Sangga Sinnayah is a huge advocate of sustainable living.

The Tamil school headmaster turned the school he was previously in charge of, a green, waste-free premise, and is now in a quest to do the same, to another school he is assigned to lead.

Astro Ulagam caught up with the Penang-based eco-friendly educator.

Sangga was assigned to his former school, SJKT Sungai Ara in George Town, Penang, and 2011, and kicked off his efforts soon after.

"We started off with gotong-royong and clean up events every week, and moved on to banning the use of plastic. We also encouraged the students to recycle, to reduce waste," he recalled.

Implemention was difficult at first, but once his students understood the importance of preserving the environment, they started to convince their parents to stop using plastic, and recycle as well, he added.

"The pupils used to bring their own food containers and cups to school. Even when they bought food from the canteen, they would ask it to be filled in the container.

"The teachers also brought their own containers. We also asked the canteen management to reduce food wastage," he said, adding that the amount of food that unavoidably ends up in the bin, will be measured, then turned into compost.

Plastic bags that occasionally ended up in the school premises also found a more useful purpose by being compressed into bottles, to be turned into e-bricks, which can then be turned into chairs or tables.

None of the classrooms in the school had dustbins, as the students were told be responsible for the waste they generate, and recycle.

A "mini" farm was also started behind the school, where the students used to spend their after school hours tending to the vegetables and fruits planted there. The harvested crops were used to generate revenue for the school.

Apart from teaching the students to be environmentally conscious, they were also urged to steer clear of junk food, and fast food.

According to Sangga, the policies he implemented are in line with the UN's (United Nations') 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include good health and well-being, quality education, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production, among others.

As of December 2019, SJKT Sungai Ara had implemented 11 out of the 17 SDGs.

Thanks to Sangga's efforts, the 150-student strong SJKT Sungai Ara was the only school invited to participate as a special guest in the UN's SDG Summit in Kuala Lumpur, on November 6th 2019.

The school has also won a special prize in the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (Seameo)-Japan Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Awards, which was supported by Seameo and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in cooperation with Unesco’s Asia Pacific regional bureau.

Emphasise on 'fun learning'

Besides raising environmental awareness, Sangga, during his stint at SJKT Sungai Ara, also enforced a no homework, no extra classes, policy.

The students were encouraged to participate in extra curricular, and outdoor activities, and were graded on their individual talents and academic achievements, instead of their examination marks.

Despite this, the school recorded an impressive 91% passage rate in 2019's Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah exam passage rate.

The school corridors were also adorned with "games", such as teng teng, and snakes and ladders, and there were internet-enabled computer outside the classrooms.

According to reports, some of the students enjoyed going to school so much, that they were reluctant to go back to their respective homes.

Sangga also liaised with the religious school next door - Sekolah Agama Sungai Ara, in some of the activities.

All these initiatives got noticed by then Education Minister Maszlee Malik, who paid a visit to SJKT Sungai Ara early last year, and said it could serve as a model for all educational institutions in the country on how to emphasise happiness, care and respect, while at the same time maintaining a green school atmosphere.

Looking to repeat 'magic'

Sangga was transferred to another school - SJKT Bayan Lepas in November 2019, with only about two years left to his retirement.

He hopes to repeat work his "magic" in SJKT Bayan Lepas, as he did with SJKT Sungai Ara.

Just two months into his helm, he implemented rainwater conservation efforts and changed all the lights to LED bulbs in the school.

"We have two cleaners tasked to clean the 4-storey school building. After I joined, they came to me, requesting more manpower.

"However, after I implemented the no plastic policy, and tasked the students to be responsible for the waste they generate, the cleaners now have nothing much to do, except wipe off dust off the class windows and clean the toilets," he quipped.

Teachers and parents alike, at the new school, have also been very supportive, he added.

Sangga's green efforts have also been noticed by the public and NGOs, who call him up and volunteer to channel funds towards his cause.

Asked on the way forward, Sangga said he has a list of programmes lined up for SJKT Bayan Lepas in the coming days and months.

"It is not sufficient for my generation to be environmentally conscious.

"The young ones are going to inherit the earth tomorrow, that's why they need to know the importance of keeping it green."

Photos source: Sangga Sinnayah Facebook page