Bright sparks use pedal power
Hearing the school bell toll, five students from Baptist Lui Ming Choi Primary School rush out of their classroom to get on their bikes in a corner of the playground - but they won't be going anywhere. Because by pedalling away at full tilt, the students are heeding the call by their principal to help in a revolutionary energy-saving drive the school recently adopted.
The bicycles are connected to a device that transforms kinetic energy into electricity for powering the school's ventilation and lighting systems.
School principal Wong Kit-lin said the trailblazing move was part of their initiative to promote environmental awareness.
'The venture can not only achieve energy savings, it helps our students keep fit,' she said.
'Since we began collecting statistics last August we have attained an average of over HK$1,000 in savings on electricity bills every month.'
Together with other eco-friendly systems, such as a solar-powered automatic sprinkling system and eight solar panels installed on the roof, the cycling scheme was set up last year with a grant of HK$492,000 from the Environmental Campaign Committee and HK$99,500 from Hongkong Electric's Clean Energy Fund.
Ms Wong said schools were the ideal place for children to learn about green habits.
'In addition to the green facilities installed on campus, we have incorporated green living into the curriculum, like asking students to do projects on the theme of environmental protection and holding regular talks and workshops on sustainable energy.'
The Sha Tin school is one of many local schools at the vanguard of the drive for sustainable campuses.
With the extensive coverage of environmental destruction in the media and more resources earmarked by education officials for promoting healthy lifestyles among the young, green issues have featured prominently on the school agenda.
Connie Mak Yuk-chun, curriculum development officer in moral and civic education with the Education Bureau, said environmental education was one of the key learning areas in the local curriculum.
'Topics about environmental protection are included in such subjects as liberal studies and science,' she said.
'Our aim is to nurture a sense of environmental citizenship among students. The need to boost health and green education has been made more prominent by the Sars crisis [in 2003]. We hope to create an environment where students are immersed in green living. Students are not only taught knowledge and skills about green lifestyles, they are encouraged to adopt positive attitudes to living.'
In addition to the stronger emphasis on environmental protection in the curriculum, the government has set aside more funding for schools to install green features on campuses.
According to Environmental Protection Department figures, more than HK$27 million has been approved for 89 green school projects for the 2008/09 academic year. The figure is more than triple that for the last academic year when around HK$7.8 million was approved for 19 such projects.
A department spokesman said the sharp rise in funding for smaller green construction works could be attributed to the injection of HK$1 billion by the government early last year into the Environmental and Conservation Fund.
'The funding has become more popular among local schools,' he said. 'Schools are encouraged to apply for the funds to set up their own green facilities such as green roofs, small patches of organic farmland, renewable energy facilities and other energy-saving devices.
'They are also encouraged to incorporate such facilities into their formal curriculum or other extra-curricular activities. We believe that these set-ups can provide students with more hands-on experience in how to adopt green habits.'
One of the schools that have benefited from the funds is SKH Wing Chun Primary School. Kwan Sau-wan, the principal of the Fanling school, said they had been granted more than HK$300,000 by the department last year to set up a lawn on their second floor.
'The lawn will be installed with automatic sprinklers,' she said.
'The main purpose for setting it up is to reduce the use of air-conditioning inside the auditorium, which lies below where the lawn is situated.
'On blistering hot days during summer, when the temperature hovers at about 30 degrees Celsius, we have to use a lot of air-conditioning during assemblies or other school functions to keep the auditorium cool.
'With the installation of the lawn, we believe that the temperature inside the hall will decrease.'
Ms Kwan said students should be taught to care for the environment as early as possible in their school careers as it made them more receptive to green practices.
She said their school had taken green education a step further by reaching out to the community.
'Our children are taught to be guardians of the planet. We send them to homes for the elderly nearby to spread the messages among residents.
'Our school also gives out a rallying call during the Mid-Autumn Festival every year for responsible disposal of used mooncake boxes. After collecting the used boxes from nearby residents, we will send the boxes to recycling companies to let students understand the importance of recycling.'
Despite the raft of initiatives to install green features on campuses, Gilbert Chan Yuk-sing, assistant professor in environmental-protection education with Polytechnic University, said many schools lacked the will and expertise to operate them properly.
'The installation of those green features like roof gardens has become a trend now,' he said.
'I saw that many schools had got funds from the government to develop different kinds of green hardware on campus. But whether those features can have lasting impact on students is another matter. There are many cases where these projects are deserted after the novelty value wears off.
'I once saw a school in the New Territories where the roof garden bristling with weeds had to be removed only a few months after its opening ceremony which was attended by very senior government officials. The government is willing to pay for such 'showcases' of green education via the Environmental Conservation Fund but they fail to provide the schools with the personnel or expertise on how to operate those green features.'
Dr Chan said universities should contribute more to green education at local schools.
'There are not many people from universities who are involved in environmental-education projects at the primary and secondary levels. Many don't bother with such projects as universities don't attach much importance to education projects run by academics.'