Action speaks louder than slogans for Penang Tamil ‘eco-school’

Pupils of SJK(T) Sungai Ara on a ‘climate strike’ at their school in Bayan Lepas, Penang, today. They held up drawings with a theme based on environmental conservation.

GEORGE TOWN: A small Tamil school in Bayan Lepas today held a “strike” with a difference.

They were protesting against climate change after the searing heat and the prolonged drought made their studies at the school unbearable and affected the eco-farm they are running.

The 130 students of SJK(T) Sungai Ara took time off from classes today to chant slogans urging the authorities to take action against climate change.

The “climate change strike” came as no surprise to the parents and teachers of the school, which is well-known for its environment-friendly policies.

Instead of just mere slogans or talking, the primary school-children are actively involved in various projects, from recycling garbage to growing vegetables and banana trees.

Mango, guava and soursop trees have been planted on a small plot of land along the riverbank near the school. Basil, chillies, sweet potato, curry leaves, moringa and a mulberry tree also grow there.

The sale of bananas alone brings in RM600 a month to the school.

Headmaster Sangga Sinniah showing the banana trees affected by the recent drought. The school’s banana plantation has contributed RM600 a month to its coffers.

Members of the public often come to the school to buy “daun sirih” (betel leaf), making the community more involved in the school’s activities.

The students also help to clear out rubbish dumped into the Sungai Ara river, from time to time. Recycled items are also fashioned into tables and chairs by the pupils.

Under the tutelage of headmaster Sangga Sinniah, the students also learn to look after more than 30 chickens, which supply a steady supply of eggs for sale and consumption. Parents have also donated three turkeys to the farm.

Students are served healthy meals, with ingredients partially sourced from the school farm.

The school has a strict “no food wastage policy”. All of the meals in school are vegetarian, except for one day in a month when chicken meat is served.

Sangga said the food is served to 130 students and 20 teachers, and the food waste weighs less than 500g daily. Whatever waste goes into a composting ground at the farm.

“I have told parents, if I ever see them posting photos of themselves at fast food outlets on social media, I’ll cut one mark from their tests.

“You see, I follow all the parents’ Facebook accounts to update them on their children’s progress.

“I don’t want the children eating at unhealthy food restaurants,” Sangga said with a laugh.

The headmaster said the children were now turning plastic bags and plastic bottles into “eco-bricks”, which can be used to make tables and chairs.

The “no garbage” policy in school meets eight out of 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, he said proudly.

Despite all these “extra-curricular activities” , SJK(T) Sungai Ara has emerged as one of the top-tier schools in terms of academic results in the state.

Sangga said the school’s green credentials have had a tremendous effect on the children’s academic performance.

He said the passing rate had increased to 86% last year.

He said the school does not offer extra classes and no student goes for tuition classes. The parents often drop their children in school over the weekend to take part in learning activities at the farm.

Sangga said his students recently took part in cleaning up the Pulau Betong beach.

“We don’t believe in extra classes. We feel when the children are learning in a good environment and are genuinely interested to learn, it will be good for them.”