For the sake of our students, we ought to fire all the cleaners from our schools. And let students be the ones to keep the school clean. Sounds very radical? Cannot be done? Well… Japanese schools do it. And kids don’t see it as a chore. They have fun doing it.
The students not only clean the schools, they even serve lunch. And then they clean up after themselves? Unbelievable? Watch this and be stunned like vegetable:
Apparently, it helps to build self-confidence. But I think it does a whole lot more than that. It builds character. More importantly, it builds a sense of “group reliance”, where any member of the community can be trusted to serve or help one another. It is this group reliance that gives Japanese parents the peace of mind to let their children take the train and run errands on their own from a very young age.
When children take turns to clean the school and serve lunch instead of relying on staff, they take responsibility of shared spaces. This trains them to take pride of ownership. And because they have to clean up after themselves, it ingrains in them, in a concrete way, the consequences of making a mess. This ethic is one reason Japanese streets are generally so clean, because the ethic extends to public space more broadly.
I think this “radical” idea would be more successful in keeping Singapore a clean society, as opposed to a cleaned society, than the idea by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah of rewarding people who catch litterbugs. And, if we are lucky, this will bring back the mythical kumpong spirit too.