RELO India’s virtual program trained Access teachers how to implement service-learning projects on diverse topics including climate change and the environment.
The Office of English Language Programs within the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has a very special function. This office designs and manages programs to promote language learning and support the teaching of English in countries around the world. In India, as part of the Public Diplomacy Section at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, the Regional English Language Officer (RELO) supports the professional development of English language teachers by partnering with institutions from the public and private sectors. In addition, the RELO manages the English Access Microscholarship Program (Access), a two-year, after-school, intensive English language instruction program for socio-economically disadvantaged 13-22-year-old students. Besides English language instruction, the program promotes 21st century skills development like critical thinking, digital literacy, creative collaboration and more. Training and professional development for Access teachers is an integral part of this program.
“In 2019, RELOs in New Delhi, Kathmandu, and Nur Sultan organized an Access summit in Kathmandu for teachers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal,” says Ruth Goode, Regional English Language Officer for India, Afghanistan and Bhutan. The summit addressed three main themes: service learning, media literacy and connecting classrooms. After the summit, it was felt the participants would benefit from additional training in designing and supporting community service projects.
New Delhi’s RELO decided to work with Ryan Brux, the specialist who had led the community service workshops in Nepal, to create an online course in 2020 to which 30 Access teachers were invited. As part of the program, many of the teachers designed projects that focused on climate change and environment-related issues, including tree planting, management of plastics, solid waste management, farming and composting.
Projects like Modern Indian Farming from Shimla, Solid Waste Management from Amritsar, Eco Yoddha (warriors) from Kolkata and How to be a Plastic Superhero from Hyderabad aimed to make the environment cleaner and more resistant to the effects of climate change. The Eco Yoddha project from Kolkata, for example, is based in the Howrah area of Kolkata, and is an anti-littering campaign.
Engaging students is an important aspect of these proposals. Annapoorni T.S., in her project titled, How to be a Plastic Superhero, plans to work with the Access students of Disha-CHORD School at Hyderabad, to conduct an awareness campaign on the dangers of plastic pollution and the benefits of including ecofriendly alternatives at a sister school, CHORD Aashirwaad. The project seeks to deeply involve students who will take the message of ecofriendly packaging to audiences by distributing comic books created by them and showcasing products made of plastic waste. In addition, they will train peers and other members of the school community, like parents and teachers, on how to upcycle plastic in a bid to bring about changes in its management and disposal.
Disposal of waste is an important issue in controlling pollution and Abhijeet Kaur’s plan aims to educate people from rural areas and congested urban areas of Amritsar on solid waste management to bring a behavioral change.
According to some estimates, reduction of greenhouse gases from agriculture can have a significant impact on mitigating the effects of climate change. Aanchal Arya’s idea focuses on educating farmers in Himachal Pradesh to use technology to predict weather patterns as well as enhance their English language skills. This aims to reduce crop loss and increase income by encouraging the use of organic fertilizers and better equipping farmers to combat the effects of climate on their crops while improving profit.
“The program was largely asynchronous, with coursework and tasks introduced on the Canvas online platform,” says Goode. “Each Saturday there was a 90-minute Zoom call facilitated by Ryan which addressed the tasks and themes of the week.” Participants had online tasks to complete and discussion boards to post on.
The teachers will implement these projects in their own communities, involving Access students, as the pandemic and other conditions allow. At the end of the year, the RELO will reconvene with the teachers to facilitate reflection on their projects and help them make concrete plans for future service-learning projects with Access or other students.
“We are hoping to build up a sort of cascading effect where participants will teach others to carry the idea forward,” says Goode. “This will help build sustainable actions that will have a strong and positive impact on the environment.”
Paromita Pain is an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.