Posts Tagged ‘citizen's environmental network’

Modeling a Citizen’s Environmental Network

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

1 Education Theme

International Community Understandings (ICU) is an expression of cosmopolitanism that gives an opportunity for education to bridge worlds and to work in the interest of human beings at all ages. Cosmopolitans consider themselves as world citizens. So, they “resist the temptations of the narrow nationalisms of the countries where they were born. They would never go to war for a country; but they will enlist in a campaign against any nation that gets in the way of universal justice.  Hence, cosmopolitanism can be considered as the foundation of a People-based International Community. (Bado Arsène Brice).

2 Education Objectives

(i) Groups:- Make local conservation plans and share them.

(ii) Individuals:- Become a good steward of local biodiversity.

(iii) Groups and Individuals: Create a permanent sense of place.

3 History

SCAN UK (1992-2000)

The Schools Communities and Nature project (SCAN) developed in Wales UK as a practical response to  the Rio environment summit in the 1990s.  It originated within the Dyfed County Council’s teacher’s advisory service from the response of schools in Pembrokeshire to the local Sea Empress oil spill.  It involved primary and secondary schools in Pembrokeshire piloting simple classroom methods for pupils of all ages to probe the quality of life in their communities. The aim of SCAN was to alert children to the character of their surroundings, and establish a features database that lists the good and bad things in their neighbourhood.  It failed to take root because it was a pre-INTERNET paper system that was eclipsed by the long drawn out development of classroom IT. 

4 Rationale

(i) Why India?

India is the first country to adopt the idea of a Citizen’s Environmental Network (CEN). It is centred on the concept of ‘Smartpur’ for villages.  ‘Smartpure’ emerged from the underlying idea of integrating IT into the existing practices, processes of community life.  The aim is to enable people of the community to make their lives better and contribute to the overall well-being of the village.  The IT roll out is funded by Nokia in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation (  The content is managed locally by the community, its schools and businesses.

Smartpur stands on the foundation of six cultural pillars, namely education, health, finance, governance, livelihood and entertainment. Each of these pillars is further supported by wireless broadband access-enabled digital infrastructure, leading to efficiency in daily lives, transparency in governance, economic prosperity for households, and ease of access to various kinds of services and information.

Examples of Smartpur objectives:

  • communities have access to affordable medical diagnoses and consultation through digitally literate ASHA workers and telemedicine services; 
  • youth have relevant skills to find jobs or become entrepreneurs; 
  • people have timely and relevant access to welfare schemes or entitlements; 
  • households have access to digital financial services; 
  • the community has access to arts workers to help local communities plan and take part in activities like drama, dance, painting and photography and there is access to high quality audio-visual entertainment;
  • people have access to digital content for self learning about unfashionable school subjects, such as zoology, to gain an understanding of the natural world and how this can help consider ways to face global challenges such as climate change and food security, seeking to find solutions that help both animals and humans alike.

(ii) Why Kanchipuram?

‘Smartpur’ is aiming to reach Kanchipuram and become embedded in 10 villages with Asoor as the hub center and remaining 9 villages as the spoke centers. These locations may be considered as pilots for modeling a CEN.

HUB: Asoor

SPOKES: Kilpermunalur, Tennari, Kavathndagllam, Periyanattham, Kolathur, Vitchanthangal, Avalur, Chiniwalkam, Pallavaram.  Asoor village is in Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu located on the north east coast of the state. Kanchipuram is home to 3.9 million people. 

5  Social exclusion

Eliminating social exclusion is one of the goals of the Indian constitution, wherein the masses can completely participate in all aspects of life with dignity.  Actually, the increased usage of the Internet and information and communication technology (ICT) in contemporary times has resulted in a newform of social inequality. This social inequality is arising because of the disparities between and among the individuals in terms of digital skills, use of the Internet, and access to digital devices. This divide is referred to as “the digital divide”, which is more visible today, especially in the form of social exclusion in India.

The nexus of the climate crisis and socioeconomic and political inequalities is at the root of various climate injustices, making India an archetypal site for their manifestation.  The worst impacts of the crisis are being denied, ignored and normalised, because these burdens fall on the poor, women, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and others with little political voice.

