Reaping Benefits from the Farm

New Delhi, May 13, 2018: It is the start of a new school day, and a small group of students at Pathlight School are learning propagation techniques in the campus’ organic farm.

Student Goh Jie Ting carefully pours water into a small pot of soil. “I like watering plants,” shares the 16-year-old, as she trims stalks of tarragon with garden shears. She then arranges the herb in the pot and places it alongside her classmates’ in the farm.

Pathlight’s organic farming programme goes beyond just teaching students with autism the technicalities of growing crops. Lessons on interaction, sharing and safety are also incorporated in the curriculum according to

“We guide and nurture our students with soft skills such as interacting with people, the importance of safety and how they regulate themselves beyond school. These skill sets would be beneficial for them to get employed,” explains Pathlight’s senior vice principal Ms Loy Sheau Mei. “Individuals with autism may need more time to learn these skill sets.”

Pathlight School urban farming

The lessons are calibrated to help students understand the class activities better. The activities would be listed clearly at the start of the lesson, and the students would have checklists to keep track of their tasks.

“They actually learn hard skills fast as they have photographic memory,” says Ms Loy. “They can remember the steps and what they need to do very clearly, but it’s the soft skills in which they need more time.”

To help students hone their soft skills, teachers would incorporate opportunities for them to socialise. “Sometimes we deliberately keep away some tools which they need to use, so that the students will communicate and work together to find the tools,” says Ms Yap Fong Lin, senior executive of operations at Pathlight.

Efforts to impart soft skills in the farm have come to fruition, according to the educators.

“They have built up some of their communicative skills,” says Ms Loy. “They have learned to ask and appreciate. When it comes to harvesting the plants, they learn the importance of sharing items and tools.”

Parents have also been supportive of the programme, according to Ms Loy. “We’ve had parents coming to water the crops for us,” she says. “Their involvement in school activities helps them understand better how they can replicate teaching methods at home.”

Pathlight student Spencer Tan says he has learned various farming methods, as well as the origins of various types of plants. The 17-year-old, who began attending farming lessons in January this year, adds that he enjoys class activities such as stem cutting and the watering of crops.

Pathlight’s organic farming programme began in 2011. The school saw urban farming as an industry in which students could find employment in. The students, aged between 13 and 18, would learn to grow herbs and vegetables including mint, rosemary and long beans.

Pathlight School urban farming – stem cuttingThe crops in Pathlight’s farm are chosen based on the lesson objectives, says Ms Loy. “For instance, if it’s stem cutting, we would choose to grow plants which can be propagated with stem cutting,” she explains. “One thing to note is that we can’t choose plants which take too long to grow as we want the students to see the results of their work. It’s good if they can see results within one semester.”

Employability was also a key consideration for Pathlight as the educators introduced the organic farming programme.

“A lot of farming has moved in the direction of vertical or organic methods, and this suits our needs as it doesn’t take up so much space,” says Ms Loy. “And there is a lot of routine work in farming, so (the students) can do it well.”

“We hope that when they graduate from school, they will be able to get employment at the farms around Singapore,” she adds.

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