On the Theme and Process of the Project
‘Energy’—the term has many meanings and each of these impacts our lives in direct ways. Recognizing the great potential of this theme, a project on ‘energy’was taken up as part of our endeavour to create a multi-disciplinary learning space for students of Classes Seven and Eight at the Rajghat Besant School. The preliminary discussions among the teachers brought out the immense scope of the theme. Eight distinct areas were identified for in-depth study:
- The Story of Energy
- Conventional Sources of Energy
- Non-conventional Sources of Energy
- Food as a Source of Energy
- Energy and Rural Economy
- Energy and Modern Lifestyles
- Energy and Yoga
- Energy Within.
Each of these areas was to be explored by a group of students drawn from both classes and anchored by a staff member. It was decided that the teachers would use a week or two to explore the resources available for their area of study and evolve a loose framework before implementation of the project was embarked upon. The regular schedule was to be suspended and new timetables and schedules were prepared, with teachers assigned to each group. At the outset, the coordinating teachers of the various project groups presented various facets of the project, using transparencies to enhance the impact, to the students of
Classes Seven and Eight
A talk on ‘Energy as it is Defined by Science’ served to initiate the project. And then each group was up and away, working on its own. The methods of learning were as varied as the content—from lecture to reference books to field trips to cooking classes to yogasanas to forays into exploring energy within oneself. A significant challenge was to help children stay focused on the process of learning rather than on the display that was to be the culmination of the project. A forum that proved very useful was an assembly of the students at the end of the day, where they presented to the rest of the group what they had done during the day.
The lively question-answer session that followed helped deepen the understanding of the theme.
At the end of two weeks there was a presentation made by a few participants to the entire school. This was followed by a display that consisted of charts and working models. It was a delight to see the children helping each other and the teachers in preparing and putting up the charts. The display reflected a high degree of aesthetic sensibility. There was even a ‘restaurant’ with a choolah (wood stove) and a solar cooker for cooking. The children took responsibility for explaining the various exhibits and did it with great aplomb. The grand finale was in the evening when an extension of the project was presented in the form of drama, mime and dance.
An Overview of each Area of Exploration
We will now move on to describing briefly the process and content of learning experienced by students and teachers in each area of exploration.
The Story of Energy:
This group explored how humans deal with the issue of energy when they are confronted with the awesome power of nature. The sub-themes were:
- Energy in the universe.
- Origin of the universe and the formation of stars, planets and galaxies. Theories regarding the origin of the universe were studied with emphasis on how energy was channelled to give rise to creation of matter and life. In this regard the Big Bang theory was touched upon, giving the students a taste of cosmology and the latest ideas put forth on the subject by scientists.
- Use of energy in prehistoric times; the discovery of fire and the impact it has had on humans.
- Harnessing energy to improve the quality of human life in terms of comfort, security and harmony.
- The role of energy in the development of civilizations all over the world and energy in the medieval world.
- The role of energy in the Industrial Revolution.
- Pioneering inventions making possible the use of energy in different forms for human benefit.
- Energy in mythology.
The group began by looking into how and when fire was discovered and how the use of fire in shaping tools and crude weapons for hunting helped prehistoric human beings to dominate the environment. The study continued in chronological order, progressing through the Middle Ages and Industrial Revolution into the modern age of nuclear power. The students studied creation myths from various cultures as passed down through the generations. Similarities between mythology and science were investigated. The flip side of this so-called progress was critically examined in looking at the issues of ecological imbalance and environmental degradation caused by the direct intrusion of humans into plant and animal habitats all over the world. What was brought to light was the fact that humans have now endangered their own existence.
An important thread taken up for detailed exploration was how energy is manifested in nature. The group learnt how humans all through their early history held the sun in great awe. Students discovered that not only did people worship the sun but also intuitively understood its importance in the cosmic order of things. The sun as a ball of fire not only terrified human beings but also fascinated them. The group looked at the process through which fascination turned into devotion and how various beliefs emerged from symbols that were attached to the inexplicable forces of nature.
The topics covered were indeed vast in their scope and dimension and for the young minds this kind of exposure served to increase their thirst for more knowledge. Many felt motivated to go on with the study, perhaps without realising that they had only just touched the tip of the iceberg.
Conventional and Non-conventional sources of Energy:
These two areas were taken up by two different groups. The first group looked at the most commonly used conventional sources of energy in the industrialized world. These include hydel power, thermal power, nuclear power and energy from fossil fuels. They learnt that availability of natural resources plays a major role in deciding the type of infrastructure that needs to be put in place so the energy demands of the people are met adequately. For example, geographic factors such as the existence of mountains and rivers in a particular place may cause the people to build dams and hydel power plants. Elsewhere, where coal is available in plenty, people may build thermal plants. Where nuclear fuels such as uranium and plutonium are available and the technological knowhow to build nuclear reactors exists, the people may well be in favour of nuclear power (converted to electricity, of course). In the end, simple economics determines what one does in order to balance the scales of supply and demand. Models of hydel, thermal and nuclear power plants were constructed.
In recent years one has seen the rapid increase in the consumption of petrol and diesel, essential for automobiles, locomotives, aircraft and other carriers such as ships. The group quickly learnt the pros and cons of using conventional energy sources. On the one hand these are available in plenty and can be easily tapped using modern technology. On the other, they pollute our environment and spoil the ecosystem, leading to toxicity in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
The second group studied the research being carried out in the scientific world to determine non-polluting and ecologically friendly ways of using energy sources available on our planet. One of their goals was to objectively look at the reasons for seeking alternatives to conventional sources of energy. They found that there were some rather unconventional ways of tapping energy from the elements that did not produce harmful side effects. Energy from wind, solar radiation, bio-gas or bio-mass, water, geo-thermal sources, ocean-thermal sources, tides and waves was studied. Model making —of a solar cooker, a windmill and a water wheel—was an important component of the study so that young learners could engage in hands-on experience. An old solar panel of photovoltaic cells was also salvaged from the scrap room and restored to working condition for display at the exhibition. The students made field trips in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the various techniques employed in tapping nonconventional sources of energy.
Food as a Source of Energy:
This group investigated the science of energy transformations in food production. This included conceptual understanding of photosynthesis, energy-transfer through ecological food webs and food chains, and the various physiological processes involved in bio-energy generation and utilization in organisms. The group also worked on the food energy requirements of the community at Rajghat, enquiring into the food requirement per person and attempting to understand human energy needs. What constitutes a balanced diet and the problems of overeating and malnutrition were examined. The group further explored the social and economic aspects of food cultivation and its distribution, attempting to understand the underlying reasons for under-nutrition, famine and starvation. We came to the disturbing conclusion that human greed was a major factor in the perpetuation of food disasters, which were therefore more ‘man-made’ than natural. Social and economic policies to ensure equitable distribution of food and sustained food security were seen to be the solution.
The process involved collecting data from field visits to neighbouring villages, which are largely agrarian. The group became interested in exploring ‘food’ in historical as well as geographical perspectives but could not do so due to the vastness of the subject.
Energy and the Rural Economy:
This group studied an archetypal, predominantly agrarian, village from the perspective of energy use. They interacted with various active members of the village representing a wide range of social and economic groups and came to appreciate the apparent and subtle relationships between energy, livelihood and the village economy.
The village under study, Kotwan, has a population of roughly five thousand. It was truly a model village for the study as we encountered people from all walks of life, from the educated ‘progressive’ farmer with his fat, jersey cows and indigenously built gobar-gas plant and the thriving sari-weaver with his trained artisans and electric-powered looms to the lowly-paid potter, untiringly creating pots and kulhars with nothing more than a potter’s wheel, a primitive oven and his dexterity. The team spent long, exciting hours in the fields, cow-sheds, lanes and bylanes of the village interviewing a remarkable variety of people including goldsmiths, blacksmiths, fire-wood depot owners, flour-mill operators, dairy-men, dhobis, women making dung cakes and the enterprising, itinerant fruit-seller.
During visits to the village, the group collected data on the locally available raw material that could be used as rich, renewable sources of energy. They realised that farming, which includes both cultivation and dairying, was vital for sustaining and enriching the village economy. Not surprisingly, most of the ‘fuel’ used in the village was a spin-off from farming activities. Dung-cake was the preferred cooking fuel. Other fuels included dried plant matter, produced post-harvest. There was only one instance of the use of bio-gas. Though the village was ‘officially’ electrified, the supply was inconsistent and villagers rarely, if at all, relied on it. Kerosene was the fuel for lighting. As part of the academic exercise, the group worked out the various energy transformations involving activities of village life. As the details were analysed, the team was pleasantly surprised to find that bio-energy was the most recurrent source of energy. The main sources of energy were, in effect, completely renewable. More importantly, the group members, being young and impressionable, underwent a healthy change of attitude towards people they only thought of as ‘villagers’.
Energy and Modern Lifestyles:
In the present social scenario there is a deep chasm that separates rural and urban lifestyles. This group undertook a comparative study of village and city life, based on energy utilization, to understand the differences.
The group visited a rather deprived and decrepit village, Dongri, on the other side of the Ganges River facing Rajghat, with the explicit intention of getting a first-hand knowledge of the ‘lifestyles’ of its inhabitants. The experience left the group wiser though a bit dazed. Words of a sensitive adolescent, recorded after the visit, capture the essence of the experience: ‘...The people we met were human like us. We shared the same qualities, the same feelings—care, trust, and, I regret to say, also greed and anger. The one difference was that we were born into well-to-do homes while they came into this world as part of a poor family.’
The group collected data on the kinds and sources of energy through conversation with the villagers. They found that renewable resources, chiefly cowdung, dried bajra and arhar plants, met eighty-five percent of the energy requirements. This was a revelation to the group. To quote the adolescent again: ‘...We were pleasantly surprised to see that they (the villagers) consumed very little energy and used negligible amounts of non-renewable resources, if at all. Not-so-pleasant to see was their state of living. They do not have the basic necessities of life; how can they even imagine the kind of luxury we live in?’ To collect data on the energy consumption of a typical household in the city of Benaras, the group drafted a detailed questionnaire and circulated it to the parents of day scholars. They also worked on some data on energy consumption patterns in the United States through the Internet and compiled and processed the raw data into meaningful information. Their evaluation came up with some stark eye-openers:
- Expenditure on food by a city dweller is about ten times as high as that of a villager.
- City dwellers generate more garbage than villagers and the garbage in the village has much less plastic material in it.
- Maintaining an apartment in the city requires burning up fifteen times more electricity than the average village home.
The group delved into the effect of science and technology on everyday life. The pervasive influence of technology and its gizmos in the lives of urban dwellers was exhaustively discussed. It emerged that the comforts that accrue with increasing dependence on technology come with the grim proviso—enormous, unsustainable energy overheads. The related malady of uncaring consumerism was also discussed.
The students were enthused by their findings and expressed themselves through model making and enactment of plays.
Energy and Yoga:
The objective of this group was to study in depth the meaning of energy as understood by Yoga. The students were urged to see themselves as ‘bundles’ of energy playing out their part in the wider field of the universe. They learnt to become aware of their own energy potential and looked at ways of channelizing this energy in constructive ways. The role of the right kind of food to facilitate this was also examined and finally an attempt was made to understand the mind-body mechanism and how energy loss can be prevented or minimised. The children’s knowledge and grounding in the biological sciences was correlated with the yogic perspective of the human body. An important aspect of the study was to explore the relationship between the human endocrine system and energy centres and how yogic practices vitalize these centres, thereby allowing the subtler domains of human consciousness to unfold.
The practical aspects of the study had to do with the direct observation of one’s feelings through activities such as deep breathing, silent walks, chanting of mantras, consuming food with awareness, and yogic exercises like the Surya Namaskar. The children attempted to be mindful of their activities throughout the day. We also tried to look at all this in the light of Krishnamurti’s teachings. This meant being aware of the movement of thought and seeing how conflict occurs in the mind as a direct result of thinking in terms of likes and dislikes. We became watchful that a healthy scepticism was maintained throughout these practice sessions. No name or explanation was given to the feelings that were experienced.
Starting from Einstein’s theory that all matter is just another form of energy, it was pointed out that we are therefore, also units of energy. The eastern mystics and philosophers have known this energy as prana, which flows in 72, 000 nadis or channels and is invisible. The children learnt that prana was responsible for the normal functioning of every system in the human body. A talk given in this connection by Cliff Saldanha, a Pranic Healer, helped the participants to get a better understanding of the energy field or prana that is within us, and that constantly impinges and interacts with the external world.
It was observed how amazingly different our activities appear in a state of awareness and how watching and listening in silence has its own energy. Yoga in juxtaposition with modern lifestyles was also discussed. It was observed that a fast-paced and competitive lifestyle brings with it conflict, stress and tension into our daily existence.
The teachers in the group felt that some but not all children benefited from these sessions, as the topic of study required a certain quality of mind. They felt that a slot in the school routine be reserved for yoga, so that there is space as well as time to allow all to feel its benefits.
The Energy we feel:
This area of study was based on the subjective perception of one’s energy states. It was an exploration of the varying energy states of the human psyche. In the process it allowed for learning about the ‘self’ and the nature of reality.
The group went through the process in three phases: our energy states and factors affecting them; exploration of human energy fields; and the human brain and its energy utilisation.
In the first phase, the group recorded their perceived changes in energy levels through conscious awareness. It was observed by the group that energy levels change continually and can’t be represented in a linear manner. They also explored the need for awareness in understanding oneself and how one can become shackled by individual belief systems. The group looked at emotion as a factor affecting human energy states. Some of the questions explored were: How do we become aware of our emotions? How do you know you are angry? What do you do with your anger? Are there any constructive ways of expressing anger? Can anger sometimes be appropriate?
In the second phase of the study the group explored the concept of human energy fields and the inherent limitations of the perception of reality through the five senses. The group was made aware of forms of perception such as ESP, clairvoyance and the role of intuition. After due deliberation the group realized the following: that there is much that we don’t know; that we are more than mere material processes, more than the sum of all our biological systems; and that science and reason do not give us a complete picture of ourselves.
In the third phase of the study, the group explored the ‘hardware’ involved in human energy fields. An exposition on the brain and the nervous system with illustrative slide photographs generated great excitement.
The group was motivated and at the end of the session, enacted a short skit.
Since most of these areas of study led us into uncharted territory, both the children and the adults experienced new learning. It was a challenging two weeks, and all the participants were stretched intellectually and creatively. Since the children were directly involved in the learning process, there was an order that came from within. One could see small clusters of children deeply absorbed in whatever they were doing, even in the absence of an adult. Strong class identities among the students of Classes Seven and Eight, that had been evident in the hostels, gradually dissolved due to their coming together for the project. There was a feeling that students of Class Seven, barring a few, were a little out of their depth, particularly whilst dealing with scientific and technical aspects and also to an extent in ‘Energy and Yoga’. Nevertheless, they too were seen participating wholeheartedly in many aspects of the study.
In such projects it is difficult to quantify the efficacy of learning for the participants. Each student and teacher perhaps draws from the whole experience different learnings, and assimilates these in his or her own unique way. From the overall energy generated by the project, it was however evident that the learning went well beyond defined curricular goals. It is this that makes such a venture so worthwhile in our schools.
Know ye what it is to be a child?... It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in liveliness...