AN ABANDONED cowshed has been turned into Singapore's first learning laboratory in the forest for schools.
The lab, called the Wallace Environmental Learning Laboratory (Well) - after famed naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, whose work in Singapore in the 19th century led to the discovery of hundreds of unique species - is located within the 63ha Dairy Farm Nature Park.
Equipped with data loggers, microscopes and even shovels, the lab was set up by Raffles Girls' School (RGS) and the National Parks Board (NParks), and allows students to get out of the classroom and tackle subjects like biology and geography in a natural environment, thus bringing lessons to life.
It was set up after RGS teachers set out to find a place where they could conduct field studies.
They chanced upon the old cowshed, and begun negotiations with NParks to use it.
Outfitting the lab cost $600,000, with RGS contributing almost $90,000. NParks helped to renovate the shed and will maintain it, while pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline also made a donation.
RGS students began using the lab in September, and yesterday, it was opened up to 21 more schools which have partnerships with Raffles.
Next May, all schools here can use the lab for a nominal fee that will be paid to NParks.
RGS students are already benefiting from the use of Well. Secondary 2 students Lim Wen Ting, Ng Si Yuan and Lisa Koh, all 14, for instance, have found two dragonfly species which have not been identified yet.
The girls were studying the biodiversity of dragonflies in the park as part of a research studies module in school.
Asked about their project, the students, who have also found six other dragonfly species in the park, said the insects provide vital clues to the environment.
Said Lisa: 'They are a good bioindicator of water quality. If you can spot dragonflies, it means there's a clean water source nearby.'
RGS principal Julie Hoo said the lab will be useful for more than just science and geography.
Even English lessons could be conducted there, said Mrs Hoo.
'It's a place for creative expression as well. Students could write nature poems, and have a lesson about the use of metaphors and personification in poetry.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.