Farming technology aids challenged pupils

Laerskool Kempton Park pupils get busy tending to vegetables and herbs in the school's aquaponics farming system, which is not labour intensive. / SUPPLIED
Laerskool Kempton Park pupils get busy tending to vegetables and herbs in the school's aquaponics farming system, which is not labour intensive. / SUPPLIED

A Gauteng primary school for pupils with disabilities and learning challenges has become the first of its kind to integrate aquaponics into their curriculum.

Aquaponics is an agricultural technique adapted to climate change that combines aquaculture and soilless crop growing.

Laerskool Kempton Park (LKP) is leading the way in aquaponics training and started growing crops in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa's call for schools to integrate aquaponics into their extracurricular programmes.

Ramaphosa said to expand participation in the technical streams, several ordinary public schools were going to be transformed into technical high schools.

This would ensure that they meet the growing demand for practical skills and food security in the country.

The school is the beneficiary of Inmed SA with funding from Air Products SA.

Principal Andre Page said the system not only offered an educational platform for pupils across all grades to learn about adaptive agriculture, but provided a sustainable supply of vegetables and fish for the school's feeding scheme.

"Recently we have included a sensory garden which our teachers use together with the aquaponics system as teaching tools and therapy for pupils," said Page.

"Aquaponics is not labour intensive, therefore children all gleefully assist with the planting and harvesting of the vegetables and herbs and also providing care and feeding the fish."

Inmed is a nonprofit international development organisation that has worked in more that 100 countries for over 30 years to build pathways for vulnerable children and families to achieve wellbeing and self-reliance.

Inmed SA programmes director Unathi Sihlahla said the sensory garden was installed because many pupils at the school have disability or learning challenges.

"The sensory garden feature a barefoot walking path of various textures, water and sound walls, fragrant fruit trees, brightly coloured plans and garden toys.

"The system at LKP istailored to the school grounds, consisting of three fish tanks and five grow beds," said Sihlahla.

He said the system exposed teachers and pupils to the importance of health and nutrition and taught them the skills to grow their own vegetables in a way that is quick, energy efficient, environmentally friendly and chemical free.

sobuway@sowetan.co.za

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