Instilling environmental literacy: A 24-year-old’s hope to spread awareness on sustainability among youths
What was once Cassandra’s dream blossomed into an actual school.
In celebration of Youth Month, Youthopia is highlighting stories of youth who have created spark in their life. Cassandra Yip, 24, shares how her spontaneous thought in the shower sprouted into a non-profit school for environmental education.
If there was one career path that Cassandra Yip would embark on without question, it would be that of a marine biologist.
As someone who has former scuba diver parents, much of her childhood was spent at aquariums and beaches. There, she learned much about marine life. Cassandra grew up being sure in her decision to work closely with the environment, particularly those found under the sea.
Since there were no local courses that focused on marine science back then, she settled for a Diploma in Biotechnology at Temasek Polytechnic.
However, her interest in marine biology never faded during her time there. Instead, she was determined to pursue it further even if it meant having to go to an overseas university.
It was only through some research that Cassandra realised there was a similar local degree here in Singapore – the Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme offered by the National University of Singapore (NUS).
It was “the closest one can get” to her initial goal, and a place where she learned more about climate issues, the different areas of environmental science and its advocacy. She was also able to dive into courses about conservation, ecology and biodiversity, to name a few.
Through her course of studies, she was introduced to what she dubs a “true calling”. The now 24-year-old Cassandra found meaning and purpose in environmental governance and policies, which she regularly pushes for in youth dialogues and conferences as an environmentalist.
Although her individual efforts are notable, a part of her still wanted to do more on a community scale. She spent a good while sitting on that thought, before an idea sparked in the middle of a shower.
“We were actually in the midst of the circuit breaker period, and at that point of time it seemed like everyone was trying to start something new,” Cassandra recalls.
While she wanted to do something similar, she also desired for this “something new” to be meaningful. It had to align with her personal values and goals instead of just it being a hobby.
That desire, coupled with her personal wish for more environment-related learning programmes in Singapore led her to conduct extensive research on whether this “shower thought” was actually actionable.
As it turned out, it was possible for her idea to bear fruit. Cassandra realised how Singapore lacked sufficient environmental education or the space for it to grow. She knew firsthand what it was like facing this issue, and how often she lamented about the community’s lack of environment-related learning programmes. Its lack thereof further motivated her to act and change things for the better.
“So I thought, why not build a school where other people could find out about the local biodiversity, its environment and what it is like to be an environmentalist?”
After gathering a team of friends that shared her sentiments, Cassandra founded Earth School, Singapore’s first non-profit school for environmental education.
Using indoor and outdoor lesson styles, Earth School – which has been running for the past two years – encourages its students to “make nature their classroom” and learn more about Singapore’s biodiversity, its ecosystems and sustainability.
In doing so, she hopes youths and future generations would have a deeper exposure to environmental topics and their importance, especially in a time where the climate is rapidly changing.
These lessons are usually given to primary school students through school outreach programmes, collaborations with other local eco-initiatives and organisations, as well as those that choose to “enrol” through Earth School’s website.
Earth School’s programmes and efforts aim to motivate its students to become “environmentally-conscious individuals” capable of leading Singapore towards a greener future together.
All fees or proceeds collected are donated to local charities and environment-related causes. This includes that of marine life conservation efforts and underprivileged communities.
Through her work at Earth School, Cassandra is motivated by the youths’ curiosity and excitement.
Her team has witnessed the students enthusiastically participate in lessons and marvel at the different flora and fauna introduced. Cassandra shares that these moments make them feel a “sense of purpose and thrill”.
“My team and I are motivated by the people that we ourselves are trying to motivate, and it is really about that bounceback between one another that keeps us going,” she shared.
Not only does Earth School serve to make environmental education in Singapore more accessible, it is also a channel for Cassandra to inspire the younger generation and “create sustainable impact”.
The Environmental Studies undergraduate cannot determine how likely students will turn the things they learnt to actions. However, she hopes that the lessons leave a lasting impact on at least one, and that they would take these valuable learnings to heart.
Perhaps one day, these children and youths would grow to use that knowledge and create change in other’s lives as well.
Moving forward, Cassandra wants to continue developing Earth School and its operations to spread the word about environmentalism on a larger scale. One of such plans is to set up a communal space for environmental education.
On a personal level, she also wants to continue pushing for environmental literacy, and to encourage the adoption of a more sustainable and ethical food consumption lifestyle within communities.
In regards to how youths should go about pursuing environment-related civic engagements, she advises them to be firm on their decision, and to reach out to environmentalists — herself included – and professionals to better understand certain causes and fields before going forward.
“(You have to) really go in and understand what courses you’re interested in…reaching out to professionals that champion these causes helps you understand why their work is so important. It’s really about learning from these people before getting your foot out of the door.”