SAIIER 2019:Developing & Sharing Educational Materials to Promote Sustainable Waste Management

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SAIIER 2018-19
Research in Education on Sustainable Waste Management

At WasteLess we believe children should be empowered to take action towards the growing issue of waste and depletion of our natural resources. They will inherit these problems which we are creating today. As the consumers of tomorrow, they will be the ones with the power to bring about a better future. Our educational materials aim to provide the next generation with the knowledge, tools and skills to be able to make better-informed decisions on how to manage waste and our valuable natural resources.

We work together with Auroville and Outreach schools to develop and conduct educational programmes on waste management and resource conservation. Auroville provides a unique opportunity to develop and test educational materials that can then be further shared with schools across India and globally. This involves using input from teachers and students, assisting and guiding teachers in using the educational materials, participating and leading community-wide campaigns and events that focus on educating the community on the issue of waste. Through this approach we aim to have a more collaborative engagement between all members of the community by connecting individuals, schools, teachers and groups that manage waste in Auroville.

We want to inspire children to be the change-makers that will have a positive and tangible effect on the future of our planet.

WasteLess 2019 - Students learning about plastic resin codes.jpg

Description of project:

With the support of SAIIER from the period of September 2018 to April 2019, three members of the WasteLess team, Ribhu, Chandrah and Maya as well as other members of the WasteLess team have been working to develop and share our educational materials within Auroville and Outreach schools, as well as with educators and students across India and the world. With the support from SAIIER we have focused on the following areas:

1. Auroville

We used an action-based participatory research methodology to develop and test educational materials that are integrated in Auroville and Outreach schools. These can then be shared on-line to have a wide impact within India and globally. The participatory approach involved continuous input and feedback from teachers and the target group of students (children 6-15 years of age). Throughout the process, WasteLess provided support to teachers to develop a plan for the academic year, assisted in teaching and gathered feedback on the materials. This process helped us to continue to better our educational tools and social impact monitoring systems.

Over the past 8 months the focus has been on sharing two of our programmes: Garbology Lite and the ‘kNOw PLASTICS’ Educational Programme.

Garbology Lite
The Garbology Lite activities were developed with the support of SAIIER In 2015-16 and focus on developing knowledge on sustainable consumption and responsible waste management while promoting communication, reading, critical thinking, and creative skills.
A new version of the ‘Waste Relay Race’ activity was developed based on teacher feedback. Some teachers found it difficult to source items of clean waste for students to sort in the race activity. We created an adapted version of the activity that uses prepared cards with high quality pictures of different waste items. We worked with a professional photographer to get high quality pictures of waste items, post-processed the pictures and designed the cards. This adapted activity was then made available for teachers.
Three grades in Transition school conducted the following Garbology Lite activities:
  • 1st Grade: Anna conducted the new version of the Waste Relay Race with cards.
  • 3rd Grade: Yasmin conducted 5 Garbology Lite activities – Less Packaging, Map My Soft Drink, How Long Does Trash Last, and the new version of the Waste Relay Race with cards. The 5th activity was a Litter Clean Up activity that was combined with a visit to the Eco-service in February to better understand how our waste in Auroville is managed.
  • 6th Grade: Swaha conducted the Litter Clean Up activity in February with a follow up visit to the Eco Service.

Community engagement and events
Three litter clean up events were organised in the community where WasteLess as well as schools were involved. The first was the World Clean Up Day on the 15th of September 2018. This event involves all countries in the world coming together on one specific day to bring awareness on the issue of litter and waste and to clean up litter together. The Auroville community as well the participation of many school students were involved in this event. The second litter clean up was organised by the Eco-Service as part of the 50th Anniversary events of Auroville on March 28th 2019. Transition School students from the 3rd and 6th grade were involved as well as the wider Auroville community. The third litter clean up took place on Earth Day 22nd April 2019 which involved multiple smaller scale litter clean ups in the Auroville community.

