I am standing in the middle of a huge bamboo construction, which is the main building of the Green School in Bali. The bamboo creates a homelike feeling and the fact that there are no walls, lets my thoughts and imagination run free. I think of the words of former Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon during his visits to the school: ‘The Green school is the most unique and impressive school I have ever been to’. I absolutely agree.
A Tour Into Another World
Our tour on this Saturday morning starts with our guides Alicia and André introducing themselves. They both graduated from the Green School and are proud and cheerful representatives of its values. The School’s mission is to create a community of learners making our world sustainable. This sounds like a great idea to me, but how do they achieve it?
Theory Made Reality
First of all, the school defines three simple rules that underline every decision: be local, let your environment be your guide and envisage how your grandchildren will be affected by your actions. That already sounds pretty different from the school I went to. However, that is just the theoretical part. During the tour we discover how the school makes their principles tangible.
We start at Kembali, their own recycling station. They collect all their waste at the school and reuse it with the help of external companies. They also have their own compost, where their organic waste is stored and reused. A bit further down the path we see the palm-oil free kitchen. All the food is made out of their own home grown vegetables and fruits. We also get a chance to have a look at the garden, rice fields and several animals such as cows, gooses and chickens, who live here. Through this direct connection, the children learn where their food comes from and how to cultivate it. Classes at the Green School do not only happen in the classroom. The majority of their curriculum combines the real world with the academic world.
A Different Approach to Learning
The curriculum is based on three frames. The first is called the thematic frame and contains the majority of classes. Instead of taking conventional classes, students learn everything around one topic. The professors rotate and thus the kids look at the topic from different angles - from a biological to a cultural or a historian point of view. They are being encouraged to ask as many questions as possible. Using contemporary fiction, testimonials by experts or parties involved or textbooks they answer their questions. Additionally, throughout their education there is something called the sustainability compass. Students are asked to think of the positive and negative effect on sustainability, society, economy and personal wellbeing of the topic they are investigating at the moment.
The second frame is called proficiency frame and includes normal subjects like math and English. Also within this frame real life examples play a crucial part.
In general, students are very free in choosing their subjects. They are made responsible for their own education.
Project Work From Start To End
The third frame is the experiential frame and allows the students to implement their own projects. They find a real life problem and solve it. One of those projects is the Bio Bus.
All of it started with the problem of cooking oil in Indonesia. It is often used up to 30 times and causes severe health issues, because it contains harmful substances. Through their project students found out how to reuse cooking oil to produce biological diesel. Now the school owns four buses that run on 100% biological diesel produced by the school. The buses pick up the students, which leads to a reduction of traffic jam, because parents do not have to drop and pick up their kids anymore. Additionally, the school owns the first biological diesel pump station in Indonesia. The students wrote the whole project plan, applied for a loan at their own student bank and implemented the whole plan from start to finish - and that at an age under 18!
Empowering Students to Become Active
It is not surprising to hear that classes are organised in small groups at the Green School. It supports the students to be outspoken and to participate actively. In our discussion with Alicia she says that the Green School empowered her to face problems and challenges in the real world. She was taught that she can make a difference. When studying abroad in Canada, she realised how precious this attitude is. At the Green School she was surrounded by like-minded people who supported her ideas and were active to solve problems they experienced. Being abroad in a different culture made her realise that this mindset is not a given. Too often people witness a problem or are even affected by it, but don’t act on it.
Surrounded by Nature and Mindfulness
We continue walking on our path surrounded by banana trees, palm trees and lawn. The whole school is embedded by green plants and trees and even a river runs through the whole property. Nature is everywhere and it makes sense to me that also mindfulness plays an important role in the school. This is made clear when we pass a big crystal coming out of the earth. It was placed by priests, who said that the positive energy flows through this point. The crystal gathers this positive energy and transmits it to people touching it. “Every day at 2pm a gong rings and everyone stops for one minute to meditate”, Alicia explains. As we pass by the yoga studio, André mentions that 30 minutes per week of yoga including meditation is mandatory for every student. It has a visible effect on the kids. They are calmer and more conscious of their surroundings.
Scholarships For Locals
During our walk, I realise how huge this school is. The whole property is 9 hectares big and 440 students from 34 different nationalities go to school here. Apparently, it happens quite often that whole families move to Bali, so their kids can go to school at this unique place. The Green School offers education for students who are between 3 and 18 years old. Only 10% of the full-time students are Indonesian, because the school is not cheap. The first year for a high-school education costs 13’217 Euros excluding admission fees. Luckily, they offer a scholarship program for full-time education for locals, which makes this special place a bit less exclusive. Another scholarship program aims at Indonesians that live close to the school. They are given free English lessons after their normal school in the afternoon in exchange of 5kg of plastic waste every month.
Experimenting With Alternatives
Toward the end of our tour we pass a field of solar panels. ‘One third of our energy is produced by solar energy’, André states. They also use energy from a Mini Hydro Vortex system, which contributes to their aim to be a carbon positive school. The school likes to experiment with techniques. One example being is the Aquaponics system that students built as part of their project.
After walking and listening for two hours, I have the feeling that this school resembles more a village than a classical school. They are all part of a community: the current students and their parents, but also the graduates.