for PMs to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability in their own spheres of influence. They act through class activities and action projects on the topic chosen from one of these themes. While class activities involve the entire class in activities such as growing plants in the school garden and saving electricity in the classroom, action projects require planned and concerted efforts and involve more comprehensive planning for implementation of projects over a period of time. Table 1 gives a broad idea of the themes and a few examples of related class activities and actions projects that have been carried out.

Table 1  Class Activities and Action Projects

Table 1 Class Activities and Action Projects

CEE also has tie-ups with several NGOs across India. These NGOs and the local CEE office offer guidance and assistance to the educators and students during the projects. The projects are well-documented by way of photographs, videos, scrapbooks, and interviews with the people involved. The actual changes to the environment are recorded and reports are generated to be later submitted to the local CEE agency for evaluations. Best practices and lesson plans are shared in the PM newsletter and learning materials and videos are uploaded on the website for use as references. This includes materials on the five themes stated above as well as other specific themes such as climate change and low-carbon lifestyles. CEE also organises campaigns and contests to commemorate events such as Earth Day, World Water Day, and International Biodiversity Day. Regular workshops are held for training teachers and sharing action ideas. Awards are given out annually to students, teachers and schools for exemplary work across the various themes and for introducing sustainability as a way of life in the community.

4. Analysis

As discussed above, PM’s work in India’s schools aligns well with some prominent theories for ESD and EE. These include Vare and Scott’s (2007) ESD1/ESD2 framework, critical pedagogy of place, and action theory. Based on Vare and Scott’s (2007) approaches towards ESD, ESD1 is a type of education that leads to immediate changes in the environment resulting from one’s learning and actions, whereas ESD2 stresses the importance of critical thinking leading to lifelong learning. While most of the tangible results of the PM projects fall under the category of ESD1, the learning that it generates is not limited to the participants but includes the people impacted by the changes brought upon them as a consequence of the projects. This leads to new perspectives that could be categorised as ESD2 and are likely to result in further changes in the environment even after the cessation of the projects. Moreover, the teacher’s handbook produced by the environmentalists, when used in conjunction with the EE syllabus prepared by the educationists, enable the teachers to think critically and identify issues in their local environment. The steps in the process towards implementation of the PM projects necessitate navigating through the challenges in the path leading to the desired outcomes, thereby utilizing both ESD1 and ESD2 knowledge and experience.  In this sense, the roles played by ESD1 and ESD2 in the PM programme are truly interdependent and complementary (Vare & Scott, 2007).

Critical pedagogy of place emphasises the links between ‘environment, education and culture’ and the essentiality of considering the ‘social and ecological contexts’ (Gruenewald, 2003, p. 10) in EE. The Indian curriculum, though detailed in content, prescribes the same standard syllabus for students across the length and the breadth of a country as diverse as India (NCERT). The PM programme strives to accentuate the ‘local knowledge’ (Dyer et al., 2004, p. 45) of educators. It fulfils the aims of critical pedagogy of place by guiding school communities to think about place-specific issues pertaining to the local context. PM endeavours to complement EE by advocating students to study their local environment, build relationships with the communities and revive traditional practices that help in conserving and transforming the environments. As a result of the awareness created amongst the PMs of their own ecological surroundings and actions required towards betterment of these surroundings, their objectives go much beyond achieving the curricular targets. The PM programme has successfully identified the need of developing EE that is entirely dependent ‘on one’s social and geographical position’ (Gruenewald, 2003, p. 6).

Activity theory propounds that as individuals take part in an activity to bring about a change in their environment, they themselves undergo changes in the process of their learning and working together (Krasny & Roth, 2010). While the focus of PM programme is to bring about a change in their immediate environment, the magnitude of their projects often involves the collective efforts of people within and outside the school community. The PMs need to interact with each other and their peers and elders in the school as well as with the community, government bodies and NGOs. Activity theory highlights these interrelationships during the entire period of their collaboration and the simultaneous changes occurring in the stakeholders and their surroundings. As the PMs continue to get involved in more and more projects, they also come to understand the correlations between the themes under which they categorise their projects, bringing about a deeper understanding of their activities.