Internet usage by the masses largely depends on factors such as the availability of affordable devices, network coverage and connectivity, along with data costs. Today, when India is encouraging the digitalization of services, affordable data availability becomes crucial. However, even after the improvement in availability and accessibility of affordable devices and data, there are certain sections of society who, because of their social and cultural capital, have greater access to resources as compared to others. Because of its social, economic, and political implications, the digital divide has recently stimulated  the interest of academics and policymakers in community/school strategies to engage with an international community.

6 Digital literacy

.ICT, or information and communications technology, is the infrastructure and components that enable modern computing to occupy a substantial role in all our lives (especially in Covid-19 times). Digital literacy and successful use of Internet technology have become essential in today’s world. India is known for its social diversity, and the concept of social inclusion is enshrined in the Indian constitution. However, some groups and categories of people have historically been excluded and continue to be excluded today. There are varied reasons for such exclusion (e.g. caste, gender/transgenderism tribe, disability). The challenge to Smartpur is to focus on the assessment of the impact of the digital divide on Indian society, specifically on the phenomenon of social exclusion because of the coming digitalization of almost all aspects of our lives.  The notion of digital inclusion is not only about access to the technology and Internet sources, but also how access directly and indirectly influences the lives of the marginalized and deprived sections of the society.  The phenomenon of social exclusion has a deep impact on a person’s access to opportunities, especially in the context of power relationships.  Just reducing the financial and social hindrances towards Internet access would not reduce social inequalities until and unless equal efforts are made towards supporting the population and providing them the necessary digital skills. As a result, it’s critical that digital economic policies conceived and developed for sustainable growth should include initiatives to bridge these digital inequalities. Further research in the area will be more effective in addressing India’s hurdles to digital inclusion.

7  Richness of a digital learning environment

Our rapidly changing world has posed the long-standing question to education, ―How can today’s schools be transformed so as to become environments of teaching and learning that makes individuals lifelong learners and prepares them for the 21st Century?” The response to this question is the focus of the OECD project, ‘Innovative Learning Environments’, and has produced a sampling of the rich array of new visions for education around the world. As one might imagine, many learning environments have looked to technology in their efforts to redesign teaching and learning. While technology integration has long been a key area of concern in education, the intersection of technology with our rapidly transforming educational landscape is framing the nature of technology in education in profound, new ways. New and emerging technologies are provoking a re-conceptualisation of teaching and learning, while also serving as catalysts for transformation and innovation. Successfully preparing all learners with the skills and capacities for 21st century citizenship— global awareness, creativity, collaborative problem-solving, self-directed learning—is no small order, and many educational leaders are finding that the traditional forms of education that have evolved through the end of the last century are simply inadequate for achieving these goals. At the same time, while our outer world was transforming, considerable advances have been made in the learning sciences, forcing educators to reconsider how they approach learning, instruction, and the environments created to foster these. Finally, dramatic advances in educational technology have inspired powerful new ways for learners to engage with all kinds of content and activities in their own self-direct learning experiences. The juxtaposition of these three events creates a very interesting challenge and opportunity—a space to reconsider, re-imagine, and re-invent learning environments able to prepare and excel each individual for effective life-long learning.

Ecosacy: the ability to understand and respond to the environment

Friday, December 29th, 2006

In the late 1980s, a small group of educators in the United States set out to develop courses, curricula, and resources with implications for ‘a living in the universe story’. Their efforts cast seeds, which cast further seeds, bonding with multiples of other efforts across the world. Around this time I became involved with a UK initiative, kick-started by the Duke of Edinburgh, to create a new subject for the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.  At an informal dinner party at Buckingham Palace I suggested that the mood was to create a culture, where ‘ecosacy’, the language of environment, was taught together with literacy and numeracy; all three being required for a balanced view of society. My definition of ecosacy was an ability to conceptualise the wholeness of self and environment as a set of beliefs to live by and a practical context that gives meaning and continuity to life.  To be ecosate means having the knowledge and mind set to act, speak and think according to deeply held beliefs and belief systems about people in nature as one community of beings. This means, as Scrooge’s nephew in A Christmas Carol points out, we should treat all people as ‘fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures on other journeys’

There was general agreement but no one could see a practical way forward unless there was a root and branch reform of the education system.  When the British national curriculum emerged it was just a re-jigged version of the Victorian prescription that had been designed to expand an Empire. Its contemporary aim was to maintain national economic growth between 2-3% year-on-year, for ever.   There was no mandatory architecture for the pillars of sustainable development and its associated cross-curricular topic work, which start with issues of living in an overcrowded world and centre on conservation management of nature’s assets.

