Building a new generation of environmental leaders

How do you introduce young minds to questions a researcher might frame regarding the use and conservation of natural bio-resources?

ATREE runs a vacation training programme for secondary school students during their annual summer break. The programme is built around nature and science themes and the primary objective is to introduce young minds to the questions a researcher might frame regarding the use and conservation of natural bio-resources. It also seeks to sensitize them to the necessity of framing those questions. The hands-on learning programme offers a comprehensive introduction to the field of environment, ecology and conservation. It includes lectures by scientists and experts in the field of biology and bio-resources, visits to research institutes, orientation to field biology and outdoor camps. .

This year, the course was held from 26 April to 15 May at ATREE, Bangalore. It was sponsored by National Bioresource Development Board, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India with additional support from the Jamsetji Tata Trust. Twenty one selected secondary school students participated.

Classroom subjects ranged from biodiversity and urban wildlife to wildlife rehabilitation, waste management, sustainable agriculture, conservation issues, water quality monitoring, sustainable living and forest-based livelihoods of tribal folk, among others. Lectures were usually followed by assignments and group projects. Field trips provided a good break to the energetic teenagers and exposed them to the application of concepts and fieldwork methods. Field trips were organized to the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, Ramanagara vulture nesting area, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, the butterfly park at the Bannerghatta National Park, and to Navadarshanam, an eco ashram.

Documentaries on wildlife, conservation and livelihood gave students a wider perspective on important issues relating to the environment. Indeed, one of their assignments was on ‘Effectiveness of Wildlife TV Channels’. Other assigned projects were ‘Attitudes Towards Parks and Urban Green Spaces’ and ‘Use of Plastics’. Visits to Natural Remedies Pvt Ltd and Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) provided opportunity to learn about and get acquainted with institutional research.

Students were provided basic training in skills required for ecological field work like tree climbing, map reading and navigation, as well as exercises in sharpening observation skills by sketching birds for identification, identifying plants and insects, testing the quality of water and taking GPS points.

Feedback from students and parents was enthusiastic and spontaneously appreciative.
Students went away with certificates and prizes during the valedictory function, and hopefully, some lasting impressions.