The Green School in Bali has a refreshing way to create ‘a community of learners making our world sustainable’. Last Wednesday I joined the Green School tour near Ubud in 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. It is shaping confident and capable young adults, who will spread these much-needed ideas into the world. A genuine effort is made to include the local community. Green School made me feel inspired and hopeful. Here, young adults will grow up with an entirely different worldview, one based on permaculture, rather than capitalism. A worldview that promotes living respectfully on the earth, and which believes that every individual has unique skills and dreams to offer.
Permaculture and project-based learning
Permaculture principles and mindfulness are main elements of The Green School in Bali. 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 in their wish to acquire chickens. Now they 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 an aquaponics system – a clever closed-loop system where the excretion of fish feeds the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish.
Let’s go traveling
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 desks, 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 and learning naturally. Learning does not have to take place in the classroom. The gardens, the river, the kitchen, they all count as classrooms.
Of course, there is a detailed curriculum as well, which means that the transition to higher education for children at the Green School has never been a problem. The curriculum at Green School is based on the Three Frame Day, a student-centered approach covering:
The integral frame utilizes thematic teaching and focuses on engaging, and satisfying, the ‘whole person’. For example, physics, poetry or economics can all offer different perspectives on the topic of water.
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 school
At the school various elements of mindfulness are implemented, depending on the teachers’ initiative. Every day at 2 pm, 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 ironwood 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 talk about the larger themes of life.
The Bali connection
The Kul Kul connection project at Green School is an ongoing effort to include students from the local community. 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 scholars from the local community, the goal is not yet reached. School fees at Green School are about 10 to 15.000 USD annually. So, raising money is crucial to support families to pay the school fees. In addition to donors, the daily tours contribute to the fundraising, and so does the Kembali recycling initiative.
Bamboo is the main component of the buildings at the Green School in Bali. It is really unique and a wonderful sight to see. 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 woodcarver 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.
A novel approach to building with bamboo
The beauty of bamboo is that it is incredibly strong, and grows very fast. Bamboo only needs2-4 years to grow for use in construction. But such large structures are usually not made from bamboo, because over time humidity and insects start to affect bamboo structures. Without any protective treatment, most bamboo species have an average natural durability of fewer 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 than the use of some steel and concrete, the buildings are now 90-95% natural material.
Off the grid (for a day)
Other than 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, perhaps 30%, 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 at the Green School Bali
Waste is a huge problem worldwide, and in Bali in particular. The island does not have a solution for waste. Sadly waste is often burnt releasing toxins 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 sustainable waste management systems have been funded. It has even been 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 leaves replace plates, and disposed of as compost.
The bio bus
The bio bus project aims to address pollution from emissions. Many families live in the Channgu and Ubud areas. To avoid a full parking lot, 3 busses running on biodiesel now pick up kids in the area. Biodiesel is made from cooking oil and emits less harmful greenhouse gasses when burned as fuel. The net result is 80% fewer 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.
There were many more interesting stories, 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.
It was uplifting to visit Green School, 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 on one of their tours!