I left Prince Phillip’s soiree with Angus Ogilvie, and we spent the rest of the evening in the Athenaeum where I was staying overnight.  Here we were joined by a group of senior civil servants in the Overseas Development Administration, and this chance meeting was to lead to several visits as an educational advisor to Nepal where the ODA was funding a public school, under the patronage of the Nepalese Royal Family.   The objective was to produce an educational model of Nepal as an exemplar for the new middle school subject that I was developing with teachers in Cambridge.  The subject was to be called ‘natural economy’.   Economic development was to be balanced against conservation management of landscape, wildlife and natural resources.  In other words, natural economy deals with the organization of natural resources for production.  It is complementary to political economy, which deals with the organization of people for production.

In Nepal, I first made contact with Buddhism as a religion working with the grain of nature.  Some seeds were set, and partially developed through discussions with a postgraduate Nepalese student in my department, which set me thinking about spiritual values of natural resources, an area now described as ‘deep ecology’.  By the turn of the millennium this became a small, fragmented, but committed movement on a global scale.   One focus for widespread discussion was the Earth Literacy Web, where the organisers’ questions at the Millennium indicated a strong educational sentiment at that time.

“What is Earth asking of us at this moment? What if we saw ourselves as a movement giving voice to an emerging Ecozoic era? What if we viewed Earth as a connection of webs (European, Asian, Australian, African, South American, and North American), an integral Earth Literacy “campus” with each of us and countless others invited to become a vast community / faculty of learning? What if we begin to envision and design regional gatherings over the next 5-10 years, working together to host conferences and provide immersion experiences for people interested in learning about the Universe Story in settings closer to their home regions? What if we believed that we could become part of a communion with what can only be described as a sacred purpose to create a vibrant, regenerative Earth community?”

The idea of an earth literacy web is just one of many convergences of the diverse creativity of many individuals, organizations, and institutions.  They mark a beginning to organise the task of educating people to accept, protect, and foster the remnants of our living Earth within this large cultural, cosmological context.

The idea of citizen’s environmental networks for local education and action had in fact emerged in the nineties with the lead up to the Environment Summit in Rio di Janeiro, which took place in 1992.  Two years later, on International Earth Day, I gathered a group of teachers and students on a mountain top above the Neath Valley in South Wales overlooking the biggest open cast coal mine in Britain.  The site, Maes Gwynn, was being landscaped by the National Coal Board.  It was to be re-soiled and vegetated, then fertilised with tanker loads of processed human sewage to create a country park.  We were there to reflect on where we are, what we are doing, and what we need to do in the future as we live into a revolutionary new Earth/human relationship. It soon became clear that everyone had memories of vast, unbounded skies, seas, jungles and wild animals; of mountains, deserts, infinite starry nights, underwater universes, flocks of migratory birds, exotic animals and the bounty of numberless small farms.  But they had been obtained from television documentaries. In front of the next generation, the teachers faced the shock that it was members of their great grandparent’s generation who were the last to have seen, heard, tasted, and touched the smaller, yet equally powerful wonders of nature in their Welsh countryside. From this gathering eventually came the School and Community Agenda 21 Network (SCAN), a bilingual web resource for Welsh schools to help the communities they serve with plans for sustainable development.  However, this is an optional add on and not a radical syllabus change.

A common response of teachers who have made contact with the Cambridge natural economy syllabus is, ‘I wish I had been taught this at school’.  However, since that would mean replacing at least two traditional subjects, biology and geography, natural economy has only been taken up in schools operating the more flexible International Baccalaureate, or where, as in Namibia, there was a total re-evaluation of the old subjects. Most schools are unable to ideate culture and ecology and bring them to the centre of the curriculum  

Prince Philip’s response to natural economy was a wish to see it extended to integrate with an ecological/conservation management dimension.  This challenge was taken up by the ‘Going Green Directorate’, an informal grouping of teachers across the UK, and with the help of sponsorships from industry and the EC cultural ecology has been assembled as a web-based annotated mindmap (see my blogroll).  The hope of the GGD is that this provisional interactive learning framework will help people build their own personal body of knowledge to take a political/practical stance on society’s ever-increasing ability to disrupt environmental systems on a large scale.