Greater participation in green workshops, amid calls for more climate change education in schools
SINGAPORE: At Elias Park Primary School (EPPS), primary three students were rewarded for finishing their food this year.
Those who managed to finish everything they ordered received one sticker per day, and were rewarded with a certificate upon receiving 10 stickers.
While some parents might see this as a way to train fussy eaters, the real aim of the programme at EPPS, held in collaboration with Zero Waste SG, was to encourage students to only order food they can finish and educate them about consuming only what they need and reducing food waste.
The school, which has implemented a compost-making and food waste reduction project since 2012, also has four electric biodigester machines and three manual compost bins.
Canteen stall owners dispose of fruit peel and mainly plant-based waste into the biodigesters, which can convert the material into usable fertiliser within 24 hours. According to Mdm Chua Pei Pei, principal of EPPS, about 5kg of food scraps are converted to about 1kg of fertiliser each day.
The fertiliser is then used in the gardens on the school compound, and the machines are also used to teach students about composting and food waste.
Food waste is one of the three major trash streams targeted under the Ministry for Environment and Water Resources' Zero Waste Masterplan launched earlier this year.
Mdm Chua said: “From regular interactions and through surveys, students believe that their efforts can make an impact as they felt that everyone has a part to play in keeping Singapore Clean and Green. They would like Singapore to be a cleaner and greener city.
“For example, they would like to see more people using recyclable bags instead of plastic bags. With the increase in food deliveries, some would like to see less use of single-use disposable plastic wares and more people using containers to store take-way food.”
Following calls to strengthen climate change education in schools, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a statement in response to CNA queries that by embedding climate change issues in the school curriculum and activities, it hopes to equip students with “a fundamental scientific understanding of the issue”, enabling them to engage in constructive discussions and “make informed decisions about their actions”.
Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Oct 23) that he had received several postcards from participants of the Singapore Climate Rally last month, hoping that MOE schools could help combat climate change by raising awareness of environmental issues among students. One proposed to incorporate climate studies into the national curriculum, he wrote.
He noted that the national curriculum “ensures mass awareness of and participation in environment protection”.
“This is in fact one of the reasons we now have a generation of environmentally conscious young Singaporeans,” he wrote.
Mr Ong said he would “recommend against” having a specific subject for climate change, or to have exams in the subject.
“It is far more meaningful to embed these lessons into existing school subjects and activities, and inculcate in students good habits, such as reducing the use of air-con or devices, minimising wastage, saving water, to do our part for the environment,” he wrote.
READ: 'We as children have to do our part': This 11-year-old environmentalist wants others to join him in saving the Earth
According to Ms Beatrice Chong, divisional director of curriculum planning & development 2 at MOE, students at the primary level acquire a basic understanding of global warming and environmental issues such as pollution and deforestation during Science lessons and learn the importance of using resources responsibly during Social Studies lessons.
At the secondary level, students learn about carbon cycles, greenhouse gases and their contribution to global warming during Science lessons, as well as the effects of climate change during Geography lessons, she said.
And at the JC level, students learn about how we influence climate change and the need for urgent action to mitigate its effects in Geography, Physics, Chemistry and Biology lessons, she explained.
They also engage in discussions about climate change and its impact on communities during General Paper lessons.
Environmental groups CNA spoke to all said they have seen more schools reaching out to express an interest in holding workshops for their students.
Ms Pek Hai Lin, manager of Zero Waste SG, said the organisation has conducted talks and workshops in at least 30 primary and secondary schools since late 2017.
“More schools seem to be taking more steps to engage students and actively removing single-use plastics in the canteen, for instance, or taking on food waste digesters, besides reducing carbon footprint in other ways,” she said.
Stressing that the young need to be taught about climate change, she added that while there are currently more than enough content engagement opportunities in school, translating knowledge to daily actions can be improved.
“Besides getting students to realise that Reduction is the most important of the 3Rs, there is also a need to explicitly teach students, as well as empower teachers with the knowledge of how to recycle, and to actively practice that in school every day,” she said.
Adding that sustainability should be part of daily school activities, and not just standalone projects and events, she added: “When teaching students to be considerate towards fellow human beings during moral education lessons, we need to also include the environmental aspect.
“When habits are formed, and societal infrastructure adequately supports that, it will transform the way we behave and treat resources. We do not need to do more, we just need to do it right.”
An Edible Garden City spokesman shared that the organisation has worked with 40 schools this year to educate about 2200 students about urban farming in Singapore, food resilience and basic farming skills. It worked with 30 schools, or about 1000 students, last year.
“All our education programmes are customised according to learning objectives, and we have found that more and more schools are requesting for our educators to incorporate food resilience and food sustainability messages, and environment-related lessons into our programmes,” said the spokesman.
“This is on top of common requests like encouraging innovation, or linking urban farming and biodiversity to subjects like science and geography.”
The spokesman pointed out that around the world, young people have been “the catalyst for change” on key issues like climate change and gun control.
“Education surrounding values like a love for nature and conscious consumption from a young age is important, as these young people will carry these good habits on to adulthood,” said the spokesman.
Founder of Plastic Lite SG Aarti Giri told CNA that the organisation has seen an increase in the number of invitations from schools to conduct workshops from mid-2018. They have worked with about 40 schools so far, including kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and junior colleges.
While there seems to be an increased awareness about climate change among the young, Ms Giri said there are “multiple gaps that need to be filled”.
“Much of the advocacy reaching them seems to be theory based,” she said.
“They see their peers and family members leading a high consumption and consequently a high waste output life. Simply put, many do not see the advocates of climate change walking the talk.”
READ: MPs question Government’s stand on single-use plastics as Parliament passes new sustainability Bill
Ms Giri stressed that climate change education should equip the young with the right mindset and in-depth education “so that they are driven to arrive at targeted solutions”.
Adding that zero waste schools are “achievable”, she said they would also allow students to explore creative and innovative ideas that may even pave the way for implementation on a national level.
Schools like National Junior College (NJC) are paving the way for their students to get involved in climate change research earlier.
According to vice-principal Harman Johll, there are 177 research projects in total across the secondary 3 and JC 1 levels, and about 20 to 25 per cent of all the projects are climate change-related. These include projects on battery and solar technology and agritech.
Research is a compulsory subject in the secondary two and three syllabus. Students are granted autonomy on what subjects they would like to study and can pursue further projects after secondary three with school teachers or other institutes of higher learning, said Mr Johll.
He added that the school has seen more climate change-related projects in recent years. In 2019, the college also established a new Agri-Tech Research Facility in partnership with the Singapore Food Agency and start-up, Life3 Biotech.
The facility promotes collaboration between schools and research institutes in urban agriculture and new technologies, and explores opportunities to boost Singapore’s food security and strengthen its resilience to the effects of climate change. Students from other schools can also join projects within the facility, said Mr Johll.
Mr Johll also noted that the environment club co-curricular activity group has positively influenced the student body, adding that they are “being the change they want to see”.
“You can see students and even teachers being more conscious of how they use water and make sure that we turn off the utilities when they’re not needed, and so on. They do send a very strong signal when it comes to recycling, e-waste and so on,” he said.
“One (of the members) scolded me the other day and told me to stop using plastic straws. They have quite a strong influence across the student population when it comes to taking care of the environment.”