A young child drinks from a water tap

Foresters across the mountainous northeastern Indian state of Nagaland will help roll out a unique programme of environmental education, co-developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Pani Pahar - the Water Curriculum', jointly developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Hearth Advisors, a division of Canta Consultants LLP will form the central education platform within a programme of tree plantation drives, waste management and recycling that engages students, communities, village councils and towns across an area that contains about a quarter of all India's forests.

Designed for students between the ages of 9 and 15, the Pani Pahar curriculum has been freely available to teachers and schools since 2020. The aim of the curriculum is to engage students in experiential learning and to instil in them a sense of responsibility towards water conservation, and environmental sustainability more generally. The curriculum preparation and instructional design was led by the Hearth Advisors, based on research conducted at the University of Cambridge.

Young Nagaland forestry graduates under the Mobius Young Professional Programme are being trained by the Hearth Advisors to impart the Pani Pahar curriculum in schools, collect data on ‘indigenous knowledge and practices in forest management/natural resource management’ and contribute to an international research initiative ‘to translate indigenous knowledge into concrete policy action’ launched by the Indian government at COP 27.

The foresters will also be given hands-on training and work experience on various aspects of forestry projects by a team from the Nagaland Forest Management Project (NFMP). The NFMP is a development project “to improve forest ecosystems” supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) of the Japanese government.

The Nagaland project is led by Cambridge alumnus Atoho Jakhalu, who is Director of the Climate Studies and Knowledge Solutions Centre in the Government of Nagaland, supported by the Government Department of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Hearth Advisors, as well as YouthNet, and funded by the Mobius Foundation.

“We anticipate the success of this project in Nagaland will set a strong foundation to be followed for the rest of the other seven North Eastern states of the Indian Himalayan region (which has a quarter of India’s total forest cover and therefore has a huge role to play in keeping up with India’s climate commitments especially in the forestry sector),” Jakhalu said.

‘Pani Pahar – Waters of the Himalayas' grew out of a collaborative research project between the University of Cambridge, The Centre for Ecology Development and Research in India (CEDAR) and the Southasia Institute for Advanced Studies in Nepal (SIAS). The project explores the changing landscapes and escalating water crises of the Indian Himalayas. It combines academic research led by Cambridge Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education Professor Bhaskar Vira and Dr Eszter Kovacs then at Cambridge’s Department of Geography (now at University College London) with contemporary imagery by photojournalist Toby Smith, which has been exhibited in the UK and India.

The curriculum, developed by the Hearth Advisors, aims to help students understand water resources and sustainability and how these are impacted by climate change. The detailed lesson plans encourage reflection and research on the human causes of water scarcity, and some of the effects of environmental change on humans and our shared resources. It also helps students understand the meaning of activism, recognise some of the challenges associated with activism, and begin to associate activism with the needs and issues of their school.

“These school materials are designed to allow young people, who are highly mobilised through the school strikes for climate, to develop a critical engagement with these issues, with learning resources and educational materials that are targeted at different stages of the secondary school curriculum,” said Vira. “We wanted to show the links between our research on water scarcity and broader concerns about environmental change and crises.”

The curriculum has three sets, one for each level, involving 10-hours of contact time with students on each level. The curriculum is targeted at students of junior, middle and senior level.

The curriculum was launched in India in 2020, although Vira says it could easily be incorporated into the school systems of other countries, including the UK. The resources are free to download and use, and have been released through creative commons licensing.

Funding for the research project and exhibition was provided by the UK’s Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme, which was a joint initiative of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Funding was also provided by the University of Cambridge’s Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account. The Oxonian India Foundation funded the graphic design of the curriculum materials.

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