It didn’t take very long after arriving at Green School before I was taken by its refreshing implementation of creating ‘a community of learners making our world sustainable’. Last Wednesday I joined the Green School tour in the lush green land of Bali, to learn more about this inspiring initiative. Based on the principles of permaculture, Green School aims to be a living example of sustainability and entrepreneurship, and is shaping confident and capable young adults, who will spread these much needed ideas into the world. An important element for me was the genuine effort to connect with the local culture – in Bali the western expats don’t always seem to have this as a top priority. Green School made me feel inspired and hopeful. Here, young adults will grow up with an entirely different worldview, one based on permaculture, rather then capitalism, one that promotes living respectfully with the earth, and which believes that every individual has a unique skills and dreams to offer to the world.
Permaculture and project based learning
The Green School is built on permaculture principles, and also includes elements of mindfulness. Project based learning is an important element of the educational approach. When children have an idea, they are given the support and resources to execute it. For example, a few 9 year old children were supported to acquired chickens, so they can sell the eggs at the local farmers market. Another project has red worms feasting on kitchen scraps and water, creating worm compost tea. This ‘liquid gold’ is sold at the farmers market as well. In the garden, children can build their own version of the aquaponics system – a clever closed loop system where the excretion of fish feeds the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. As our visit was midweek, it was ‘Jalan Jalan Wednesday’. Jalan means ‘street’ in Indonesian and jalan jalan simple means, to go traveling. On this day students will not be sitting at their desk, but they will be actively involved in their own projects, whether that is starting a sustainable enterprise, planting and harvesting at the Kul Kul farm, or getting a scuba diver certificate.The approach at Green School is to expose students to a lot of knowledge, therefore learning naturally. Learning does not have to take place in the classroom. The gardens, the river, the kitchen, anything can be a classroom.
Of course there is a detailed curriculum as well, which means that the transition to higher education for those lucky kids that went to Green School, has proven no problem. The curriculum at Green School is based on the Three Frame Day, a student centred approach covering:
The integral frame utilizes thematic teaching and focuses on engaging, and satisfying, the ‘whole person’. For example, the topic of water can be approached from physics, poetry, economics, and so on.
The instructional frame focuses on core intellectual competencies that require repetition to become proficient, like literacy, numeracy, and languages other than English.
The experiential frame links students to real life experiences via workplaces where adults operate commercially and via practical opportunities that arise anywhere in the learning village.
Silence and contemplation
At the school elements of mindfulness are implemented, depending on the teachers initiative. And every day at 2pm, the gong sounds and regardless of what is happening, everyone will be silent for one minute. Students can also use the yoga and meditation space (the only structure not of bamboo but made of iron wood and teak). And there is a healing circle anchored by an impressively huge smoke quartz crystal. This is a place for contemplation, to be present, and to to talk about the larger issues in life.
The Balinese connection
The Kul Kul connection project at Green School is an ongoing effort to connect to the local community – rather then to be an island of international students in the midst of the Balinese rice fields. A Kul Kul is a traditional Balinese instrument made of wood. Every community has one, and it is used to signal the community that it is time to gather, time to celebrate, or if there is an emergency. The aim at Green School is to have a local student representation of 20%. Currently there are 31 full time local scholars, not yet the goal of 20%. To enable the inclusion of the local community, money needs to be raised to support families paying school fees. School fees at Green School are about 10 to 15.000USD annually. In addition to donors, the daily tours contribute to the fundraising, and so does the Kembali recycling initiative.
One of the most beautiful and impressive visual features of the entire Green School is that all structures are built entirely of bamboo. It is really unique and a wonderful sight to see. The beauty of bamboo is that it is incredibly strong, and grows very fast. It only takes 2-4 years for bamboo to grow sufficiently to be used in construction. It has been uncommon for such large structures to be made from bamboo, since over time humidity and insects start to effect it. Without any protective treatment, most bamboo species have an average natural durability of less than 2 years. At Green School however, a new approach was used. The bamboo was soaked in a natural bleach removing starch and sugar from the bamboo, making it uninteresting for insects. In addition the bamboo is sheltered from the rain. This should extend its lifespan to an impressive 60 years! Other then use of some steel and concrete, the buildings are now 90-95% natural material.
The so called Heart of School is made of 7km of bamboo, and resembles three connected vortexes spinning in opposing directions. There is a total of 8 breezy classrooms and a traditional wood carver is making the immense effort to carve all the student names into the bamboo poles. Names of donors that help local kids go to Green School will also be carved into the bamboo poles.
Off the grid (for a day)
Other then natural building materials, Green School aims to be completely off grid in terms of energy and water. Energy use is low as there is no air conditioning, the school structures allow for a cooling breeze. A significant portion of the energy, 30% if I recall correctly, comes from solar power. To provide for the additional needs, a hydropower solution is being put in place. A 5 diameter stone circle directs the water so as to move a turbine. Unfortunately after a long 8 years of work this hydropower solution only worked for a day or so, as a flash flood partly destroyed it right after it was at last put in use. Water is used sparsely too, with compost toilets put in place. The water at Green School is all sourced from one underground well – which was found by a dowser.
Solutions for waste and pollution
Waste is a huge problem worldwide, and in Bali in particular. The island does not have a solution for waste, and sadly it is often burnt releasing toxics in the atmosphere, or disposed of in the natural environment. The Kembali initiative at Green School aims to transform waste into arts and useful products. Kembali means ‘to come back’. Through this successful initiative money is generated to sustain waste management systems, and it has even made it possible to buy a traditional Balinese Gamelan (worth around $10.0000). And the Kul Kul connection kids bring 5kg of recyclable trash to the school per semester, as a payment for school fees. Additionally, in the restaurant and cafe banana leave replaces the plate, and are thrown away as compost.
To address pollution from emissions, the bio bus project was initiated. Many families live in the Channgu and Ubud areas, and would bring their children to school by car. To avoid the painful sight of a full parking lot, 3 busses that use biodiesel now pick up kids in the area. Biodiesel is made from cooking oil, and emits less harmful greenhouse gasses when burnt as fuel. The net result is 80% less emissions. It also resolves the problem of cooking oil being reused many times and disposed of in harmful ways. The ‘grease police’ creates awareness and accepts the cooking oil as donations. As a thank you, donors receive soap, made of the byproduct glycerine, and the circle is complete.
Many more interesting stories were shared, as we heard about the Kul Kul permaculture farm, the starling breeding program, and the soon to complete theatre production inspired by the Ramayana, a Hindu epic love story. Needless to say the visit to Green School was uplifting and this new paradigm in education made me feel hopeful. Ideally this school can be a model for many more schools to come in the world, planting the seeds for a shift in how we as humans create our lives on earth.
If you want to know more, see the TED talk about Green School by John Hardy, the founder of the school. Or see this great video on Green School by Global Ideas (2013). And if you are in Bali, do visit one of their daily or extended tours!