With the Singapore Grand Energy Challenge 2021 (Youth) in sight, our Editor speaks to some talented students from Kranji Secondary School, finalists of last year’s competition.
Can you remember what school was like when you were 15? As a 90s kid, it was a good day if I even managed to show up on time, do my homework and successfully resist the urge to hang out at the mall instead of going for my CCA after class.
These days, kids are nurtured to be even better at multi-tasking. From balancing schoolwork, after-school commitments, family life, to also finding time for fitness and relaxation. That’s why it’s so impressive that on top of all these, 4 talented students from Kranji Secondary School managed to create an entire world on Minecraft to showcase their ideas on energy-efficiency.
I mean, don’t even get me started on the one whole month it took me to build a 3-bedroom apartment on The Sims.
Naturally, I had to speak to the team to find out why this competition was compelling enough to lure them away from a relaxing afternoon of Netflix shows or gaming. Or whatever it is teenagers do these days to chill.
gaming for the win.
The Singapore Grand Energy Challenge (Youth) 2020 organised by the Energy Market Authority asked teams: “How would your energy efficient school or neighbourhood in Singapore look like in 2050?”
In response, 92 teams across 29 secondary schools created their ideal energy-efficient world using Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition. Minecraft Warriors, the team sent in by Kranji Secondary School consisting of Meredith Boo, Sansitha, Sakshi Singh, and Lee Yu Ke emerged as finalists.
On the surface, this friendly bunch seem pretty much like most teenagers. Sakshi chills out watching TV shows like Ginny and Georgia, Sansitha is a manga and anime fan, Meredith is into running and badminton, while Yu Ke is a bit of a gamer himself.
So what brought them together to work on a project such as this?
more than just research.
Explains Sakshi, “We were previously involved in a Science research program about the optimisation of piezoelectricity.” I quickly google ‘piezoelectricity’ under the table as I feign understanding on camera.
If you’re wondering, piezoelectricity refers to electricity that results from pressure and latent heat. It accumulates in some materials like crystal and ceramics. Cool.
“But as a team we were also encouraged to explore other sustainable energy methods and collaborate together to work on Minecraft,” she delves further. Sansitha agrees and mentions that while working on the research project, they also came across fossil fuels. “We were trying to find renewable sources of energy that we could implement. Minecraft enabled us to show our ideas and perspective better.”
“Plus, it’s also a great excuse to play games,” chimes in Yu Ke.
Now that’s something I can get behind.
but what about a noob like me?
I start getting a little curious. Having never played Minecraft myself I wonder if it’s a game that’s easy to learn.
“Actually, apart from Yu Ke, the rest of us never played Minecraft before. So he had to teach us how to play. It was a little difficult at the beginning, but he guided us along the way.”
“I do play a lot of Minecraft, Real Racing 3, and Call of Duty,” Yu Ke clarifies.
“A lot of my friends were surprised when they found out I was playing Minecraft. I mean, the first time I played it, I drowned myself,” Sansitha laughs.
“So when I told them we created an entire world, they were really shocked, but happy for us. They knew how hard we had to work for it,” she adds.
Impressed, I ask them how long it took to them, resisting the urge to share my experience with The Sims. “Hmm, we spent about 4-5 hours every day over a week,” Meredith explains coolly.
Say what now? I start to do the math. 5 hours every day meant skipping at least 5 Ginny and Georgia episodes for Sakshi, and precious time that Meredith could have spent working out. But, I suppose it shows that if you’re passionate about something, the work stops feeling like… work.
fuelling great ideas.
Having watched their video presentation of their Minecraft world, saying I’m impressed is an understatement. The team presented ideas such as incorporating piezoelectric discs in buildings which generate energy from footfall. And even barrels that collect food waste in school canteens which would later be converted into biofuel.
So how did they come up with the ideas? Sakshi explains that it involved a lot of brainstorming and some discussions with their teacher, Ms Magdalene Loh. “We scrutinised the best, most feasible ideas and tried to enhance them.”
But surely after all the hard work, it must have been… fun right?
“Yes, definitely. I think it gave us a chance to learn more about Minecraft while also thinking deeper about our environment and how we could make our school more energy-efficient. In fact, our school recently installed solar panels,” Meredith explains.
The rest nod in agreement, heartened that their school is taking one step forward to becoming more energy-efficient.
“I would definitely encourage my peers to join this year’s challenge,” Yu Ke states. “It really does force you to take a moment and think about sustainability yourself.”
can schools get any greener?
I push a little further and ask if there’s anything else they hope schools will do in the quest for energy-efficiency. Suddenly, the mood changes and it’s one of quiet excitement.
“Right now, students are using Personal Learning Devices…,” Meredith starts. “Uh, what are those? Like laptops?” I clarify. Obviously, I’m ancient. “Yes,” she laughs. “I think it’s a good start at helping to reduce paper waste by letting students access notes or submit assignments online.”
Sansitha chimes in, “I also think that more should be done about recycling. Right now, there are recycling bins. But not many students use them.” She notes that perhaps more could be done to educate or encourage students to recycle.
I nod more enthusiastically.
“And, imagine if we had machines that ran on kinetic energy, especially in schools where there are loads of electric devices. Students could charge our devices while say, exercising,” Yu Ke adds.
I’m getting a neckache from all the nodding at this point.
“Like our contest idea too, piezoelectric footpaths in schools would be a good way to generate electricity. At the same time, students would feel a stronger sense of school identity – knowing that they’re doing their part to help the school save energy,” Sakshi explains.
I’m about this close from applause. When did teenagers get this smart?
off to greener pastures.
Having discussed the project, I’m very interested in what they plan to do in the future. Sansitha and Meredith share that they have plans to study biomedical sciences, while Sakshi plans on becoming an environmental researcher.
Yu Ke, on the other hand, tells me he hopes to pursue mechanical engineering.
“I’m a bit of a car enthusiast. I’d like to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles. I would love to see how regular ICE cars could be more efficient without needing to be phased out by EVs.”
It’s an interesting take, and no doubt with more research on synthetic fuels and such, there is hope yet. “My favourite car is the 2020 Hyundai Veloster,” he says proudly.
Eventually, the interview draws to a close. Having spent the morning knee-deep in news about the bleak state of the environment, speaking to these 4 talented students has brightened up my day.
I log off from the interview feeling heartened, hopeful and genuinely inspired by the youth of today.
be part of the Singapore Energy Grand Challenge (Youth) 2021.
Organised by the Energy Market Authority, in partnership with Microsoft Singapore, the second edition of the Singapore Energy Grand Challenge (Youth) takes place this year. It aims to garner ideas using Minecraft: Education Edition from secondary school and junior college students on the topic: “How would your carbon-free school or neighbourhood look like in 2050?” The top three teams stand to win up to $10,000 in cash prizes.
Interested in participating? Register here by 15 April 2021.
For the latest gadgets and eco-developments in the tech world, browse stories at our Tech section here.