SINGAPORE: Starting next year, students in Singapore could be developing new and healthier crop varieties in a first-of-its-kind urban agriculture research facility.
The facility - the only one to be located in a junior college - is set to break ground in National Junior College (NJC) this month.
This comes after the school inked a partnership with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and local biotechnology company Life3 to set up an R&D facility for agri-tech solutions in food production.
NJC, which already has an innovation and research programme, hopes to expose its students to opportunities in agri-tech, which it said is imperative in land-scarce Singapore.
The aim is for students to modernise farming practices to improve sustainability and cultivate high-nutrition plants.
“You need that expertise from a group that has been there and done that,” said vice-principal Harman Johll. “We need an industrial partner to come into play, to allow our students to see what it takes to get, to actualise, or to enable that.
“If they do come up with something, hopefully they can patent it.”
Life3 will provide resources including technical expertise.
“Working with students is a pivotal role because we want to encourage a new generation of talent in this space ... We do not have a food-resilient system and security,” said founder Ricky Lin.
“We are going to use Internet of Things to wire up this whole farming environment. This will help to optimise space in a very efficient way. We are looking at growing some of the crops at 200 times their usual output, with very little water utilisation, as compared to usual farming methods.”
He added that having AVA as a partner allows for wider transfer of knowledge and expertise in the agri-tech field.
Both NJC and Life3 hope to engage students from other schools in the five-year project.
Other schools are also working to give students a foothold in thriving industries.
All secondary schools run Applied Learning Programmes (ALPs) to let students apply their knowledge in real-world settings, and these will be rolled out to all primary schools by 2023.
Among mainstream secondary schools, more than half offer ALPs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). These are supported by STEM Inc, a unit under Science Centre Singapore that works with teachers to develop programmes.
Changkat Changi Secondary runs an ALP called SOAR (student-centred opportunities for aerospace industry) that gives students a hands-on experience in the aviation sector, which contributes about 6 per cent of Singapore’s GDP.
Through a partnership with SIA Engineering, students get to learn about plane maintenance, repair and operations.
Students are also taught the principles of flight and coding, and the school says there are plans to weave topics like food science and tourism into lessons to give an insight into aspects of the industry like airport management.
Thirteen-year-old Ghiyas Ibrahim’s dream is to become a pilot, so he chose to apply to Changkat Changi Secondary after completing his Primary School Leaving Examination last year.
“I thought that if I chose this school, it will probably help me to become a pilot,” said Ghiyas.
Another school that offers a STEM ALP – focused on fragrances – is Bartley Secondary.
Lessons are carried out in a purpose-built perfumery lab, where students conduct experiments such as extracting essential oils.
The school has partnered global fragrance company Takasago so students can visit the facilities and interact with researchers.
Junior perfumer Amber Lee said the company hopes to increase awareness of the perfumery industry in Singapore among students.
“This will open up more opportunities for them to join us in this industry in the future.”
Bartley Secondary student Aaliyah Elena said she hopes to join the industry after a recent job shadowing experience.
“One of the compounders told me that there is this course on fragrance in Singapore Polytechnic, so it has inspired me to pursue this as a job as well," she said.