While Lantau has a range of primary schools offering varied curriculums, there is one constant – a dedication to moulding children with an awareness about the environment. Sam Agars reports.
South Lantau residents take pride in their natural surroundings and sustainable practices and this is no different in the island’s primary schools. Bui O Public School, Mui Wo School and Lantau International School all put a premium on educating students about the value of the environment, and what is required to ensure the planet retains its natural beauty for future generations to enjoy.
From specialised recycling and beach clean-ups to reducing and reusing where possible, Lantau schools are arming students with the knowledge required to do their bit. As young as they are, kids are being helped to develop practices that will help remedy the pollution and waste problem in Hong Kong.
It is an issue that is far from in hand. Hong Kong has an imminent waste problem, producing six million tonnes of municipal solid waste each year, made up of waste from domestic premises, public facilities, commerce and industry, but excluding construction and chemical waste.
According to the GovHK website: “The generation of municipal solid waste has been growing at a much faster rate than expected,” and as a result is putting pressure on the landfills in which waste is disposed. “The three existing landfills will be full, one by one, in the mid to late 2010s… if the waste loads continue to increase, there will be a need to allocate an additional 400 hectares of land to develop new landfill sites to meet our waste disposal needs up to 2030. Clearly, Hong Kong needs a more sustainable way to deal with waste.”
Little green shoots
Located just back from Pui O Beach, Bui O Public School offers P1 to P6 classes and has around 150 students. The school exudes a relaxed vibe and students are trusted to do their bit in making sure it is as sustainable as possible.
All of the school’s paper is recycled and specific recycling bins are dotted across the campus, with native English teacher Sean Earl saying that teaching children the value of recycling is only part of what they do at Bui O. “It’s all about maximising the use of resources, not being wasteful and being mindful of conservation,” he says.
“It’s about our consuming habits; it’s about getting away from just consuming and looking at where their stuff goes – to landfill or what have you,” Sean adds. “It’s not good enough to just throw away your ow ngarbage, if you see garbage on the floor pick it up and throw it away. I would like to think that putting things in the recycling, rather than just throwing things in the garbage, is second nature to a lot of kids.”
Students are encouraged to use reusable containers, cutlery and the like for their recess and lunch, with this green policy also put into practice elsewhere. “We have a famous Christmas party for kids, parents and local community members and everybody brings their own rather than us providing plastic plates and cutlery,” Sean says.
While beach clean-ups – held on Community Service Days – go hand-in-hand with being so close to one of Hong Kong’s best beaches, so too does being in contact with the buffalo that call the Pui O wetlands home. It is not unusual for buffalo to come close to the school and by coming into direct contact with the animals, students learn the value of respecting nature. The school is supportive of buffalo conservation.
“We have a lot of competing interests locally that would love to see the swamp paved in but I think the kids really enjoy having the green space,” Sean says.
With campuses at Pui O, Tong Fuk and Upper Cheung Sha, Lantau International School (LIS) is considered Hong Kong’s greenest school and it puts a premium on giving its 300-plus students ample opportunity to get outside amongst nature. Students start at the Cheung Sha Campus at reception age and work their way up to the Tong Fuk Campus, before finishing their primary education in Pui O.
Recycling and beach clean-ups are commonplace at LIS and the school holds a Green Week before Christmas each year. “We talk about the dangers of plastics and you see it working,” vice principal James Lambert says. “You talk about having a Green Week, but it’s not just that week, it should be all the time and they are not afraid to pick things up and recycle stuff. It’s very good to see.”
Likewise, at Mui Wo School – which also caters to P1 to P6 and, like Bui O, is attended by around 150 students – the message of reduce, reuse and recycle is embedded into the curriculum. The three are reinforced in all aspects of school life and recycling bins make it easy for students to keep paper, aluminum cans and plastics separate.
“We want to encourage our students to put their effort into building a healthy environment for future generations,” principal Yuen Wai Kwan says. “Our teachers deliver the message of reduce, reuse and recycle within the curriculum.”
Like so many schools nowadays, students are encouraged to eradicate use of disposal materials wherever possible. The children are also taught the benefits of utilising food waste, with all waste collected for farm use.
“Our school has a group called Environmental Ambassadors where the students in the group visit the Food Waste Collection Centre in Mui Wo and some farms,” Wai Kwan says. “They also learn to reuse materials to make Christmas decorations and other things.”