Mita Goswami: Emphasis is on stoking the students’ sense of wonder and respect for Nature

Asking the right question is considered more precious than giving the correct answers, if we go by the instruction manual for life by some wise teachers. Seems like ‘catechism’ has not fully lost its magic and this tool that was used by ancient gurus and monks, may still find some relevance when it comes to equipping our youth with awareness, cognizance and intelligence on some significant issues.

Mita Nangia Goswami – Director, Environment Education, WWF-India helps us understand why and how the idea of quizzing is is working for the organisation’s game plan in India. In an interaction with Pratima H, she shares her views, vision and the road ahead.

Tell us something about your quiz initiatives like how did this idea start, and what is its scope, as well as evolution curve or impact ground so far?
The Wild Wisdom Quiz is the only national quiz of its kind in India. With environmentalism becoming increasingly prominent in the 21st century, the Wild Wisdom Quiz has grown exponentially in popularity in India’s school system in recent years.

Starting with 32 Delhi schools in 2008, the quiz has grown to involve 565 schools and more than 25,000 children spanning 17 cities across India in 2013. With such reach, the quiz seeks multiple objectives like engaging children in environmentalism on a powerful national platform; generating awareness and pride in India’s biodiversity and fostering enthusiasm and a healthy competition based around values of conservation.

 It has an online and radio version too?Mita Nangia

Yes, with an online version of the quiz in partnership with CBSE as well as a radio quiz on All India Radio during Wildlife Week, the Wild Wisdom Quiz in 2013 engaged more of India’s students than ever and we are expecting an exponential increase in 2014. The quiz also has a unique eco-friendly prize of trips around India’s beautiful national parks, and provides a fun and interactive atmosphere for the students at both the state and national finals. WWF conducts these events through their partnerships with the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Central Board of Secondary Education.

How does it compare to your own/others’ initiatives when it comes to generating the desired awareness?

Wild Wisdom is unique because of the manner in which it engages students, it is a competition and requires gathering knowledge about Indian wild life but it is a learning event at every layer for all concerned. It is not just about the teams which make it to the stage but every single person who participates is exposed to the amazing flora and fauna that we have and the interconnectedness of life. Even WWF personnel researching content for the quiz are awe-struck with the facts and figures and natural phenomena that they unearth! So, the quiz reaches out to a whole range of age groups and enhances everyone’s awareness and sensitivity to the natural world. It is NOT a rote memory dependant event but a tool that rakes up people’s curiosity and sense of awe for the natural world.

How do you ensure this awareness translates into action?

We believe that you conserve what you care for, what you know about and Wild Wisdom builds a relationship between the participant and Nature. Since we only have themes for each year and no designated curriculum, students have to read from a diverse content related to the theme and hence delve into many trails that they would otherwise never have thought of looking up.
Getting to know names of birds , trees, recognizing animal calls,  understanding the history of conservation, getting to know about wildlife heroes- all of this connects them to Nature and makes space in their minds for Nature. Students who have won the quiz and gone for the prize trip have shared how participating in the quiz has molded their aspiration for the future and how they would like to choose careers related to nature and conservation!

Are kids as inclined to tools like Quiz in an era of fierce social media addiction, video games and Internet we live in today? Do you plan to take these new engagement models into your ambit too?

Yes I agree that children nowadays are addicted to online infotainment, yet quizzes like these still draw them in and engage them effectively because the information that they gain is not only knowledge but also exciting enough to keep them coming back for more. Moreover, the quiz is designed that will keep children riveted. It is a multiple choice question format at the school level. Even at the physical event, we have ensured that the format of questioning involves activities like an AV round, an audio round and even Pictionary and rapid fire.

an_elephant_calf_suckling_at_her_mother_wwf_india_ramnagar_officeFor High School students we have an online quiz which is aligned to their mode of functioning and every year we are bringing in innovative elements into the quiz which are in tandem with the interests of this generation.

Yes, going forward we are also looking at occupying more digital space and gamification of some of the content.   This year we have also released the first volume of the Wild Wisdom Quiz Book, consisting of questions of the last five years, in partnership with Puffins.

Will this quiz be taken in Hindi medium schools as well?

This year we are having a Malayalam quiz in Kerala, covering all the 14 districts. So we are very aware that we need to include the regional language medium schools as well and we are looking at a Hindi quiz in the future

How is the quiz designed, and structured and what emphasis areas are focused on?

The emphasis is on stoking the students’ sense of wonder and respect for Nature, of deepening their understanding about the web of life of which we are but an insignificant part and hence our content springs from this perspective.  It is NOT just about dry facts; it is about sitting back every time and saying “wow”.


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