How High’s the Water, Mama? A Reflection on Water Resource Education in Singapore, pp. 3 of 33

Water is an issue of national security in Singapore (Tortajada, 2006; Lee et al.). Despite its small land area, which limits catchment size, Singapore has a goal of water self-sufficiency by 2061. This goal is being pursued through the PUB’s Four National Taps strategy that is discussed in detail by Irvine et al. (2014)(see also, PUB, 2010a). The Four National Taps focus on NEWater, desalination, and runoff collection and storage in the 17 existing reservoirs located throughout the island, with decreasing reliance on imports from Malaysia. The move towards meeting the self-sufficiency goal has required Singapore to develop a sophisticated, “closed-loop” approach to water management that has become a model, certainly regionally, if not globally (Tortajada, 2006; Ong, 2010; Chen et al., 2011; Irvine et al., 2014). Technology must be integrated with policy to effectively advance approaches in water management and in this area, Singapore also has excelled through public-private partnerships (Olds, 2007; Irvine et al., 2014) and research at local universities. In fact, Lux Research Inc. recently named the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University as the one and two ranked universities globally in the area of water research, with important focus on deslination, reuse, and membranes (Lux Research, 2013). Tortajada and Joshi (2013) observed that the Singaporean school curriculum has played a central role in educating future generations with respect to water and the environment and most certainly this is one piece of the puzzle that helps to explain the country’s innovative approach to water resources management. Yet, Ghosh (2015) reflects on the ability of the fishing community in the East Kolkata (India) wetlands, who have no formal education in ecology, to sustainably manage their ecosystem. He poses the question “how do they know what they know”? and if the answer is “through experience”, then the logical follow up is “how do they learn through experience”? How did a good ol’ boy from rural Arkansas understand the link between floods, overbank deposited sediment, and crop productivity? The point here is that education extends well beyond the classroom and that informal and nonformal education can enhance the well-being of civil society in both developing and developed countries (Caron and Carr-Hill, 1991; Nath et al., 1999l; Colardyn and Bjornvold, 2004; Kedrayate, 2012; Ololube and Egbezor, 2012).

Given the importance of water and education to Singapore, and certainly their connection with Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, we felt that it was appropriate to reflect on water resource education trends in Singapore to mark SG50. In particular, we discuss how the Singapore curriculum and the nonformal education sector present water resource concepts and examine why these approaches to education have been successful in supporting Singapore’s rise to international recognition. Clearly, this is a broad topic with many actors and to make the discussion manageable, we focus on secondary school curriculum developments for Geography since 2006, trends in water resource education theory and practice in the Geography programme at National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and nonformal education programmes offered through the PUB. Before embarking on these discussions, it is important first to provide a brief background to the history of water resources development in Singapore. This following section is abstracted from Irvine et al. (2014) and Chang and Irvine (2014).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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