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Aug 17 2014 : The Times of India (Delhi)

The one hour given to midday meals (MDM) in schools is an opportunity for discussing a variety of issues related to sustainable development. The MDM scheme, introduced mainly to encourage kids to enroll and remain in school can be used as teaching aid, argue the authors of a recently-compiled manual on education for sustainable development for elementary schools published by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

`Towards a Green School' says that MDM provides a ready setting for discussing "resource conservation" (fuels used and cooking practices), pollution (type of cooking device), socio-cultural exchanges (types of food and taste), health and others.

Treating sustainability and environment as yet another subject isn't enough anymore.

United Nation's `Decade of Education for Sustainable Development' will be up in 2015 but there's much to be done.

While ESD requires “infusion of environmental and sustainability perspectives into the school curriculum“ what has actually happened, as the manual writers observe, is that “at the school level the responsibility for this lies exclusively with teachers teaching the environmental component, thus limiting it to a subject-centric role.

The manual uses several Delhi government schools as examples of institutions that are doing it right. A government school in Baprola has an `eco-park', a gazebo made of waste pipes and a water harvesting system. The students make compost with the surplus being sold. Government Girls' Senior Secondary School (No. 1) in Tilak Nagar ran a “my plant in my school“ drive-each student sowed a sapling and took care of it. As water at the school was in short supply, some kids brought water from home.

The communal midday meal, however, is one exercise all elementary school children take part in and the manual, preparedly by Kavita Sharma of NCERT's department of elementary education, stresses on using this. Teachers may encourage students taking MDM to inquire into where ingredients are grown, how they are procured, in what quantities and at what costs and even how they are stored and cooked. This, in turn, will help initiate discussions on hygiene, the link between the nature of ingredient and geography and nutrition.

The manual encourages teachers to undertake audits--including natural light, ventilation, cleanliness, ambient temperature, noise, accessibility, seating and water use to find out exactly how `green' their schools are.

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