WasteLess 2019 - litter cleanup.jpg

The ‘kNOw PLASTICS’ Educational Programme
The ‘kNOw PLASTICS’ Educational Programme focuses on the growing global issue of plastics. The aim is for students to learn the language of plastics and which plastics are safer and unsafe, understand the impacts of plastics on animals, our health and the environment and avoid disposable/one-time use plastics and replace these with reusable alternatives.

WasteLess 2019 - Transition School grade 6.jpg

This programme was launched in June 2018. It was conducted in 6 Auroville and Outreach schools targeting a total of 152 students. At least two members of the WasteLess team were present in every class assisting teachers, teaching and observing. The schools we participated in were:
  • Transition School:
  • Grade 1 with Anna and 18 students
  • Grade 5 with Emma and Elke and 19 students
  • Grade 6 with Swaha and 21 students
  • TLC with Fred and 17 students
  • Deepanam School with Bhakti and 14 students
  • Aikiyam School Grade 8 with Shankar and 20 students
  • Udavi School Grade 5 with Sudhir and 16 students
  • Isaiambalam School Grade 3 and 4 with Sevanthi, Arun, Poovazhi, Raghu and 27 students
The social impact data has been collected from the Auroville and Outreach schools and will be analysed for the research and publication of the findings together with data gathered from schools across India and the world. Based on informal feedback from students, teachers and parents, the programme has been very well received and feedback has suggested that students have already taken initiatives to changes their own plastic use.

2. Teacher trainings in Garbology Lite and ‘kNOw PLASTICS’

To further spread the scale of our Garbology Lite and ‘kNOw PLASTICS’ Educational programmes in collaboration with the School Education Department of Tamil Nadu, we conducted teacher trainings and provided the educational resources for both programmes for 306 schools evenly spread across every district in Tamil Nadu.

Garbology Lite: A total of 210 teachers were trained in Rajapalayam on the 9th and 10th and in Cuddalore on the 12th and 13th of November 2018. The turnout of the teachers who were invited to come for the training was 94% and teachers showed a high level of motivation and interest. The Chief Education Officers of Virudhunagar and Cuddalore inaugurated the trainings. The media was present and published something in the regional newspapers about the Garbology training and educational materials.

kNOw PLASTICS: A total of 96 teachers were trained in Trichy on the 22nd and 23rd of November with a 100% participation rate. Thiru K. Selvakumarm (Joint Director of the Educational Department), gave a wonderful speech on the first day and Dr. M. Ayyaraju (State Project Director, R.M.S.A.) was an incredible motivation to all on the second day.

WasteLess 2019 - Teacher Training group photo.jpg

3. Research towards publication

The kNOw Plastics Educational Programme incorporates three social impact analytical tools: two student questionnaires and one teacher questionnaire. The first student questionnaire, completed in lesson one of the kNOw Plastics programme offers us insight into the baseline habits and behaviour of students with regard to their use of plastic. This information then provides a basis for comparison that can be compared with the findings from the second student questionnaire completed in lesson 8 of the programme. From the change in responses given to the questionnaires we can infer and evaluate the knowledge gained during the programme.

During the development of the programme WasteLess developed online versions of the teacher and student questionnaires with the hope that this would help to facilitate the process of data collection. Unfortunately only a very small proportion of our partner schools had access to the resources necessary to complete the online version of the programme. WasteLess is continuing to receive a considerable number of hard copy questionnaires through the post. These questionnaires require manual entry into a digital format for analysis.

In order to ground-truth this information and ensure that the insights gained from the two questionnaires reflect real behavioural change, rather than just a change in knowledge, we will undertake follow-up interviews with a representative sample of the of kNOw Plastics participants. These will take place within 6 months to 1 year of their completion of the programme and will be designed to understand what changes in the students’ behaviour with plastic has changed because of the educational programme.

