Yu Neng Primary pupils learn rice is not just from supermarket shelves

(From left) Abirami Li-Wen Raja, Poon Rui Xuan, Ashley Quek, Ayden Garcia Sim, and Itti Ranjith transplanting rice seedlings on Feb 22, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - In all his 11 years, Ashley Quek had never spared a thought for where the rice on his dinner plate came from before it hit supermarket shelves.

But since the start of February this year, Ashley and his fellow Primary 5 pupils at Yu Neng Primary in Bedok have had a hands-on introduction to growing the staple crop, giving them a deeper understanding of the grain that many eat every day.

Ashley told The Straits Times: "I thought my parents just got it from the supermarket and that's it."

The whole Primary 5 level - comprising about 200 pupils - has been growing rice as part of a project which the school is using to teach them about sustainability and food waste.

The pupils started off with seeds, which they germinated in their classrooms, and then transplanted the seedlings to large containers that sit outside the science labs.

ST visited the school on Tuesday (Feb 22) and spoke to the pupils, who expressed excitement at the project and awe about the work of rice farmers.

Ayden Garcia Sim, 11, said that while taking care of the seedlings has been fun so far, he does not think he could do it for a living.

"It's back-breaking work and rice farmers have to do it every single day," he said, but later admitted he was too young to have back pain from planting the seedlings.

To get the project off the ground, Yu Neng enlisted the help of Mr David Chen, who has had 14 years of experience growing rice overseas.

Mr Chen is co-founder of Golden Sunland, a company partnering farmers in Myanmar to grow rice.   

He said: "There's a lot for the kids to learn, especially because as consumers in Singapore, we are so disconnected from the process of how our food is grown.

"At the very least, I hope the kids will learn about the amount of work that goes into growing their rice and lose the idea that because rice is relatively cheap, it is dispensable."

The total area of the containers, if combined, is about 30 sq m and will yield about a bowl of rice for each pupil when it is harvested in about four to five months - which is how long rice usually takes to grow.

While learning about food waste is part of the goal, the project is also integrated with the pupils' academic lessons, said vice-principal Tay-Lee Li Theng.

They do exercises such as calculating the number of seedlings that can go into one container for mathematics, as well as keeping a journal in English and their mother tongue languages about the rice-growing process, she said.

Ashley Quek, 11, showing his muddy hands after transplanting of rice seedlings at Yu Neng Primary School on Feb 22, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The project is also about learning values such as resilience, said head of department for science Dewi Wati.

She said: "We also hope the students can learn resilience and perseverance from the challenges that come with growing rice."

These values have been tested quickly - about two weeks ago, many of the seedlings died when heavy rain caused the containers to flood, drowning the plants.

The pupils took it well, said Ms Tai Wai Ling, a 46-year-old recruiter whose daughter is in one of the classes.

She said: "My daughter understands that plants dying is part of the process and there's no need to be sad. She just says let's plant again.

"This kind of resilience can't be learnt from books, and as a parent, it makes me feel relieved."

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