JA and SABIC Expanding Lights of Our Future from Singapore to the World

October 31, 2019

JA and SABIC Expanding Lights of Our Future . . . from Singapore to the World!

All photos courtesy of JA Singapore.


Earlier this year, JA Worldwide and SABIC announced the Lights of Our Future partnership, a signature global initiative that aims to reach 11,000 students in 22 countries around the world. Matching SABIC employee volunteers with JA local offices, the program is helping students develop critical thinking, consider the global landscape, and improve their communities in four key areas—environmental protection, science and technology education, water and sustainable agriculture, and health and wellness—all of which are mapped to the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

With offices in more than 45 countries and 40,000 employees, SABIC works in electrical elements, electronics, food and agriculture, clean energy, transportation, packaging, building and constructions, and healthcare. SABIC manages a wide range of initiatives, from making cars and planes more fuel-efficient to conserving the world’s water supply. SABIC “finds solutions to the challenges of today to help [its] customers achieve their ambitions and build a better tomorrow.”

Hands-on learning and volunteer engagement has been the hallmark of JA for 100 years. With funding from SABIC, and time volunteered by its employee ambassadors, JA students around the world participate in hands-on learning with knowledgeable mentors who provide guidance and encouragement as students define and implement projects to address community needs. Prior to the formation of the global partnership, SABIC worked on a local level directly with JA staff. In 2014, SABIC approached JA Singapore looking for ways to work with the organization. What resulted was a course on sustainability targeted to fifth-grade children. The program encompassed six hour-long lessons to be shared with students in the classroom over one to three days.

Various employee groups at SABIC developed sustainability-related lessons according to their professional expertise. Based on the age of the students, special consideration was given to ensure that lessons didn’t turn into lectures. The hands-on nature of the program involved group discussions, videos, and engaging activities such as puzzles and games.

SABIC employee volunteers led engaging discussions about sustainable living with fifth-grade students at three schools in Singapore. Lessons explained the concept of sustainability, that water is a limited resource, how to save energy, the effects of greenhouse gases, how to manage waste, and how sustainable living can be achieved.

Connecting Program Content with Local Knowledge

Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, which means greater demand for resources, including fresh water, power, and waste disposal. SABIC volunteers taught JA students that higher populations put a strain on natural resources and can negatively affect the planet. These environmental strains have resulted in climate change, drought, pollution, forest fires, and lack of fresh water in various places around the world. Additionally, a larger human population results in more food waste, materials waste, electricity use, industrial pollution, and waste in landfills. With such a dense population, Singapore has one of the world’s largest ecological footprints.


Lesson 1: Sustainable Options

Students were challenged to consider what would happen to their country and the planet if humans did not take action to reduce waste and practice sustainability. Then they focused on examples of sustainable lifestyle choices, include recycling, using renewable energy such as solar panels, and incorporating plants and greenery into buildings and infrastructure, as has been done in the Singapore Changi Airport. Ultimately, sustainable living means efficiency (that is, continuing to develop society using fewer resources and less waste); cleaning up the environment; and preserving greenery, waterways, and natural heritage. Sustainable development for Singapore means “ensuring that Singapore can enjoy both economic growth and a good living environment for [citizens] and future generations.”

Lesson 2: Water Resources

Discussing water as a limited resource, students learned why water is limited and how Singapore receives fresh water, both the source and how it reaches the people. Although Singapore is literally surrounded by saltwater, fresh water is a precious resource to the island. With an increase in population, the availability of fresh water becomes more and more scarce, and the process of obtaining fresh water—via the desalination process or importing water, just to name a few—puts a strain on energy resources. The island of Singapore consumes 400 million gallons of water per day, enough to fill 715 swimming pools. Students were asked to imagine and suggest measures that could be taken to save water and decrease the energy required to obtain it.


Lesson 3: Energy Sources

Next, students learned about what energy actually is and why it is important. The two types of energy—renewable and non-renewable—served as the primary focus of this lesson, with renewable sources defined as those “that can be used again and again without running out quickly” and non-renewable defined as those “that run out and cannot be used again.” Examples of renewable energy include power from solar panels and wind energy harnessed from turbines and windmills. Additionally, renewable energy sources do not create greenhouse gases. Non-renewable energy sources include oil, natural gas, and coal; while these are products created by and excavated from the earth, they are finite and release carbon dioxide (i.e., greenhouse gas) when consumed. But non-renewable energy sources are still commonly used, because they are considered less expensive, and less difficult to harness, produce, and store.

Energy conservation leads to a greater use of renewable energy sources and lowering use of non-renewable sources—it also means saving money. Students received examples of costs and energy requirements for everyday at-home appliances, including air conditioners, refrigerators, and water heaters. They were then tasked with drawing an energy-efficient home, which allowed their imaginations to roam and apply the knowledge they’d learned about energy production, usage, and conservation.

Lesson 4: Greenhouse Gases

Examining greenhouse gases, students watched a video and then participated in a discussion about the effects of greenhouse gases, including how they affect the earth’s atmosphere and ultimately cause climate change. Students learned how they can take steps to reduce greenhouse gases through altering their own actions, such as reducing energy use by turning off lights and raising temperatures on air conditioners, using bicycles and walking rather than taking cars, and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources over fossil fuels.