Changing behaviours and habits takes time and must be sustained in order to be meaningful. As a result the period over which social impact data will be gathered extends from the duration of the eight-week educational programme itself to one year after programme completion. This process of gathering social impact data forms a key component of the educational programme, as it will serve to quantify the extent to which the work has positively impacted students and contributed to changes in their plastic use. The extent to which behavioural change has occurred will be determined through analysis of the range of social impact data available to WasteLess. This information will form the basis of one or more papers/reports intended for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

We are currently working towards the development of these publications and efforts to bring these to fruition are on going. This work includes the process of entering questionnaire data into an analysable format, undertaking statistical analysis of the relevant data, reviewing relevant literature, identifying and liaising with appropriate journals and preparing the manuscript(s) for review.

Publishing research in a peer-reviewed academic journal has a number of complexities ranging from the cost to the extensive peer-review process. Our goal is to publish our findings in a leading international environmental education journal. However, we are aware of the timescale and possibility that this may need to be a longer-term goal. In the meantime, we plan to publish through more easily attainable routes such as national-level journals or conference proceedings. We also hope to be able to publish in a format that will be readily available to the Auroville community.

5. Developing content for chapters of the Tamil Nadu SCERT textbooks

We have partnered with the School Education Department of Tamil Nadu to include educational content within the state board textbooks. This has allowed us to scale the distribution of our research and educational materials to over a million students across Tamil Nadu state.

We have been involved in writing content for the following chapters:

  • Class 6 Science – Social Sciences: Unit 4 – Our Environment (3rd Term) included a section on waste, its management and recycling. The differences between biodegradable and non-bio degradable waste. This book has already been published.
  • Class 7 – Chemistry: Unit 7 – Wastes and Its Management (3rd Term) including a section on polymers, types and uses of plastics, impacts of plastics and various methods of disposing of plastics, which is in the process of being written and edited.
  • Class 8 – Chemistry: Unit 4 – Water (3rd Term) including water pollution and controlling water pollution, which is in the process of being written and edited.
  • Class 9 – Chemistry: Unit 4 – Carbon and Its Compounds (3rd Term) included a whole section on plastics based on our research from developing the kNOw PLASTICS Educational Programme and the memory game to reinforce the ban on one-time use/throwaway plastics being implemented in Tamil Nadu. This book has already been published.

WasteLess 2019 - textbook.jpg


Our dream is that ultimately children become engaged in society and act as changemakers. One powerful outcome from students has been an initiative to educate others by the grade 6 students from Transition School (the White Tigers). After completing the kNOw PLASTICS Educational Programme we worked with the children to audit their own plastic consumption at home. This plastic was taken to Eco-Service and based on this experience, they were very motivated and wanted to spread this education. They started the “Kids Talk Trash – Plastic Patrol” and created materials for the News & Notes. We would like to continue working with this motivated group of children next year and explore how we can get more children inspired to work on bringing change to the wider community and not only their families.

Expanding our scale and being able to collaborate with the School Education Department of Tamil Nadu to include content in the state board textbooks has been a huge positive step forwards. If we want to bring about the change that is needed it is important to augment our scale of reach beyond Auroville. The collaboration has enabled us to move forwards to have our research and materials reach over one million students.

During our engagement with teachers in Auroville and Outreach schools it became apparent that moving forwards it would be good to integrate the materials within the existing schools curricula as a subject. This could involve training one to two teachers that would be responsible to teach the content (similar to the ATB classes concept). This would provide the children in Auroville with a more regular and consistent learning. This is something that we would like to approach schools and explore.

Future direction:

When we launched WasteLess in 2011 we intentionally chose a name for the organisation that was not only solid waste specific, but one that could be applied to a focus on any scarce resource that we must waste less of to secure a holistically informed sustainable future. We aim to expand our content from solely focusing on the growing issue of waste to include the management of our resources – namely water. Water, and the risks and challenges posed by its supply and demand within the context of both a changing climate and growing population, could be a logical next area within which WasteLess wishes to conduct research, develop educational materials and change behaviours for a positive future.