In my opinion, most adults are are really spoilt and are almost irreparable in the context of making a change to sustainable habits!
Small children, they are different. They could be taught the right things; they could be moulded in ways that far more environment sensitive citizens of tomorrow.
How best could cleantech be taught to this segment?
In my opinion, the best way to teach cleantech for primary grade children is to get them involved. Make them do things, enable them be a part of the movement, take them out into the world and show them how many of our current habits and practices are harming the environment, Along the way, at as many stages as possible, demonstrate to them how some simple methods and technologies can solve problems and enrich our environment.
Some examples of how the above could be done:
Waste management at school premises – I have visited one nice school in California where the children themselves manage the entire waste of the school, segregation and all, until the waste reaches the final segregated bins kept outside the school gates. Simple, but super effective.
Energy efficiency – This is another simple fact and act that can be taught in schools. By showing them powerful videos of how economising on electricity use could help reduce CO2 emission, a school in Delhi teaches primary grade children the importance of energy efficiency. In this school, every child is taught to look back to see if the lights and fans are on or off when they leave the classroom. A simple but powerful habit that they will follow for their lifetime!
Reduce & reuse – I am glad to say that a number of schools (both in India where I live and in the US where I observed during my visits) have started the simple practice of training the children in reusing materials wherever they can. Many schools have clear limitations on the use of disposable plastics and other disposable products (cups, plates, carry bags…), and hence the children are required to form habits that can do away with disposables as much as possible. These habits alone ensure that they start using products that can be reused many times.
Renewable energy – Many schools worldwide have started putting up solar panels on their rooftops and/or on their premises. Why not use these mini power stations right on their premises to teach children about renewable energy and its benefits. Some schools have started doing it by teaching children about how solar power generation can be measured. In fact, in one of the schools, 6th grade children are required to note down the electricity generation details from the inverter every day and do some simple estimates based on these data!
Cleantech Picnics – Some of the schools have converted the general school picnics into environmental learning trips. I have seen this happen more frequently in the US but not unheard of in India and other developing countries too. These include trips to places such as sewage treatment facilities, large ground-mounted solar power plants, recycling facilities and to places where waste is converted into high-end upcycled products. Typically, these trips are more for secondary and higher secondary grades and not for primary grades. As part of my company, we earlier ran a sustainability museum called Suseum, where we showcased a number of common sustainability related products, and also held crafts-from-waste workshops. In the two years it ran (before I had to close it as the curator moved on and we could not find another!), we had primary grade children from more than 50 schools visiting it. The children spent many hours over there without really getting bored or tired – just shows the potential of getting children involved early in sustainability activities!
For children at an impressionable age, seeing is believing.
And such belief for them about important things like environment and sustainability can be transformational.