Lesson 5: Waste Management

While the topic of waste management isn’t always in the spotlight, it’s an important issue when it comes to sustainable living. Students discussed what waste is, who creates waste, and what could happen if waste is not properly managed and reduced. This lesson also provided a robust introduction to the concept of recycling. While their families might practice it in their homes, they were able to get a closer look into what the recycling process actually entails and why it is so important. In addition to the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle” lesson, students were treated to examples of other ways humans have learned to take waste and make new products, such as Levi’s brand manufacturing new pairs of jeans using plastic waste and Land Rover using SABIC’s high-performance thermoplastics to create the lightest Range Rover ever, allowing for improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Additionally, SABIC uses recycled resins to create new plastics, including cooking utensils, chopsticks, and electronic parts.

Lesson 6: Putting it All Together

The final unit served as a wrap-up of preceding lessons, opening with a recap and summary of all lessons, as well as a reflection of the real-life, long-term implications of not practicing sustainability. Using Singapore as an example provided throughout the program provided context to students who might not yet have a strong grasp on the size and scope of the world at the age of 10 or 11. SABIC’s employee-created lessons provided real-life examples in their own country that made climate change, environmental protection, resource scarcity, and sustainable living not only tangible but relatable. While perhaps not connected—but certainly related—Singapore’s National Environment Agency set strong goals for a cleaner Singapore and a more sustainable future in 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of the country’s independence. In the NEA’s annual report that year, Chairman Liak Teng Lit wrote, “Being densely populated, Singapore also needs to look towards new solutions to ensure the sustainability of our limited resources.” Over the succeeding years, the NEA continued to promote sustainability, particularly with regard to waste management, giving participating JA students the opportunity to see these lessons put into practice outside the classroom as their educations progressed. Personal touches from local employees who know the environment of which they’re speaking is a part of what makes employee volunteers so valuable to students as a whole and JA programs in particular.

Building Skills Beyond Books

Overall, lesson content encompassed business, citizenship, economics, and financial literacy, while learning outcomes included taking initiative, decision-making, financial capability, and problem-solving. Students were treated to classroom experiences beyond the everyday lessons and learned about valuable STEM-related concepts in great depth through discussions, games, and other hands-on activities. At the end of each Lights of Our Future program in Singapore, students were able to understand the environmental challenges that their society faced, observed how science is used to design solutions in the real world, practice brainstorming and out-of-the-box thinking, were able to make realistic suggestions for new solutions or to improve existing practices to solve challenges in their environments, and initiate conversations on the roles they can play to reduce their environmental footprints.


In its first year, the pilot program, Lights of Our Future served 217 students in one school. The next year, the program expanded to three schools and served 691 students in year two, followed by 617 students in three schools in year three. At the conclusion of the programs in the first and second years, students were asked to come up with ideas about what they could do to achieve sustainable living by saving energy. With saving energy often comes financial savings, giving students a more tangible idea of additional benefits to saving energy. Ideas included walking, using self-driving vehicles, taking public transportation, and more. The goal of the end project was to include the entrepreneurial and financial literacy pillars of the JA program, as well as allow students to explore different ideas and use their creativity.

In year three, the program lessons were more or less identical, but the final project goal was more specific: If students were given $500, how would they use those funds to protect the earth? They might propose limiting water or energy usage, new methods for waste reduction, or something else. After the six lessons, students broke into teams of three or four and submitted their projects. Proposals could be presented as scrapbooks, PowerPoint presentations, posters, handicrafts, videos, photographs, or other visual representation. JA Singapore staff reviewed the projects and chose the top three from each school, and then held a competition where the students presented their ideas to a panel of judges, which included school principals, the schools’ heads of science, JA Singapore president Hau Yee Ng, and a representative of the NEA.


Competition objectives included helping students understand the value of money—particularly how creating a sustainable environment may involve initial cost but result in savings in the long run; creating greater awareness of the surrounding environment, promoting creativity by letting imaginations explore and create ideas about sustainability ideas and the freestyle proposal format; encouraging students to put what they learn into practice; promoting teamwork; and building confidence through public speaking and friendly competition.

Judging criteria looked at the how implementable an idea was, the level of creativity, measurability of the proposed project, monetary savings, and visual design. The top teams from each school received certificates of achievement, and the top three winners of the overall competition received medals and cash prizes courtesy of SABIC. The first-year winners—The Green Ambassadors from Queenstown Primary School—proposed using $500 to purchase and distribute reusable food containers to the students in their school that could be used to bring lunches from home or on which lunch could be served. The containers would eliminate the need for disposable plates in the lunchroom as well as disposable take-away containers.

Expanding Lights of Our Future

SABIC is working with JA offices around the world to bring different iterations of Lights of Our Future to more JA students. In 2019 and 2020, JA students in Belgium, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam will get to meet and work with SABIC employee volunteers and learn about issues vital to their own societies and the world at large.