Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
The Ministry of Education is taking tidying up a lot more seriously than your roommates are.
In America, learning life skills in school can seem antiquated, if not outright sexist. Many home economics programs have gone the way of the dodo, as education systems slowly recognized that teaching women (just women) to cook, clean, and sew buttons was not the best use of school hours. But “cleaning time” has long been a famous staple in Japanese schools, where students do the tidying up instead of adult custodians or janitors. (“For every action, like sticking gum under a desk, there must be an equal and less pleasant reaction, like removing it,” The New York Times reported of Japanese school lessons in 1995.)
And on Thursday, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced each and every student in the city-state will be required to clean, too. By the end of the year, the Straits Times reports, all children and teens between primary school and junior college in Singapore will be involved in the program, which is meant to “inculcate in students good habits such as a sense of responsibility and care.”
The acting Minister for Education, Ng Chee Meng, celebrated the announcement by joining Primary 1 students (who are six to seven years old) in some “light” cleaning: “working in groups to pack the books, sweep the floor, arrange the tables, and empty the waste paper basket,” as Ng wrote on Facebook. The whole thing was pretty darn cute:
In fact, “new” home economics are making a limited comeback in the U.S., too. Last year, NPR visited the Armadillo Technical Institute, a charter school in Phoenix, Oregon, where students dedicate 30 minutes after lunch each day to sweeping, mopping, cleaning the bathrooms, and taking out the trash. “We really wanted a school where the students took ownership and made it their own," the school’s director told NPR. At ATI, at least, the concept seems to be working, NPR reported:
Eden Cox, a 10th-grader, says that recently she had to confront a classmate after he left a mess behind. "I got on to him and said, 'Can you please throw your trash away so I don't have to,' " Cox recalls.
"After all, it's our school," she says, with an emphasis on "our."
Of course, it’s probably a bad and highly unsanitary idea to let kids take over all custodian duties, as our friend Newt Gingrich suggested on the presidential campaign trail in 2011. Janitors are specialized workers who deal with heavy chemicals, plumbing, electrical equipment, and a lot of machines that are not small finger-friendly. Some “light” sweeping it is.