Wide and critical deficiencies exist in the education sector with multiple implications. Addressing these deficiencies is important, not just from the social / humanitarian perspective, but also from the ecological perspective. These deficiencies can be overcome by the joint efforts of government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). There is a need for institutional remedies, policy interventions and showcasing of reliable social interventions.
Local communities around protected areas are primarily agrarian and depend on the monsoon for their irrigation needs. Remoteness of their villages, poor access to urban markets, and lack of quality public education facilities restrict them to tending their fields and remain economically backward. These communities have a lot of time on their hands and very few livelihood options. In such a situation, they are forced to live off the adjacent forestland. They are forced to depend on forests for firewood, timber, wild meat and other minor forest produce, for personal or commercial use. The high interface between humans and wildlife also leads to higher degree of human-animal conflict.
Availability of education can expand alternatives for local communities living near Protected Areas. Education (literacy) can help them understand benefits from and enroll for various government schemes. In a growing economy such as India, lack of basic education and vocational training at the village level creates an idle workforce. Basic education and vocational training can make them employable in industries in nearby urban centers, enable self-employment with minimal capital investment and reduce dependence on the forest. Such activities have dual benefits- they create a happier society and helps reduce anthropogenic pressure on the forest.
Since the local communities and the eco-system are inter-linked and the support of the local communities is crucial to save nature, the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) in association with the Hemendra Kothari Foundation (HKF), its sister organisation, helps implement educational initiatives that address some of these issues. Our thrust is on three action verticals –
- Support institutional development and networking of NGOs, academic institutions, foundations and government agencies. For example, support a network of NGOs doing innovative work in education at grassroots, allowing cross-pollination and up-scaling of mutually beneficial innovations.
- Support the development of model educational infrastructure, the development of capacity for teaching and educational research, the adoption of efficient management practices by educational institutions at grassroots, the adoption of technology for augmenting information exchange among teacher–student communities, the adoption of cognitive methods and technology for strengthening learning process.
- We consider national parks and sanctuaries (Protected Areas) as indispensable assets of the country. We are undertaking a number of steps to strengthen government initiatives in the field of education so that sustainable livelihood options are available to people living along the periphery of Protected Areas. The ground for this endeavour can be created by strengthening institutions that work for such communities. Thus ‘life skills education of indigenous youth’ is the third vertical for our involvement.
Under this we support programs in
- vocational education
- development of soft skills
- mentoring for entrepreneurship
- development of managerial capacity
These can help communities to move towards more productive and environmentally sustainable employment options.
The Protected Areas where we want to build this vertical are as follows: