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GEOPARKS' RELEVANCE IN ENRICHING ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE CONCEPTS AMONGST

Published:Feb 26,2008

By

Manjit Kumar Mazumdar
Senior Lecturer, Department of Geology,
Pragjyotish College, Guwahati - 781 009, Assam, INDIA.

E-mail: mmazumdar2003@yahoo.co.in; janmoni2@rediffmail.com.


Keywords: Geoparks, Environmental Science, Elementary Education, North-eastern region.

ABSTRACT:
The Elementary Education level in India encompasses the learning stages, from age seven years to thirteen years. This stage is broadly divided into two major divisions, viz. Lower Primary Division (seven years to nine years) and Upper Primary Division (ten years to thirteen years), corresponding to the Standards I to IV and V to VII respectively. At this particular learning level, Environmental Science education has been incorporated as a compulsory component into the curriculum, envisaging the need for inculcating the seeds of environmental ethics in the country's future generations. Such a measure is expected to imbibe the learners with a spirit of 'earth sense' from a very tender age, facilitating better appreciation of the Earth and its resources. The Environmental Science curriculum presently being followed in Assam for this level includes learning topics, with a balanced approach and treatment for both geo-resources and bio-resources. Proper emphasis has been given for developing both theoretical as well as field concepts.   

Under this backdrop, setting up of full-fledged geoparks in this part of the country shall definitely be a welcome step. The entire North-eastern region of India, comprising eight States, including Assam, being a geologically and geomorphologically diverse one, apart from being one of the few bio-diversity hot-spots of the world, has tremendous prospects of setting up of a good number of geoparks. The various natural reserve forests, national parks, geological horizons, river systems, etc. fits well into some identifiable geopark boundaries. These geoparks in due course shall be able to serve as environmental science 'resource cum learning centres' and can definitely bear prospects of becoming the natural laboratories not only for the young learners but also for students of higher learning levels.

The present paper discusses on the various curricular aspects pertaining to environmental science education at the Elementary Education level in Assam and the potentialities that exists for imparting an effective environmental education through the setting up of different geoparks in the State. Certain light is also thrown on the geopark potentialities that exist in the Northeastern region as a whole, with special reference to the potentialities of the State of Assam.   
GEOPARKS' RELEVANCE IN ENRICHING ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE CONCEPTS AMONGST
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS
- AN INSTANCE FROM ASSAM, NORTHEAST INDIA.

 1. INTRODUCTION:
In India, including the State of Assam, the Elementary Education stage encompasses the learning stages, from age seven years to thirteen years. This stage is broadly divided into two major divisions, viz. Lower Primary Division (seven years to nine years) and Upper Primary Division (ten years to thirteen years), corresponding to the Standards I to IV and V to VII respectively. At this particular learning level, Environmental Science education topics has been incorporated as a compulsory component into the curriculum, and is distributed throughout various subjects like Environmental Studies, Social Studies and Science. Various primary schools located all over the State, supplements their classroom instruction with field knowledge to the pupils without following any clear-cut learning strategy.                                    

However, if the geologically and geomorphologically diverse locales spread out all throughout the North Eastern Region (NER), are molded into geoparks, Environmental Science education would definitely receive a new impetus, in terms of qualitative parameters. The various natural reserve forests, national parks, geological horizons, river systems, etc. fits well into some identifiable geopark boundaries. These geoparks in due course shall be able to serve as Environmental Science 'resource cum learning centres' and can definitely bear prospects of becoming the natural laboratories not only for the young learners but also for students of higher learning levels.

2. THE NORTH EASTERN REGION (NER) OF INDIA:
The entire NER of India, comprising eight different States (viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura), is a region of enchanting topographical spectacle and by and large, is typically land-locked. The cartographic location profile of the region is between 22º N and 29º 5´ N latitudes and 89º 7´ E and 97º 30´ E longitudes. The total geographical area of the region is 2,52,742.69 square kilometres, which represents 7.7 per cent of the total area of India. The region has a unique geographical configuration with 98 per cent of its borders shared with four neighbouring countries viz. Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. Geographical contiguity with the rest of the country is through a narrow 20 kilometres wide 'chicken's neck' corridor.

The region is diverse, showing wide variations in terms of geodiversity, biodiversity, and climatic, cultural, economic, social as well as demographic patterns. The diverse geological/ geomorphological features include hills and mountain chains, valleys, a range of elevations, platform as well as depressions, big rivers and streams, lakes, other wetlands, waterfalls, caves, snow-clad peaks, oil & natural gas and coal bearing sedimentary horizons, fossilized horizons, Precambrian terrains, and many more. Out of a total 25 bio-diversity hot-spots in the world, India possesses two, one in the Western Ghats and the other in the North East. More than sixty percent of the area is covered with various types of forests, especially moist deciduous and alpine forests, in addition to grasslands. Moreover, the NER is the home for several globally endangered fauna many of which are endemic to the region, e.g. the one-horned Rhino (Garh), Greater Adjutant Stork (Bortokola or Hargila), Gangetic River Dolphin (Shihu), etc. The NER is also the abode of a variety of ethnic groups speaking a wide range of languages and dialects, and leading distinct colorful cultural lives, some inhabiting the hills, while others in the plains, ever since the dawn of civilization. It is home to more than 250 tribes speaking more than 190 languages and dialects. The region is a meeting place of two major human races, viz. Caucasoid and Mongoloid.
  
3. GEOPARK POTENTIALITIES:
The NER in its entirety has enormous potentialities to set up several geoparks, all throughout its length and breadth. Certain potential localities are briefly outlined below -
3.01. Potential localities.
3.01.01. Assam. Three major geosites having geopark potentialities are listed below -
• Majuli River Island. The mystical isle Majuli, located in the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra River, is known to be the world's largest fresh-water and inhabited island. The hydro-geo-tectonic forces responsible for the morphological structure of the island had also made it the only mid-river deltaic system in the world.
• Digboi Oilfield. The Digboi Oilfield comprises a total of 1001 wells, the deepest being drilled to a depth of 3351 meters. The oilfield although being about 118 years old, is still producing oil from about 60 - 70 wells (the exact number keeps varying), and therefore is one of the oldest producing oilfields of the world. The oilfield boasts of having achieved many 'firsts' in the field of exploration and production.
• Makum Coalfield.  Covering an area of about 2587.16 hectares, coal mining in this area has been continuing since 1882. The coalfield is spread out in four individual geographical units, and includes several other sites of enormous heritage significance.


3.01.02. Other NER States. Excepting Assam, the other seven states in the NER have mostly a mountainous topography within their geographical limits. These states are abounding with breathtaking landscapes in the form of hilly ridges, snow-clad peaks, waterfalls, gorges, caves, ravines, etc. Hence potentiality exists for declaring at least one geopark within the geographical limits of each of the states. However, an attempt has been made to enlist some of the notable geosites in some of the NER States as follows -
• Sandstone and Limestone Caves (Meghalaya). The Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya has the highest concentration of caves in the Indian subcontinent. Till date, a total of 1060 caves have been identified out of which 629 have been surveyed. Most of the caves found in this district have impressive river pathways mixed with huge fossil passages, that created these systems, and comparable in size and beauty to any other found elsewhere in the world. The caves range in size from small hillside openings to vast interconnected subterranean systems of many chambers and galleries. Some cave systems extend for miles underground and may have many outlets. The longest sandstone and limestone caves in the Indian subcontinent, the largest cave in respect of height and width in the Indian subcontinent, the second deepest and largest cave system in the Asian mainland, etc are all important geosites in Meghalaya.
• Loktak Lake (Manipur). It is an enormous 312 square kilometres lake in the monsoons, which in the driest period shrinks to 104 square kilometres. On it are the floating islands of weeds. The floating mass is the phumdi - a bed of reeds and aquatic plants, which is nearly two metres thick, and of which only one-fifth is above water. This lake houses the only floating national park in the world, the Keibul-Lamjao National Park. This park is the last refuge of the brown-antlered deer (Cervus eldi eldi) or the Sangai.
• Sella Pass (Arunachal Pradesh). This is the world's second highest motorable pass at 14000 feet height, offering breathtaking snow-clad landscapes and sceneries.
• Dumboor Lake (Tripura). This lake has 41 square kilometres of surface area and 48 islands in its midst.
3.02. Conceptualised geoparks in Assam. Centering on the three geosites in Assam, two potential geoparks can be conceptualized, with integral units as outlined below -
The Majuli Island Geopark. The Island has great potentialities for on-site studies, catering to the needs of a prospective student of geology/ geomorphology. The lush green covers, numerous wetlands and water-bodies, ever-emerging chars/chaporis (mid river islands) and changing topography, account for a rare kind of ecological diversity with little scope for environmental pollution. There are about 140 beels (large static water bodies connected by small streams), which also includes the cut-off meanders. There are also a number of jaans (seasonally varying streams) and sutis (perennial streams). The only nadi (river) flowing through the main landmass is the Tuni River, which flows for a distance of about 40 kilometers. The other features include hola (natural depressions in the paddy fields), dubi/duba (a water body near road, caused by scouring action of flood water) and pitoni/doloni (shallow marshy land with savannah type of grass).

Moreover, a student of biology/ ecology has much to gain by visiting this Island. The physiographical setting of the Island has set the stage for thriving of a rich avifaunal wealth of more than 100 species, both indigenous and migratory. The faunal wealth also covers more than 20 reptiles, 20 mammals, nearly 10 amphibians, thousands of insects and nearly 100 types of local fish. The beels are full of zooplanktons, which provide food for the fishes. There are at least 10 different types of turtles available in the island, of which some are endangered. The only fresh-water mammal Platinista gangetica (locally known as sihu) is found in the Brahmaputra and Lohit rivers. On the other hand, the riparian vegetation of the island includes various types of phyto-planktons, herbs, shrubs and trees. Rich availability of the former type supports the fish population of the beels. More than 200 species of herbs are available in the island out of which the local populace uses about 75 types as traditional medicines. Only a few species of shrubs are available, along with a fairly good number of tree species. The floral diversity is being utilized by the indigenous local tribes as building materials, food, fuel, fodder, and medicine, and also for protecting their home-island from the havoc of erosion. The plant ikora (Erianthus ravennae) is used for making walls of the hutments; birina (Vetiveria zizanioides) for making caps and other handicrafts; nal (Arundo donax), khagori (Phragmites karka) and kahuwa (Saccharum spontaneum) serve as excellent sources of fodder for the cattle; khori mora (Sesbania canabina) is cultivated for being used as firewood.

An eco-tourist would find the cross-country treks during the winter season, to be highly refreshing, since Majuli boasts of an unpolluted environment. When large hordes of migratory birds arrive during winter and flock certain beel areas, the whole island resound with the chattering sounds and becomes an added delight to the eco-tourist.

Inclusion of the nearby Kaziranga National Park, which is teeming with wild fauna and flora, within the physical limitations of this geopark, can impart a broader perspective of this geopark in terms of environmental science learning. 

The Digboi-Margherita Energy Heritage Geopark. This geopark can be conceptualized to be centered round two major units viz. the Digboi Oilfield and the Margherita Coalfield, both bearing tremendous heritage values. Several other sites with great attached environmental significance can be brought within the physical limitations of this geopark, viz. the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, Patkai Hills, numerous tea gardens, reclaimed coal mining sites, historic Dihing River, Dibru River, Brahmaputra River, etc. The 340 square kilometers area of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, situated in the flood-plains of the Brahmaputra River, is a haven for many extremely rare and endangered species of wildlife. The Patkai Hills, located in the Assam-Arunachal Himalayan region, is also dotted with a thick cover of jungles and forests. The green tea estates located in the area are mostly over hundred years old and also have attached environmental significance. The magnificent overburden dumps, subsequently afforested in the Patkai Hill areas and the ancient mining sites reclaimed into amusement locales (e.g. parks, lakes, stadiums of the Ledo Valley Recreation Center) carries lot of educative values to any student of environmental science.

4. CURRICULAR ASPECTS:

The Environmental Studies curriculum presently followed in the Lower Primary Stage (Standards I to IV) in the vernacular medium schools of Assam, is being developed by the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), Assam. The said curriculum has the following topical characteristics:
Standard I:
(Environmental Studies). Identification of rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, hills etc. in the local environment; sources and uses of water.
Standard II:
(Environmental Studies). Identification of rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, hills etc. and also forests, parks, hillocks, hills, ferry ports etc. present in the village or town; plantation of tree saplings and flowering plants.
Standard III:
(Social Studies). Preparation of list of rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, hills, forests, grasslands, paddy fields, etc. present in the village or town ward; listing the main rivers, hills, lakes, parks, forests, etc. present in the district.                       
(Science). Interdependence of plants and animals; substances that pollute the air and the harmful effects on animals and plants; need of water for keeping animals and plants alive.
Standard IV:
(Social Studies). Identification of main tributaries, rivers, hills, lakes, national parks, reserved forests, forests, etc. and identify on maps; indicating the above features in the district map; identifying in the map of Assam, the rivers, tributaries, hills, lakes etc. of each district; forest and mineral wealth of Assam and derive knowledge on the principal localities where these are found.                     
(Science). Importance of wildlife conservation; important wildlife characteristics of Assam, the localities where they are found and their behaviour; uses of plant roots in preventing soil erosion by rain water; important trees and plants of Assam, their principal places of occurrences and their uses; importance of trees to man and animals; familiarization with common medicinal plant varieties; environmental degradation due to deforestation and the disastrous effects for both man and animals; different types of soils and the names of the main types; water retention capacity of different types of soils; traditional and modern irrigation methods employed in paddy fields.

5. CONCEPTUALISED GEOPARKS AND ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION INTERCONNECTEDNESS:
• The Majuli Island Geopark. This geopark is an excellent site to demonstrate the nature of various geomorphologic features and their environmental significance. The interdependence of man and environment can be demonstrated clearly in this geopark. It is also an excellent site to demonstrate the ill-effects of erosion as Majuli is perennially affected by flood and erosion. There are ample chances to derive knowledge on the variety of wildlife fauna abound in Majuli. Students here also have the opportunity to familiarize with the several varieties of medicinal herbs found in this river island. Enhanced chances for learning these aspects are provided by the nearby Kaziranga National Park, which is an interesting biodiverse locale. Irrigation methods employed by various indigenous tribal population of the island can also be learned here.
• The Digboi-Margherita Energy Heritage Geopark. Ample opportunities to get quality environmental science education exist in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. This locality comprises semi-evergreen forests, deciduous forests, littoral and swamp forests, and patches of wet evergreen forests. 21.25% of the park area comprises of grasslands. A total of 36 species of mammals have so far been recorded from this area. 62 different species of fishes and more than 350 species of birds have also been recorded in the wetlands and grasslands of this park. It is the only place in the world where one finds the wild horses or feral horses. It is a perfect area to study some of the globally threatened species. The interdependence of plants and animals is very well depicted in this area. The population pressure of the fringe area forest villagers and its adverse effects on this park through illegal felling of trees, wild animals poaching, illegal fishing, etc. are also depicted in this area. The Patkai Hills and the emerald green tea gardens carpeting the undulating plains, also offer opportunity to study Nature in terms of flora and fauna. Moreover, in this geopark, students have the privilege to gain in-depth knowledge on the two main mineral wealth of the State viz. petroleum and coal. The still operational oil rigs inside the Digboi Oilfield area and the various open-cast mining and underground mining sites in the Margherita Coalfield area, provides ample opportunity to any student to gain first hand knowledge. The Digboi Centenary Oil Museum is another site having tremendous educational importance to both young and old alike. The Digboi Oilfield area is tucked amidst an undulating landscape where one may bump across a herd of elephants and tigers, besides some rare species of birds. The Dihing River, dotted with sandy banks, also carries a lot of significance in terms of environmental education.                             

6.       SUMMARIES AND CONCLUSION:
At a time when rapid advancements of the human society is pushing each one of us towards grave environmental crisis, it has been agreed at various knowledgeable circles to give a thrust on environmental education, so as to make each individual aware of the adverse environmental consequences engulfing us, the reasons thereof and the probable remedies. The enchanted beauty of the North-eastern region of India, inherent primarily in its geodiversity and biodiversity, can be metamorphosed into various prospective geoparks of unique quality and attributes. These geoparks shall have the potentiality to advance the cause of environmental science education in the region, right from the elementary stage of education, churning out in the long run an environmentally enlightened population segment. Formulating an integrated and coherent strategy, involving the policy makers, educationists, scientists, environmentalists, and other major stake-holders, is the need of the hour. There also needs to be international initiatives like involving the IGEO and UNESCO in promoting environmental geoscience education through geoparks.     

REFERENCES

Article References:
• Baruah,C. (2001). Majuli - then and now; Souvenir, Convention on Heritage Conservation - Majuli (SCHCM), pp. 12 - 13.
• Borah, D.K. (2001). The tourist viability in Majuli; SCHCM, pp. 22-24.
• Goswami, A.C. (2001). Majuli and higher education; SCHCM, pp. 14-16.
• Goswami, P. (2001). The satras of Majuli and their contributions; SCHCM, pp. 17-18.
• Goswami, N.C.D. (2004). The sattras of Majuli; Souvenir, Majuli Festival Committee (SMFC), pp. 10-12.
• Hazarika, S. (2001). Majuli and the patriotic Majulians; SCHCM, pp. 22-24.
• Hazarika, A. (2001). Majuli: biodiversity and erosion; SCHCM, pp. 25-27.
• Nath, B. (2001). The Naths in Majuli; SCHCM, pp. 9-10.
• Nath, D. (2004). Majuli Island - an introduction; SMFC, pp. 1-7.
• Paul, K.M. (2001). A spectrum of the culture of Majuli; SCHCM, pp. 37-39.
• Pegu, I. (2001). The Mising people and their culture; SCHCM, pp. 40-42.
• Rajkhowa, V.K. & Saikia, D. (2001). The socio-economic profile of Majuli; SCHCM, pp. 5-8.
• Saikia, B. (2001). Population pattern in Majuli and its cultural assimilation; SCHCM, pp. 31-36.
• Saikia, B. (2004). Majuli’s population pattern - a historical viewpoint; SMFC, pp. 8-9.
• Sarmah, T. (2001). Literary contribution of satras with special reference to Majuli; SCHCM, pp. 10-11.
• Sarmah, T.C. (2001). Flora, fauna and wetlands of Majuli - a report; SCHCM, pp. 28-30.
• Thakuria, N.C. (2001). A geographical panorama of Majuli; SCHCM, pp. 1-4.


Booklet/ Brochure/ Magazine/ Pamphlet, etc References:
• Prathamik Payjyar Saribasariya Curriculum: Developed by the State Council of Educational Research & Training, Assam, and published by the UNICEF, Calcutta-19, 1999.
• Digboi Batori, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, July - September 1989; Pub. IOC Ltd. (AOD), Digboi.
• MIPADC brochure: The Island of Majuli - a cultural collage.


Book References:
• Gawthrop, W.R.: The Story of the Assam Railway and Trading Company Limited (1881 - 1951); Harley Pub. Co. Ltd., London; pp. 89.
• Visvanath, S.N. & Dash, D.K.: The Luminous Arc - Digboi's Passage through 100 Years; Corporate Communications, IOCL, New Delhi; pp. 176.

Personal Communication:
• Dilip Kr. Chowdhury, Director, Directorate of Tourism, Govt. of Assam, Guwahati.
• Bharat Saikia, General Secretary, MIPADC, Guwahati.
• Rohini Kr. Chowdhury, S.D.O. (Civil), Majuli Sub-Division, Majuli.
• Prof. Ananda Hazarika, Dept. of Geography, Majuli College, Majuli.
• Prof. Jiten Deka, Dept. of Economics, Majuli College, Majuli.
• S. Changmai, Dy. Chief of Geology, North Eastern Coalfields (Coal India Limited), Margherita.
• Rajen Sharma, EMLR Department, North Eastern Coalfields (Coal India Limited), Margherita.
• Runita Goswami, Manager (Corporate Communication), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (Assam Oil Division), Digboi.
• Bablu Sharma, Senior Manager (LPG), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (Assam Oil Division), Indane Area Office, Tinsukia.
• H.K.Duggal, In-Charge, Digboi Centenary Museum, Digboi.

Research Paper References:
• Borah, A.K. & Mazumdar, M.K. (2006). Role of cultural landscape diversity in geoconservation and geotouristic promotion - a case study of Majuli River Island, Assam, NE India: A paper, presented orally at the "2nd UNESCO International Conference on Geoparks", held at Belfast, Northern Ireland, during 17 - 21 September 2006.
• Mazumdar, M.K. & Borah, A.K. (2006). Conceptualizing an Energy Heritage Geopark for Assam, Northeast India - an untapped opportunity: A paper, presented orally at the "2nd UNESCO International Conference on Geoparks", held at Belfast, Northern Ireland, during 17 - 21 September 2006.
• Mazumdar, M.K. (2007). Developing an 'earth sense' through elementary education (lower primary stage), in the context of the 21st century and Assam: A paper presented orally at the State level Seminar on "School Effectiveness at Elementary Stage", organized by SCERT, Assam, during 04 - 05 January, 2007 at Guwahati.

 

• Sarmah. P, Moral, N & Mazumdar, M.K. (2007). Environmental ethics for environmental protection - its implications in the context of environmental science education in Assam: A paper presented orally at the UGC-sponsored Seminar on "The Environment: problems and panacea", organized by K.R.B.Girls' College, during 30 -31 January 2007, at Guwahati.

Web References:
• www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinsukia_district
• www.tinsukia.nic.in/dibru.asp
• www.travelmasti.com/domestic/assam/digboi.htm
• www.northeastindiadiary.com/assam-travel/assam-tea.html
• www.theindiatravel.com/cityguide/state/assam/tea.html
• www.north-east-india.com/assam/digboi.html
• www.forests.org/archive/asia/assaminfo.htm
• www.assampolice.com/tour/index.htm
• www.industries.nic.in/tinsukia.doc
• www.tinsukia.gov.in/
• www.majuli.org
• www.majuli.info
• www.majuli.tripod.com
• www.nfidel.tripod.com/majuli.htm
• www.coco.essortment.com/majuliisland_rrgt.htm
• www.travelmasti.com/domestic/assam/majuli.htm
• www.members.tripod.com/majuli/sanjoy/majinfo.htm
• www.silchartoday.com/tour_travels/assam/majuli/majuli.htm

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