MAR 2020  
Anchoring Dreams with a Sustainable School: Empowering Young India

My story is about a school. A school that makes dreams of a young India come to life, a school that is a child’s companion in their journey of accomplishing dreams. I remember that warm tingling feeling I had every night I packed my bag and folded my school uniform for the next day. There would be an innocent glint in my eyes whenever I felt the freshness of crisp paper from new schoolbooks. The long joyous hours of the day spent in the playground and science labs were most fruitful. My school is where I learnt everything I have known and made memories that would last a lifetime.

Sadly, for most students in rural India, going to school remains a far-fetched dream.

Many schools in rural India are in a dismal condition with dilapidated walls, gloomy spaces, no play areas, and inaccessibility to necessities such as clean drinking water and electricity.

Today, we are grappling with hazards of plastic pollution, climate change, and a meltdown of glaciers. We need our youth to be able leaders to fight against environmental degradation by equipping them with solutions to envision a greener planet.

The Horror of Education in Rural India

Lacklustre infrastructure, no play areas or fun spaces: Many states are yet to fulfil the norms laid down in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The provision for playgrounds and construction of boundary walls, both of which feature in the Act, exhibits the largest shortfall in India, with 40% schools not having a playground and 43% functioning without a boundary wall. The figures for laboratories for science-related subjects are further dismal.

No furniture: Over 10 million students sit on the floor and slouch for long hours to read and write leading to postural issues. Slouching leads to long-term defects such as impaired cognitive functioning and abnormal posture. Additionally, the District Information System for Education (DISE) data show that only 53% of total government schools, which form the majority of schools in rural India, have electricity connection. Only 28% schools (18% government schools) have computers and 9% (4% government schools) have an Internet connection. With the digital revolution beginning to pervade in urban schools, including urban government schools, it is likely that rural schools will miss riding the digital wave due to insufficient infrastructure.

No school shoes and uniform: Millions of students don’t have access to the right footwear and consequently suffer from foot disorders. Students walk barefoot and travel long distances from their homes to their school. Often, they wear only old/tattered clothing. Some of the families are so poor that they can’t even afford bags, shoes, and uniform.

Sensitizing on sustainability and problems of plastic pollution: Plastic pollution is a social menace and a global concern, which needs to be fought against with unwavering commitment across countries. Rural areas are least aware of these issues of sustainability and environment because they lack even the basic resources for their own well-being and livelihood. Enabling behavioural change at the grassroots is possible only when this section of our society is sensitized through awareness and knowledge of environmental concerns.

Create future green entrepreneurs: A World Bank study found that one in four teachers are absent in a typical government-run primary school. Absenteeism rates were higher in low-income states of Jharkhand and Bihar, with the former reporting a rate of 42%. Moreover, the student-teacher ratio is extremely high creating a sense of disinterest among students at an
early age.

Outcomes for India

Poor employability is a direct outcome of poor education. With 70% of India’s workforce residing in rural areas, it is rural India that will form the majority of tomorrow’s workforce. The poor quality of infrastructure in rural schools will surely affect the employability of rural youth and our country’s development and environmental stewardship.

Transforming Rural Education through ‘YELO-Green Schools’

Through the ‘YELO-Green School’ project, corporates are promising underprivileged students a brighter future. These schools offer a unique holistic solution in which education is made more conducive, fun, and engaging while sensitizing children on sustainability leading to high attendance rates, enhanced student engagement, and reduced student dropout rates. The project is a tailor-made selection of carefully crafted initiatives to infuse sustainability among students. 

Chirag Bhandari, CEO of Ennoble Social Innovations, is creating low-cost innovative products through this enterprise to solve critical social problems while transforming the landscape of rural education in India. YELO-Green bag, a school bag specially designed to convert into a writing desk, is their first innovation that has won several awards. With this project, Chirag Bhandari is now on a mission to solve the global problem of lacklustre rural education while creating a movement on sustainability.

The vision of the company is to make 1 million students green ambassadors by creating conducive learning school spaces focused on sustainability across the globe.

School beautification

Ever wondered how depressing it would be to go to a school with leaking roofs, chipping walls, and dilapidated furniture?  Schools are temples of knowledge and should offer a congenial environment for learning in every way.

Ennoble Social Innovations is painting these schools in rural areas and beautifying them with sustainability as its core theme. This has improved the infrastructure while also helping students understand and connect with sustainability.

Playgrounds made of scrap and waste

Playing is a very important means of learning. The team at Ennoble Social Innovations is designing one-of-a-kind playscapes using industrial waste such as oil drums, cable drums, steel cable drums, and wooden pellets. Bringing in the vital reduce, recycle, and reuse concepts in upcycling of industrial waste, these playscapes bring back the joy of playing to the children who don’t have the luxury of urban playgrounds.

YELO—A green bag

Schools in rural areas face a critical problem of lack of availability of desks and benches. This is where innovative eco-friendly ‘YELO-Green’ bags solve the posture-related problems of millions of children who are compelled to sit and study without adequate furniture. This bag comes with a sitting mat and desk that provide the right ergonomic furniture conducive for studying for long hours. Its unique design helps inculcate practices such as sustainability, cleanliness, daily hygiene, and menstrual hygiene among students. These bags also help in offsetting carbon, as they are made up of recycled materials such as tyre tubes, plastic, denim, and discarded seat covers, thus solving posture-related problems.

The YELO-Green bag is a facilitator to enable sustainable habit formation through its sustainability kit. The kit has a steel bottle, tiffin box, litter bag, cloth bag, reusable menstrual pad, and sanitation kit.

The methodology is that the students are provided with essential daily-use items in the bag, ensuring minimum wastage and maximum recycling.

The project engages with students throughout their formative years from Class 1 to 12 and ensures that sustainability is ingrained in their DNA.

Sustainability digital education 

Sustainability education and translating knowledge into lifestyle practices is where the role of digital learning with school projects comes to the fore. The meticulously designed, compelling audio-visual content on sustainability in native languages helps students understand relevant concepts, global scenarios, and key takeaways. There is a set of 12 curated activities as well, which the school students perform as monthly projects to understand the practical applicability of these concepts in their day-to-day lives. These projects include initiatives on waste management, hygiene training, waste disposal, composting, making personalized solar lamps, planting trees, and creating kitchen gardens.

The team also provides books with appealing graphical content that teaches students about environment through attractive stories and fosters reading as a habit among them, thereby invoking sustainability awareness through storytelling. The content on imbibing critical lifestyle practices through habit formation and creative learning forms a holistic course designed to provide hands-on experience on living a sustainable life.

Be an Agent of Change

Wondering how you can contribute to the rural education system in India?

Whether you are a student, business person or homemaker, you can be a change-maker too. You can volunteer to create these fun educational spaces while training students on sustainability.

If you are part of an organization, you can also lead them to Ennoble Social Innovations and help by financially supporting this project or providing scrap materials. The scrap your organization donates could be transformed to make a treasured school bag for underprivileged students. You can ensure that all the unused scrap doesn’t end up in landfills and oceans, and is instead used to fulfil a child’s dream. 

It’s as simple as that-contribute by donating scrap materials and reducing single-use plastic to help create a world which is sustainable and not suffocating in plastic pollution. Let us begin a movement to change India by adopting better lifestyle choices and empowering our youth.

Surmai Kaushik is CSR Executive at Mahindra Susten.