Boys and girls are being introduced to organic gardening at Qatar Academy schools
Schools around the world are trying to incorporate new subjects and new ways of teaching, all in the hopes that the children of today will grow up to be environmentally responsible citizens of tomorrow. And an approach some Qatar Academy teachers have taken to do this is through gardening.
While gardening is not part of the curriculum, “environmentalist” teachers, powered by their passion for the environment, are turning outdoor spaces at their respective schools into fruit and vegetable gardens.
At Qatar Academy Sidra (QAS) – a school under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Pre-University Education (PUE) – teachers Jaseena Faisal and Neema Saleem kickstarted the idea. Hailing from Kerala – a state in India often referred to as “God’s own country” because of its lush green landscapes – to the duo, any open space is a potential garden.
“When I joined Qatar Academy Sidra and saw a large unused piece of land in the campus, my first thought was to turn it into a garden,” said Saleem.
Being an agriculturist, Saleem had the know-how of to turn the sandy piece of land into a fertile fruit and vegetable garden. With the school’s financial support, she and Faisal combined their efforts to cultivate a garden which produces fruits, vegetables and even medicinal plants.
Children, especially those in middle school, can often struggle with their emotional health. Gardening is a great opportunity for them to channel their energy into something productive
For Faisal, the school garden is a tool to teach the students social and emotional learning. “Children, especially those in middle school, can often struggle with their emotional health. Gardening is a great opportunity for them to channel their energy into something productive. Sowing a plant and then seeing it grow does wonders for their self-confidence,” she said.
Their work is inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and UNESCO’s Garden Based Learning (GBL) which encourages the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Their target group for now is middle and high school students, who help prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water the plants, pull-out weeds and harvest the produce.
“What the students enjoy the most is the practical aspect of this. Yes, they learn about things like botanical names and plant lifecycle in class, but when they get to experience it first-hand, they are a lot more enthusiastic about it,” said Saleem.
A new topic and one the students are very excited about is composting. The duo is working on a plan to compost all the food waste from the school cafeteria and use it as fertilizer for the garden.
What we would like to do is grow enough fruits and vegetables to be able to supply to the school cafeteria. Imagine that, a school cafeteria that sources most of its food from the school garden!
Everything they grow is 100 percent organic. No chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides or any chemical based plant protection practices are used. The have harvested fruits and vegetables that are available for sale to Qatar Academy Sidra staff and students, and the money raised is donated to the Educate A Child program.
The farm-to-table strategy is what guides their long-term goal. Saleem said: “What we would like to do is grow enough fruits and vegetables to be able to supply to the school cafeteria. Imagine that, a school cafeteria that sources most of its food from the school garden!”
“To be able to reach this goal, the most important thing we need is greenhouses as they will allow us to grow year-round. The school leadership and QF have been extremely supportive of our requests. Thanks to them, we already have a greenhouse on the primary school campus and are hoping to have one on the secondary school campus by next year,” said Faisal.
The ultimate goal for the duo is to make Agriculture part of the curriculum. Faisal said: “Just like we have Physical Education and Arts, why not allocate a period for Agriculture? If we want to grow environmentally-responsible and conscious citizens, what better way to teach them than through growing their own food?”
Really, this little garden is so much more than just gardening for them. It’s these life skills that they are learning by experience, and will hopefully carry forward as they grow into adults and responsible citizens
Over at Qatar Academy Doha (QAD) – another school under the umbrella of QF’s PUE – age is no barrier to gardening. Alison Gilford has her preschoolers helping her grow beans, papaya, basil, cherry tomatoes and even sunflowers in their class garden.
“I think the younger you get them started, the better. For me, in addition to gardening, it’s all the other life skills they learn that really make it worthwhile,” said Gilford.
Once October comes, Gilford along with her class get their gardening gloves on. One thing she hopes for by doing this is increasing awareness among the children about food waste.
She says one of the most important things children realize by growing their own fruits and vegetables is just how much time and effort goes into growing food which instills a sense of appreciation in them and makes them mindful of food waste.
She said: “We grow the plants from seed so the children observe the process from start to finish. The amount of excitement one tomato can generate among them is lovely. You will have all 20 of them gathered around one tomato, squealing, and jumping at the fact that they grew it.”
Patience is another valuable virtue they learn through gardening. “I always ask them to not pick a green tomato as it’s not ready yet, but sometimes one of the students will still pick it, and then we have a talk about how it’s wasted now because it was not ready to be picked – a little practical lesson in patience for them.”
She recalled last year they had a really good crop of cherry tomatoes and beans. “The children were able to wash the beans, cut them, cook them and eat them at school. It was a very unique experience for them, and something that goes beyond the normal learning that is done at school.”
With a lot of tomatoes leftover, the four-year olds proposed sharing the extra harvest, and gave neighboring classrooms a basket of tomatoes.
“Really, this little garden is so much more than just gardening for them. It’s these life skills that they are learning by experience, and will hopefully carry forward as they grow into adults and responsible citizens,” said Gilford.