SINGAPORE - The Republic's oldest junior college marked its golden jubilee on Saturday (May 4) by being the first school to link up with a start-up to establish an agriculture-technology facility.
The set-up at the National Junior College is supported by the Singapore Food Agency and food technology start-up Life3 Biotech.
Comprising two greenhouses, two climate-controlled containers and an open-air area for growing crops, the school said the facility will be a test bed for students to explore how to produce greater volumes of good quality crops through research and technology.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who was the guest of honour at NJC's 50th College Day celebrations, described the initiative as "timely".
He noted that the facility will allow the younger generation to try their hand at urban agriculture and new technologies, which is crucial because there is a need for a new generation of local talent with the right skills to grow and support the agri-food ecosystem.
"For the longest time, Singapore has always thought that we can rely on diversifying our food supplies around the world."
"Indeed, today we import 90 per cent of our food,"said Mr Masagos, who was part of the school's 1980 batch.
But earlier this year, the Singapore Food Agency set the nation a target - to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030.
Mr Masagos said growing more food locally will require significant amounts of water, energy and land that the country may not have.
Hence, the agri-food sector must explore how to transform waste, such as carbon dioxide or poultry feed, into energy and food.
The idea for the facility came about when Mr Ricky Lin, the founder of Life3 Biotech, visited his former General Paper teacher, Dr Lim Yi-En, last year.
Mr Lin is an NJC alumni from the 1999 cohort.
They then bumped into vice-principal Harman Johll at the school office, and a discussion for a possible tie-up took root.
"This is the first such partnership between a school, government agency and a start-up.
"And the intention was not about just growing plants or mushrooms, but exposing students to real life applications of the knowledge they study," said Mr Johll.
The facility is primarily for research purposes, with students from various schools and research institutes collaborating.
For the past one month, NJC student Shahul Hameed has been testing the type and intensity of light that will encourage vertically farmed plants to grow taller and increase their yield.
The 16-year-old was proud of the school's legacy.
"Over the past 50 years, NJC has produced many leaders and ideas that contributed to society."
"It is apt that we have this facility to kick off our vision and hope for the next 50 years in serving the community," said Shahul.
Since it was established in 1969, shortly after Singapore's independence, the Republic's first junior college has gone on to pioneer many innovations in education.
In 2004, it was the first junior college to implement the four-year Integrated Programme.
Five years later, it became the first to offer a six-year Integrated Programme with boarding services.
In his speech, Mr Masagos spoke fondly of his time at the school, especially his involvement with the NJC band.
As its quartermaster, he recalled checking the instruments and equipment to ensure that they were in tip-top condition for competitions.
"It was in NJC band that I learnt about leadership... taking care of the logistics in moving band members and their equipment from one place to another, and ensuring when they play in concerts or competitions that everything is ready for them and then cleaning up after them, putting the tables and trash away," said Mr Masagos.
Jokingly, he added: "I suppose that is what I have been trained for, that is why I am now the Minister for the Environment."