“Agroecology for All: Initiatives in Malaysia” – EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

Head Master Sangga Sinnayah had left behind students who cared for the environment.

SANGGA SINAYAH: Integrating the Environment and Agriculture into the Lives of Students

For the past decade, former Head Master, Sangga Sinnayah has been receiving praise and accolades for his work in introducing agroecological concepts, instilling environmental awareness and practising organic farming in the schools he taught.

Although environmental education is progressively taking root in the education system in this millennium, Sangga remembers starting it back in 1983 during the early stint of his teaching career. Without the school’s knowledge, he took the children hiking.

He then went on to set up vegetable gardens in the school and broadened his activities to include other environmental features as well.

“I could not figure out what pushed me towards this. The environment I was raised in as a child instilled in me the value of respecting nature. Nature has given me immense pleasure. My house was surrounded by a vegetable garden.

“Those days, chickens scurrying around and cows mooing and grazing were all common sights. At my place, bananas flourished throughout the year, and we gobbled the ripened bananas to our hearts’ content and shared them with our neighbours as well.

“Vegetables were free from toxic chemicals. Terms such as ‘organically grown’ and ‘organic food’ were unheard of. Everything we ate was so authentic and tasty. I think there was probably a deep desire within me to bring back those precious lifestyles,” reminisced Sangga.

When Sangga became a headmaster in 2009, he used his position to incorporate environmental education into the school he taught at. “Our education policy, in fact, has been formulated to inculcate a healthy lifestyle among students. It depends on the teachers’ discretion to interpret the policy and assimilate the environmental education accordingly to the benefit of children,” reiterated Sangga.

Sangga’s first vegetable garden was set up at SJK Tamil Changkat, Penang, in 2009. He planted a variety of vegetables and noticed that students were thrilled to learn the ins and outs of farming.

Former Head Master, Sangga Sinnayah started incorporating environmental education into the curriculum, four decades ago.

Environmental and farming activities were more extensive at Sungai Ara Tamil School, where he served from 2011 to 2019. Together with vegetables, the teachers and students planted banana trees, which became a source of income for the school.

Traditional Malaysian foods such as banana stem and flower, and tapioca sell well due to their high nutritional value. The income the school earns through the sale of these vegetables reaches up to RM1,000 to RM2,000 per month.

The Consumers Association of Penang’s guidance came in handy in the preparation of growth promoters such as pancakavya and fish amino acid, which ensured the healthy growth of the plants.

“Students enjoyed the environmental activities the most because it was a sort of respite for them from the cocoon of apartment dwellings and the drudgery of the exam oriented education system.

“During the activities, they let go of themselves, experimented with planting, enjoyed the growth of their plants, were thrilled at harvesting their own vegetables, learned to cook in the open space, relished their own cooked meal, and later did the cleaning themselves.

All these boosted their confidence, instilled a sense of responsibility, and enhanced creativity and innovation. Not to deny, some parents were against this, but all was well when the school topped the primary exam for the whole of Penang State,” said Sangga. This in itself is proof of Sangga’s holistic approach.

Along with the farming activities, Sangga also runs zero-waste activities in his school. All the teachers and students in his school bring their own food containers. The school does not distribute mineral water bottles in any of its activities. Above all, the school reiterates the concept of refusing waste, which Sangga believes is the most important element in zero waste activities.

Saying “no” to any product when it was introduced to us would save a lot of time and energy in terms of finding ways and means to recycle or dispose of it. In fact, refusing is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to sustain the ecological system.

Students are involved in beach-cleaning activities.

It is an added advantage to the school as the activities implemented were also in line with the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), which include good health and well-being, quality education, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, among others.

“SJK Tamil Sungai Ara successfully implemented 11 out of the 17 SDGs and, due to its achievement, it was the only school invited to participate as a special guest in the UN’s SDGs Summit held in Kuala Lumpur on the 6th of November 2019,” enthused Sangga.

Sangga retired from the teaching profession in June 2022. “I firmly believe retirement is the beginning of a new exploration. I had rented 10,000 square feet of land in Balik Pulau, Penang to do farming at my own pace.

This is a sort of solo trip on my part to connect peacefully with nature. I am all set to use this opportunity to learn the nuances of farming and further delve into nature. This is what I need after almost 4 decades of intense collaboration and communication with students, teachers and society at large,” summed up Sangga.

Agroecology Fund