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Modeling future-relevant education: Nurturing the next generation of scientists and advocates

Nathan Hunt, Former Director of Sustainability, UWCSEA
31 May 2019, updated 31 March 2022

UWCSEA is nurturing the next generation of scientists and advocates through its Rainforest Restoration Project.

While members of UWCSEA’s Rainforest Restoration Project (RRP) love nothing more than planting trees with members of our community, their dedication to sharing their work is having an increasing impact in the wider Singapore landscape. As well as sheltering hundreds of often critically endangered tree seedlings, the specialist nurseries on both UWCSEA campuses are helping to nurture the next generation of reforestation scientists and advocates. Our long-term partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and NParks, the Singapore government’s National Parks Board, is providing both excellent opportunities for applied learning for UWCSEA students and exciting chances to contribute to Singapore’s national strategy for biodiversity conservation.

A very productive start to the year in 2019 culminated in our participation in a Forest Restoration workshop hosted by NParks at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Headquarters. The workshop was the initiative of Dr. Chua Siew Chin, a lecturer at NUS’ Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) who is an experienced researcher and key advocate for tropical forest restoration here on the island. As well as developing learning modules for her RVRC students, Dr Chua also kindly supervised RRP member and Grade 12 Dover student Naomi Schulberg in her IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) Extended Essay research.

The workshop was an opportunity to showcase this learning as well as to develop more community engagement in this important work. Naomi presented her experimental study of the performance of rainforest seedlings in degraded soil from secondary forest sites known locally as ‘Adinandra belukar forest’ for the dominant species that has populated these abandoned agricultural plots. As much of the reforestation work in Singapore will be enriching these relatively species-poor, nutrient deficient sites, Naomi’s research contributes to much-needed knowledge about the best strategies for ensuring successful regeneration of primary forest species. Her study is currently being considered for publication in one of Singapore’s scientific journals. This is an exciting development as Naomi prepares to study Environmental Science at Cornell University, USA.

Alongside Dr Chua and Naomi, NParks Conservation Manager Zhou Boyi led a discussion on how the audience of educators and students could be involved in Singapore’s ambitious new Reforestation Plan. Introduced by NParks Director of Conservation research, Dr. Adrian Loo, the 10-year plan  provides for the planting of over 250,000 native trees and shrubs, predominantly in the Nature Parks that act as buffer zones for the more biodiverse Central Catchment and Bukit Timah Nature Reserves. Developing more tree nurseries, using the school-based model developed by the UWCSEA RRP, is seen as a key strategy to both engage more young people in conservation and volunteer efforts, as well as to provide the number of saplings necessary to meet this ambitious planting target.

UWCSEA was pleased to be able to share our work with a wider audience of other schools at the workshop, and already this year we have welcomed visitors from Dulwich College (Singapore), Hwa Chong, Commonwealth Secondary and Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) to examine our model and the Lycée Français were due to visit in Term 3. The academic year will finish with us planting out many of our saplings in Jurong Lake Gardens as part of the Reforestation Plan, as well as on the Dulwich College (Singapore) campus and in gardens of some of Singapore’s iconic ‘black and white’ housing estates, thanks to interested parents and friends. On campus, our planting will continue through the highly successful Adopt-a-Tree programme, which to date has seen 304 trees adopted since its launch on East Campus in 2011.

Alongside Naomi’s research, Amenech, Grade 12 scholar from Ethiopia at East, also wrote her Extended Essay on adaptation to varying light levels of some of our critically endangered tree species. As a long serving member of the project, her exposure to our research with Yale-NUS meant that she could draw on data she had collected herself over many months in the rooftop nursery on East Campus. And this year on Dover Campus, three of our Grade 12 RRP members completed their Certificate of Tropical Forest Restoration before graduating in late May. The Certificate is a UWCSEA qualification for which members of the RRP can elect to study. The assessment is based on a minimum two-year commitment to the RRP and evaluates practical skills and theory as well as outreach work. Students learn within the campus tree nurseries, at community plantings and through expert input and advice from NParks and NUS/Yale-NUS staff and researchers. To date 11 UWCSEA students or graduates have received their certification as part of the programme.

This opportunity to combine a grand passion with rigorous learning and genuine service is the ultimate ambition of both the IBDP and the UWC movement. With discussions beginning about the evolution of educational pathways to deliver more personalised, innovative approaches to learning, perhaps UWCSEA’s Rainforest Restoration Project could serve as an experimental model as we innovate to deliver future-relevant education.

Now a key part of UWCSEA’s Service programme, the development and expansion of this dual-campus programme was made possible by generous gifts from the Kirtida and Bharat Mekani Environmental Sustainability Fund. 

Visit the UWCSEA Rainforest Restoration Project blog for more.

About the UWCSEA Rainforest Restoration Project

The Rainforest Restoration Project has been running since 2005. The project is a key part of UWCSEA’s Service programme. The development and expansion of the dual-campus programme was made possible been supported through generous gifts by the Kirtida and Bharat Mekani Environmental Sustainability Fund.