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Snippets of interview with Radha Gopalan- EduWise Podcast

We launched a podcast ‘EduWise’ featuring conversations on education with educators as well as people from different fields, some time ago. The first episode featured one of our senior mentors, Radha Gopalan. You can listen to the full episode here.

Some snippets from the conversation are reproduced below. Hopefully these will motivate you to listen to the full conversation!

On connecting formal education with life (as an environmental scientist)

“… it suddenly hit me that oh, my God, theoretically, we talked about inter-disciplinarity, because I had done environmental science, right, and college and university and PhD and all that. But I hadn’t connected the intellectual aspect of it to the practical aspect of it. So then it really dawned on me- this idea of interdisciplinary it. and subsequent to that, I really began to read as much as possible and try and draw these connections and understand a little bit more about traditional knowledge systems, people’s understanding of, you know, how do communities engage with ecology?

…And also, you know, living in Bombay and working as a consultant, it just moved me every time I went by train. I didn’t know there was like an emotional experience… and I tell students who are interested in environmental science, that there has to be an emotional experience, which you then have to convert into education and understanding. It’s, at first, an emotional response to a condition of deprivation. It is because you suddenly see all these people living on railway tracks and everything, and you’re like, I’m an environmental scientist, what am I doing? You know, it’s a fundamental question you begin to ask yourself, it’s true, though, sometimes you can you can go past in a train and not notice it…”

On what exposure parents should provide children when ‘facts’ are just a google search away

“Parents are in this situation where they are like, our kids are getting so much factual information anyway. So what are we going to teach them? What are schools going to teach them? … one is exposure, your exposure to different circumstances….. we tend to keep our children, particularly middle and upper middle class children, sheltered more and more .. because we are worried about security issues, we’re worried about all kinds of issues, I agree. But providing exposure to different situations, to different socio-ecological situations is very, very important… , say, for example, a water crisis in Bangalore, or Bombay, or whatever.

Sometimes we live in buildings where children have no clue. Parents also have no clue because they are also not engaging, you know, as adults also, if you’re not engaging, because we don’t want our lives to be disrupted by all this. We will pay that money, get a tanker, you know, it doesn’t matter…I mean, this morning, we talked about recharge wells…. we don’t really care, you know, somebody else has to solve the problem. So how do you engage on a day to day basis with your life? Parents have to do that with children. Okay, first parents have to engage…. we as adults have to engage and then we have to engage about that with our children. Asking simple questions– Where do you think our water comes from…. that you can have over the dining table that conference…. that discussion, but before that, you have to know where the water comes from? So you you do that, then, where do you think our food comes from? Hey, listen, I mean, you’re saying you don’t like this baingan (eggplant)? No, you don’t like this thing? So let’s sort of talk about where does this come from? And why are we eating watermelon in winter? You know, why do we want to… ? So I’m saying very simple questions, we have to ask ourselves and engage collectively with our children. And maybe this is a great opportunity for parents and children to learn together. Why do we believe that as adults, we have all the answers for our children. Maybe we have more questions. So that’s one thing for adults, right? So I feel as parents and as educators….. these are some of the things that we have to do…. the science will come… I mean today seriously, there’s so much that you can get online, you know, that that you can get through various other ways of doing it.”

On what GenWise’s track ‘Planetary Web: Nature, Society and the Individual’ is about

.”.. both my husband and I, when we were walking down and friends as well…..He grew up in Trivandrum. There’s a stretch of road- of 1.5 kilometer that we walked on… we saw 21 species of trees. And he couldn’t believe it, he grew up there. How come I never looked at these trees! It’s then you realize nature is around you, and you are not engaged. So let’s….. that is why we said planetary web, because ….. since we don’t see the trees, we also don’t see how they’re holding water, how they’re holding soil, how they’re actually preventing flooding in certain parts of the city. And then when there’s a whole set of trees being cut, there’s a group of people who go and protest. And then there’s like, “Oh, these are these jhandawallas (flag-waving protesters). They’re constantly protesting.” But you don’t realize that when those trees are severed, you are feeling hot. You need to turn up your air conditioning, because cities are becoming warmer.. trees provide….

So I’m saying, you know, that’s just about trees. So in the planetary web, what we were thinking was that, you know, how can we get people to understand even these simple connections, and if we start with children, it would be a great way for them to learn to see. And, and I draw this from my yoga understanding from my yoga teacher who used to say- observation, awareness, sensitivity, …. so you first begin to observe… Then you become aware, like you said about this metal thing, you know, and I saw that video as well. And I was like, blown away by it, okay…. so when you see…you become aware, when you become aware, you become sensitive. And when you become sensitive, you take action. Because it’s an emotional response. But the action has to be well thought through. So our planetary web, the thing was, it’s not just about an emotional response. And just being an activist. You just don’t make noise. You learn the science, you learn the geography, you learn the history, you learn the sociology, you learn democracy. You learn about the Constitution, put all those pieces together and say, How do I solve this problem?”

If Radha’s thoughts interest you, have a conversation with us on twitter @RadG_Dodo @Genwise_ @vishnu_agni


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