An outdoor learning centre that aims to connect citizens with the Jakkur lake while understanding the lake itself better

The conventional way of learning happens within the four walls of a classroom. A teacher imparts information and knowledge to a class of students who absorb the instructions taking notes, which they later replicate in a written exam. This way is perhaps regimental, staid and at times even boring. 

But what if this learning is taken outdoors – in the open, unwalled environs of nature – where students are expected to design experiments, install devices, collect information and track results? 

There is a good chance that students might gain a better and lasting understanding of the subject. They might even develop an interest in the topic as against learning for an exam. This, without being confined to a bench in a classroom but by getting their hands dirty in the elements of nature.

This is precisely the idea behind the latest initiative of the Jala Poshan Trust and their collaborators. They have aptly named it ‘Nature’s Gurukul’. It is an open learning space in the 160 acres spread of the Jakkur lake in northern Bengaluru.

“We felt there’s a big gap between knowledge and application,” says Annapura Kamath, an active member of Jala Poshan Trust. “We thought of how to make children understand a concept where they can actually see it too.” Kamath gives an example of geography where children might know different kinds of soils but they can visit the lake to identify the soils and understand the various roles they play. “We think such sessions will make education more meaningful,” says Kamath.

A groups of students learning about Jakkur lake

The Trust kickstarted the program on June 5th and they’ve brought children from five schools around Jakkur. They plan to engage as many of the over 100 schools in the near vicinity of the lake. These outdoor learning programs wouldn’t be restricted to school children alone but the Trust plans to bring in college students and rope in citizens at large too, thereby making it into a citizen science program. The science part comes from aspects where the participants would be documenting the flora and fauna of the lake, measuring the quality of water, as well as involvement of academic institutes like the Indian Institute of Science and the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. 

Jala Poshan Trust has designed Nature’s Gurukul on four layers: the collaborating scientists, citizens who reside around the lake and are part of the Trust, college and school students. “Each group will be guided by experts, there will be 10 – 12 interested citizens, college students who will actually do the work and the last layer will be the school students who will come to understand and enjoy how the project works,” explains Kamath. “All levels will contribute in their own way with citizens being the link as they would know the essence of the project.”

Annapurna Kamath sharing insights with visiting student participants

Participation of citizens who live in the vicinity of the lake will be crucial as many visit the lake regularly and can take such initiatives ahead. “A lot of people don’t have knowledge of the lakes,” says Kamath. “They use it for recreation or look at it from an aesthetic point of view but what is actually happening in the lake, very few people know.” That’s the reason the Trust designed a program where people can come and understand the science. As part of Nature’s Gurukul, Kamath and her collaborators plan to make use of “resource people who can come in and share their understanding of how to look at and what to make of a lake.”

Measuring trees and tagging in progress at Jakkur Lake

Interactions with scientists, hydrologists and others is what got Srivatsan CR, a software engineer, interested to volunteer with Nature’s Gurukul. He resides in close vicinity of Jakkur lake but when he read about the lake being the first to froth in 2007, he was concerned. Seeing the lake’s revival over the years, he wanted to help. “As a volunteer, are always on the lookout for the lake,” he says. “We are involved in the planning of the future of the lake.” Now as part of Nature’s Gurukul, Srivatsan is a regular volunteer and you can find him on weekends leading students to various parts of the lake. 

Student participants at work

To coordinate and manage everyday activities of the program – whether it is planning projects for students or bringing them to the lake – is the purview of the lake manager appointed by Trust. Kruthika Nagananda, an architect by profession, manages Nature’s Gurukul along with Kamath and others. Being interested in the environment from an early age, she is took up this responsibility to learn about Bengaluru’s lakes. 

Considering the deteriorating conditions of many of Bengaluru’s lakes, Kruthika says “it is necessary to create awareness and knowledge about lakes and their ecosystem to the people.” She thinks initiatives like Nature’s Gurukul can bridge such gaps as “although people are aware of the consequences (of an unhealthy, vanishing public commons), they lack knowledge about the lake.” “This initiative becomes the center for knowledge.”

Editor’s Note: Nature’s Gurukul is a grantee of the Bengaluru Sustainable Forum from the Urban Waters Retreat. To keep tabs on the progress that Nature’s Gurukul makes, please refer to the Projects page.