5. Conclusion

This entry has focused on the constructivist learning methods of the PM programme in increasing the effectiveness of EE/ESD learning in India, a country that still predominantly follows the “chalk and talk” method of pedagogy. Activity based learning itself is currently at a very nascent stage in India and the issue of evaluation of impact and success of this programme requires much further discussion and analysis. However, the way the PM programme connects with the various dominant theories in the field of ESD is a clear indication of the robustness and strength of this programme. The role of PM in making communities “environmentally literate” (Bodzin et al., 2010, p. 13) across the whole of India by helping them understand their local ecosystem better is irrefutable. Their multipronged approaches begin with facilitating an understanding of the geological terrain, biosphere, culture and traditions and the interrelationships between the different components of the ecosystem and finally learning to make these components sustainable. They extend their learning to distinguish between good and bad practices and thereby initiate environmentally friendly ways of living. The PM programme thus strives to provide a holistic learning experience to the network of 20 million young leaders from schools, thereby building the commitment and potential to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability in their spheres of influence in the coming years.

6. References

Banga Chhokar, K. (2010). Higher Education and Curriculum Innovation for Sustainable Development in India. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education11(2), 141-152.

Bodzin, A., Klein, B. S., & Weaver, S. (Eds.). (2010). The Inclusion of Environmental Education in Science Teacher Education. Springer Science & Business Media.

Centre for Environment Education. (2011). Paryavaran Mitra Action towards Sustainability: Teacher’s Handbook. India: Centre for Environment Education.

CEE : Centre for Environment Education (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Dyer, C., Choksi, A., Awasty, V., Iyer, U., Moyade, R., Nigam, N., Purohit, N., Shah, S., & Sheth, S. (2004). Knowledge for Teacher Development in India: The Importance of ‘Local Knowledge’ for In-service Education. International Journal of Educational Development 24(1), 39–52.

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place. Educational Researcher32(4), 3-12.

Krasny, M. E., & Roth, W. M. (2010). Environmental Education for Social–Ecological System Resilience: A Perspective from Activity Theory. Environmental Education Research16(5-6), 545-558.

NCERT: National Council Of Educational Research and Training.  (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Paryavaran Mitra: Friends of Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Schweisfurth, M. (2011). Learner-Centred Education in Developing Country Contexts: From Solution to Problem? International Journal of Educational Development31(5), 425-432.

Toner, G., & Meadowcroft, J. (Eds.). (2009). Innovation, Science, Environment 1987-2007: Special Edition: Charting Sustainable Development in Canada, 1987-2007. McGill-Queen's University Press. Retrieved from

Tilak, J. B. (2003). Education, Society, and Development: National and International Perspectives. New Delhi: APH Publishing.

Vare, P., & Scott, W. (2007). Learning for a Change: Exploring the Relationship between Education and Sustainable Development. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development1(2), 191-198.

7. Notes

1. The information provided in the first three sections of this entry have been obtained from the website of Paryavaran Mitra and from the CEE “Teacher’s Handbook”. It also draws on information from the videos uploaded on their website, including interviews with the director of Centre for Environment Education, India, Mr.Kartikeya Sarabhai. The author of this entry wishes to thank Mr.Prashant Moon, CEE India, for sending a copy of the “Teacher’s Handbook”, a resource which is available only to PM schools.

2. Although this PM programme was started almost 6 years ago, there is no record on their website of any comprehensive evaluation other than the preparation of the PM reports and recognition of exemplary work with awards. Therefore, this entry does not comment on the actual results of this programme so far. The activities of the PM, exemplary methods employed and the implications therein, especially against the backdrop of an educational system still largely lacking in activity-based learning, form the main focus of this entry.

3. Given the limited scope of the paper, the terms “ESD1”, “ESD2”, “critical pedagogy of place” and “activity theory” have only been broadly defined in section 3 of this entry.

About the Author

Shalini Bhorkar

MEd Student, The University of Hong Kong