What is Environmental and Climate Literacy? Hear it from Mallika who’s seen it’s effects first hand in Antarctica

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This post is a part of Neer, a collaborative project by DCB Bank and Chaaipani to bring out stories of individuals and initiatives that are working hard and smart to save water.

By Mallika Arya

I consider myself lucky to have grown up surrounded by family members who cared for the environment and made sure as kids we spent enough time outdoors. I observed the relationship my family had with nature – whether it was the way my grandmother took care of her plants or the way my father spent his weekends farming and growing his own vegetables. We weren’t explicitly taught how to be with nature but it was a way of life that my brother and I grew up in.

It took me years to realize that though we understood the importance of nature and felt very close to it – our lives in the city were actually not doing much to preserve it. When I started the Teach For India fellowship in 2014, I decided to integrate environmental studies into other subjects. The reason for the integration was that I wanted my students to understand the importance of nature, conservation, and protection as something that is not separate from our daily lives. While studying about dying polar bears and melting glaciers can be emotionally heavy for young kids, if taught and integrated properly, the elementary grades are the time when the foundation is built for climate literacy and informed decision making.

Climate Literacy, International Antartic Expedition, Mallika Arya

Being climate literate means understanding the essential principles of the Earth’s climate system, communicating about climate and climate change effectively and making informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect the climate.It was through my fellowship and interaction with my students that I understood the importance of climate change education. Children have a high ability to absorb information, they are able to spread information and not to forget – they are the leaders of tomorrow. It only makes sense to include them in the process of fighting against climate change and finding solutions.

That being said – why isn’t environmental studies taken more seriously in school by educators and students? As teachers were often trying to finish the syllabus – This leaves little time to go beyond what’s in the textbook and engage the kids in fun, out-of-syllabus activities. There is always too much admin work! There is no way we can do anything extra! As students we only like to absorb what we find interesting – is it really important to mug up the information about different types of soil when we’ve actually never seen or felt any of them?! Students living in cities will never have to face the direct consequences of sea level rise, so when they’re taught about this there are very little chances of them internalizing it.

Climate Literacy, International Antarctica Expedition, Mallika Arya

Through the Teach For India fellowship, I learnt about different teaching and learning styles, the importance of lesson planning, time management, and integration. Our morning meetings would begin with newspaper reading. Articles would be differentiated according to reading levels. Each article would have a set of questions the students would have to answer once they finished reading and they would have to summarize the article for the rest of the class.

Our science classes were based on newspaper articles, NASA reports and national geographic videos – instead of just focusing on outdated textbooks. This differentiated teaching method helped kids with different learning styles. Some would absorb information from readings, others would prefer learning through videos. We started a small kitchen garden. Everything from preparing the vegetable patch to the soil was done by the kids. They made compost by collecting kitchen waste from their communities and had to deal with problems like shortage of water, excessive heat and even the poor quality of the soil.

India has a population of 1.21 Billion people today. Children represent 39% of this total. While UNESCO promotes climate change education as a central element of the global response to climate change, it’s about time we start integrating it in out education systems across the country. Climate change education should not only focus on climate literacy among students but also reorient the education system itself. This includes providing “green” vocational training, integrating disaster preparedness in schools and building safe and green schools.

One of the main goals of my trip to Antarctica was to come back and talk to kids (and adults) about what I saw. As someone who has seen the effects of climate change first hand in a continent so far away, I consider it my responsibility now to help people understand the connection between our lives here and the well being of the 7th continent. Even if it means having conversations with friends, family or even strangers about the penguins, whales, and seals I saw.

Climate Literacy, International Antarctica Expedition, Mallika Arya

It is hard to bring justice to the pristine beauty of Antarctica through photos, videos or articles but its important to still try. This is where climate literacy plays a crucial role – if we educate the masses about how our actions are disturbing fragile eco systems thousands of miles away we still have a shot at a better future.

Antarctica is a continent that’s never seen war, famine or hunger. The continent regulates all other forms on life on earth, its destruction means the end of life on earth as we know it– are we ready to let that happen? It’s about time we start educating ourselves and those around us if we hope to see a brighter future.“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”


This story was written by Mallika Arya. To read a detailed account of her International Antarctic Expedition visit her website!

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