Schooled for a sweeping revolution

Schooled for a sweeping revolution
Learning from cleaners: As part of the training to be mentor to their juniors, the primary 5 seniors were given the opportunity to interact with and learn cleaning skills from the cleaners. The students were enthusiastic to learn mopping from Mdm Ng (in orange, cleaner serving in MPS for 18 years).

I am back at my favourite primary school and the news is even better.

Yes, the premises are cleaner but that's not the reason I am excited.

It's what's happening inside the pupils' heads and hearts that makes the experiment at Marsiling Primary School one that the rest of Singapore should know about and learn from.

I wrote last year about how this school in Woodlands was about to start a project to get its pupils to clean the school.

But it was not just about keeping it litter-free. If it was just that, it wouldn't be worth the space here. After all, lots of schools get their students to clean their classrooms.

What's special about Marsiling is the attempt to make this a lifelong habit.

This isn't just about what they do in school but how they turn out later in life.

It requires the pupils to want to keep their space clean because they believe it's their responsibility to do so as members of the school community.

The real lesson isn't about cleaning but belonging.

The Marsiling school project involves all Primary 3 and 5 pupils, with the older children acting as buddies and mentors to the younger ones.

Because teachers are less involved, it allows pupils to take ownership of the problem - an important ingredient in community building.

Primary 3 pupils learn from their seniors the how and why of cleaning and talk about the experience at the end of each clean-up.

As a result, they develop a deeper understanding of the issue and a more lasting relationship with their buddies - another key aspect of community.

Primary 5 pupils learn as they teach and guide their charges.

They say teaching is one of the best forms of learning and that's what's taking place here.

Another important part of the project is about knowing and respecting the school's paid cleaners.

All too often in Singapore, these workers are treated as the lowest form of human life, invisible, poorly paid and looked down upon.

At Marsiling Primary, the pupils get to know the cleaners personally and talk to them about their work.

One exercise involves Primary 5 children interviewing the cleaners on their work and then writing an e-mail to their Primary 3 schoolmates telling them what they learnt.

The lesson? Cleaners are as much a part of the school community as pupils and teachers.

That's another important part of building any community - every member is equal and treated as such.

No one is any lesser because of the work he does or the possessions he has.

So, what has been the result of this year-long exercise?

First - the easiest part of the project - the school is cleaner, and it shows.

A litter count done before and after the implementation of the project showed a marked 40 per cent improvement.

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