Bali’s Green School isn’t an ordinary school. To begin with, the bell is a gong. Second, it is located, literally, in the jungle: eight hectares abutting the Ayung (Bali’s longest river) in the district of Abiansemal, a thirty-minute ride north from the island’s cultural capital, Ubud.
Then there’s the fact that nearly all of the structures – even the basketball backboards – are made from bamboo. Sometimes, during the rainy season, the rain will fall so hard on the roof that the educators (prefaced with the Indonesian honorifics Pak – “Father” and Ibu – “Mother”) temporarily stop lessons because they can’t be heard.
While other schools might employ the term “green” in the context of their ecological layout or recycling efforts, the Green School takes the word “green” to the next level.
Rather than normal four-wheel-vehicles, kids might show up in Bio Buses fuelled by used cooking oil (a project led by students). School lunch is cooked with sawdust fuel from a local bamboo farm, and served on ingka, or straw baskets, using a compostable banana-leaf lining.
There’s a food-generating aquaponics centre, and the produce is sold at the school’s on-site farmer’s market. There’s an aviary for the endangered Bali Starling. not far from the market.
There’s an occasional snake, but there’s also the “snake man”, a school worker responsible for the removal of particularly dangerous species. They’re not killed, though. Just send away. A mud pit, not far in the kindergarten, is for mepantigan, a Balinese martial art, frequently practiced in nearby rice fields.
The element that truly distinguishes the Green School is its mission. Founded a decade years ago by John and Cynthia Hardy, jewelry designers and long-time Bali inhabitants, it had been intended to do nothing less than creating a future generation of “green leaders”.
In a much-viewed 2010 TED Talk, John Hardy, in sarong and sandals, speaks passionately about his own early troubles as a student (owing, in part, to his undiagnosed dyslexia) and how his college differs from a traditional educational institute. This TED Talk, and word of mouth, has lured more than one parent to Bali from as far afield as Malibu, Budapest and São Paulo.
You can watch the TED Talk below:
The Green School is not just the default alternative, since there are other foreign schools, for expat families. The school has become a sort of “bamboo beacon”, a pilgrimage site for advanced teachers, a stop for global luminaries and, of course, parents seeking an alternative education for their children. Its student body (which comprises students from pre-school to high school, across 35 nationalities) has more than quadrupled from its original dimension.
The Green School’s popularity derives from the skills students learn, ranging from adaptability to teamwork to the type of problem-solving that will certainly prove valuable in a fast-changing world that accumulates challenges. It’s a college intended to equip the students with survival skills for an unknown new universe, in which proficiency with alternative fuels and sustainable building practices -and the experience of residing in unconventional, inconsistent surroundings – might be more useful benchmarks than admission scores.
To create The Green School program, the Hardys have handpicked from the best schooling systems globally. They enlisted local acquaintances and friends, together with some international recruits, and in 2008, Green School was born.
The Green School’s focus on holistic (non-academic) growth and experiential learning in an aesthetic environment, This concept isn’t new, though. In fact, this is the core of the almost centenary Steiner Waldorf School Movement.
Mental Post-It: Rudolf Steiner (1861 -1925) was an Austrian philosopher whose ideas founded the basis of Anthroposophy. The very first Steiner school started in Stuttgart in 1919 and catered for the children of employees in the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette mill. Steiner’s philosophy inspired what’s become a global movement of colleges which “espouse and promote international human values, educational pluralism and purposeful learning and teaching opportunities”. According to Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship, there are currently over 1,200 Steiner schools worldwide and 2,000 Early Years settings in a total of 60 different countries, 35 in the UK & Ireland.
Ambitiously idealistic experiments frequently collapse under the weight of their own internal contradictions, and it’s surely possible to come across these at Green School. Most students come from Western, affluent families temporarily abandoning their comfortable lives to get a metaphysical gap year of spiritual simplicity in an exotic country. The yearly tuition of The Green School is roughly $19,000 for a year 6 student, way beyond the reach of the average Bali local.
But the money and influence of these student’s parents undoubtedly help: Some of The Green School’s students start fashion companies like Nalu (which dedicates a portion of earnings to help kids purchase school uniforms in India and Indonesia), attend UN Conferences and lobby the Balinese government to decrease the scourge of plastic bags around the island.
That’s the beauty of the Green School: The hands-on learning, the respect for school values and for others, the bonds with the community and with nature, a broader sense of one’s place in the world. If such an education doesn’t create future better citizens, nothing else will. A praise to the Hardys.