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Part 2- What Should Leaders of the Future Study? Economics? Ecology? Art? Engineering? Medicine?

Note- Radha leads the curricular track- Planetary Web: Nature, Society and the Individual at GenWise. In this series of posts, she talks about her work with children- where teacher and students engage with real-life issues and in the process, investigate complex relationships. Their actions and responses arise from this engagement and the understanding born out of it.

Post 1 had narrated an experience on engaging with solid management. This post (Post 2) carries on seamlessly from Post 1 to contrast the experience of students on the waste management project with the standard approach in the curriculum, and makes a case for studying a network of inter-dependencies and relationships in any situation. This post also outlines what students can expect in Radha's series of 'New Thinking for a New World' courses in Summer 2020. Post 3 outlines the engagement of a residential school with the community around it on the issue of sharing water, and introduces the idea of 'commons'- the subject of one of her courses in Summer 2020. See the links at the end of this post to navigate to Radha's upcoming courses.

Understanding the network of relationships between our lifestyle, our choice of goods and services, how they are packed and delivered and the much larger issue of waste management at a city level puts the whole issue in perspective. It allows us to cut through the artificial compartments of subjects and disciplines and see the issue as a whole rather than as fragments. This then allows us to respond and make changes in an integrated manner at the critical points to address and possibly mitigate the waste issue.

Contrast this with how the issue of solid waste is covered in conventional school curricula: the focus is on describing different categories of waste, management of waste by recycling and reusing, treatment technologies, impact on the ecological environment. Its relationship with our lifestyle, policies, governance, socio-economic impact are not considered. As a result children see this as a 'problem out there' that can be solved with technological options.

This framework of perceiving the world around us as a network of interdependencies and relationships is what is at the heart of the various courses that are offered in the series New Thinking for a New World. Here we turn things on their head and actively critique the “laissez faire” approach of viewing issues around us as ‘problems’ for which we need to find ‘solutions’. We do not see climate change, Delhi’s air pollution, the ozone layer depletion, degradation of lakes in Bengaluru, the agrarian crises or the more recent COVID-19 pandemic as discrete ‘problems’. Rather, by understanding the cause-effect relationships we unravel the hidden connections within and between ecological, social, cultural, psychological, economic and myriad other factors that shape these issues. This allows us to develop responses (not solutions) in ways by which we can adapt to and where possible mitigate their effects which may be detrimental to life. We use this framework to look at food systems where we try and answer a very fundamental question: where does our food come from? In trying to answer this question children have been able to arrive at some powerful realisations including how the choices they make influence people’s livelihoods. In the course on the Commons we try and understand what ownership of a resource means. Who owns the earth? air? water? We ponder over questions such as- aren’t we stewards of nature and natural resources rather than owners? From this questioning emerge pragmatic and practical ways of moving forward collectively and collaboratively to sustain life on earth.

I have been using various versions of this framework for several years with children of all ages ranging from 8 years to 17 years. It is fascinating to see what children come up with and the relationships they discover. As the students get older the main difference is in the granularity of the relationships and therefore the complexity of the networks that emerges. There are innumerable 'aha' moments as we collectively discover hidden connections in these relationship webs. In fact I have had some very exciting moments with groups of professional adults from varied disciplines and backgrounds who dived right in to use this framework to unravel the complexity of our food system by trying to answer the question: Where does my food come from?

The New Thinking for a New World series of courses are part of GenWise’s curricular track called The Planetary Web: Nature Society and the Individual.

When we first came up with the idea of exploring the complexity of the world around us through this curricular track, the questions came flying fast and thick: is this an ecology course? Or is it about health and nutrition? Or Economics? Is it a Science or Humanities course? Our response of “it is neither of these and it is all of these” was met with raised eyebrows and deep puzzlement. Rest assured that there is a method to this madness, the unravelling of which will hopefully happen through this series of blog posts.

A child or parent might wonder why children should engage with these courses? What value does it add academically and to making them responsible citizens of the planet? Will it help them to make sense of what is climate change, the ozone hole? Or try and understand how is it that India has so many billionaires and so many poor people? Why are migrant labourers walking from cities back to their villages? Will giving them money solve this issue or is there a technological solution for this? Did COVID-19, about which we know very little, happen because of bats/pangolins? Etc. etc.:

Coming back full circle, all life on this planet is made up of such networked relationships. The various courses being offered as part of The Planetary Web explore these relationships around various facets that sustains life: food systems, energy that powers life on Earth, how we relate to Nature – are we a part of Nature or Apart from it, do we own it or are we its stewards? This allows children to understand the environment not in terms of ecology, chemistry, biology etc...but rather as socio-ecological systems with intimate connections and relationships.

I'd like to invite the readers of this blog to draw a network of relationships in trying to respond to two questions: how does water get from its source to the tap in my house? Or how does food get from the farm to my fingers? Do this as a family project or with friends and see what emerges. It would be great if you could write to us with your explorations, network drawings, questions, comments or thoughts. Towards building newer networks of relationships!

We will look at more such stories in the next few blog posts to understand why the Planetary Web makes sense!

Post 3 outlines the engagement of a residential school with the community around it on the issue of sharing water, and introduces the idea of 'commons'- the subject of one of her courses in Summer 2020.

Courses by Radha in Summer 2020-

For children entering grade 8, 9 or 10-

1) New Thinking for a New World: Food

2) Ownership or Sharing? New Thinking for a New World

For children entering grade 5, 6 or 7

3) Sensing the World around Us