The greenest school on earth

Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility-these three forces are the very nerve of education.”  Rudolf Steiner

When I first read this quote from Rudolf Steiner, I genuinely thought he was describing the values of the International Green School of Bali.

He wasn’t.

Steiner was the founder of anthroposophy, a philosophy that has been used for many years in the Waldorf education system.

This educational system emphasises the role of imagination in learning and focuses on a holistic approach to the intellectual, practical and artistic development of pupils.

It’s after meeting Maya Crowder, an 18-year-old recent graduate student from the Green School that I decided not to leave Indonesia without visiting the establishment.

I had to find out if all students from the school were as mature and profound as she was; after hearing some many stories about the school, I needed to see the institution from my own eyes and to know how a holistic education works in the 21st century.

“We are creating green leaders for the next generation.”

After ah hour-long, sweaty and stressful motorbike drive from Denpasar, capital of the Indonesian island of Bali, I arrived right on time to catch the students getting in at 8am.

Funnily enough, at first what surprised me the most was the presence of parents inside the school: most of whom were discussing gluten-free cakes, green smoothies and the latest opening of a vegan restaurant in Ubud, the closest town from the Green School.

Later on, I was told they were heading to a yoga class being held above one of the organic cafés at the entrance of the school.

But what came next was mind blowing.

solar panels and classroom building at the green school

The ‘Heart of School’ and its surroundings. [Charo Mérida]

The Green School of Bali is much more than I expected. I don’t even know if school is the right word to describe it.

As I walked down the main entrance towards the ‘Heart of School’, the main building located in the middle of the campus, I was amazed by its structure.

The Green School is composed of several buildings entirely made from the local material: bamboo. And the result is extraordinary.

The ‘Heart of School’ itself represents seven kilometres of it and it is known to be Asia’s largest bamboo building. Despite the imposing size of these bamboo edifices, they perfectly fit the green and jungle surroundings.

Walking in the establishment’s campus feels like an exclusive but foolish experience because its connection and incorporation with nature is so well preserved that it makes you feel guilty and almost stupid about not coming to this place before.

“My Green School Dream” – John Hardy, founder of the school.

The school founder John Hardy is a famous Canadian jewellery designer and Balinese culture lover who emigrated to Bali in 1975.

A few years ago, in a TED Talk he explained that it was after watching An Inconvenient Truth, a multi-award winning documentary tracing the campaign of the former American presidential candidate Al Gore to raise public awareness on the danger of global warming and its many impacts on future generations, that John Hardy and his wife Cynthia created what he described as his ‘Green School Dream’.

A place where children, staff and parents respectively can enjoy nature within a real sense of community.

11-year-old Harper, who has been a student at the school since its opening in 2009, confirmed it: “I think my favourite thing about Green School is how welcome I feel; the effort to save the world and the amazing people there.”

We spoke to Leslie Beckman, a member of staff at the Green School who shared a clear and important message: “We are creating green leaders for the next generation.”

Harper was right, she is indeed learning how to “save the world”, through their education the students at the Green School are learning academic subjects such as Mathematics, Literature, Foreign Languages and Science, but they also receive a holistic and green education where they learn how to live sustainably.

“We were learning from a conscious and alternative perspective. Every lesson’s intention was to bring awareness to a subject simultaneously showing us how we can improve the issue as a society and as an individual” says Maya when I asked her what was so special about being a student at the Green School.

a student crafting bamboo with the help of a local indonesian man

A student crafting bamboo with a local Indonesian man. [Green School]

Some classes (or a better way to describe them is ‘hands-on activities’), involve bamboo building, organic farming, making your own natural soap, finding alternatives to go plastic-free, etc.

The school aims to become 100% sustainable and a lot of sustainable practices are already taking place, for example: all toilets on the campus are compost toilets; the food collected from the farm is served on banana leaves and they run on a low energy consumption; since most of the buildings do not have any windows or walls, so the natural light and breeze is what serves the staff and students.

a bamboo classroom of early years pupils

Classroom for the early years [Charo Mérida]

Leslie also explained to me that the school is mostly paperless and the establishment uses solar powered energy and hydro-power. Thanks to a gravitation water vortex power-plant system, the school can create electricity to power devices.

Ideas from students to reach the school’s goal are always welcomed and encouraged by the staff.

In January 2015 for example, two 12th grade students conceived the idea of a ‘BioBus’, a biodiesel school bus which runs on used cooking oils. Since then the idea became a reality and today three buses are running.

Originally from the US, Rebecca Penrose, Harper’s mum, moved to Bali in the 90s. She confessed that an alternative education in a natural environment was what she wanted for her child and the result is more than satisfactory, “Harper LOVES school and therefore learning, and to me there is nothing better.”

Leslie Beckman shared with me that it is more enjoyable for children to “learn by doing”, as a result, this holistic and green education has shown beneficial results in the long run.

“We have many individual stories of kids doing well after graduation as well as integrating back to their ‘home’ school with either better grades or in some cases, skipping a grade,” Beckman said.

While a holistic and green education seems to show positive results through the accomplishments of the children and pleases the parents in turn, one thing that surprised me during my visit was to see so many International students but very few native Indonesians.

the ayung river and the bamboo bridge which leads to the school

The Ayung River and the School’s bamboo bridge. [Green School]

The school campus was built along the Ayung River which is the longest river in Bali, where more than 4.2 million people live today.

Over the past year, Bali has become one of the world’s prime tourist destinations but it is also densely populated with a large number of expats and the school’s community confirms it too.

Harper told me about her friends: “Yes they are from all different nationalities. In my class there are students from Spain, Italy, Australia, Indonesia, France, England, Malaysia and Singapore.”

At first, I found myself quite sceptical about the presence of Indonesian children at the International school; maintaining an eco-friendly school is expensive, so the fees are high and local families often cannot afford them.

As I was wandering around the main building, I found out about the Local Scholar and the Kul Kul Connection programmes, which aim to promote the integration of local Indonesian children in the institution.

The scholarship programme aims to have Indonesian children make up 20% of all students and to support them during the required local exams on the top of the international school experience.

This scholarship was designed by John Hardy to engage and inspire local kids to become leaders and change-makers in their home country.

As a result, there are more than 50 Indonesian students in a school with an approximate of 400 students. This project could be a solution to the country’s environmental issues, known to be one of the biggest carbon emitters in the world.

young students with a teacher at the green school, bali

A group of young students with a teacher. [Anastasia Kurokhtina]

The Kul Kul Connection programme aspires to develop and maintain a sustainable connection with residents in the local village Sibang Kaja.

In this way the school gives back to the community by providing free English language classes; a community garden and recycling activities in the form of an after-school programme.

Today, it involves 300 local students. The idea is to unify the international community of Green School and the local community.

Thanks to better communication between the school community and the villagers, they are coming together to obtain the same goal: a greener future for everyone.

“The Balinese culture is completely integrated in the school. There is always an Indonesian option for lunch and they have language and history lessons daily on Balinese and Indonesian culture,” says Rebecca when I asked her opinion on how well integrated the Balinese culture is at the international school.

students learning in class

Student learning in class [Anastasia Kurokhtina]

The school was awarded by the US Green Building Council (USBGC) as the “Greenest School on Earth” in 2012; during a visit by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in 2014, he described it as “the most unique and impressive school I have ever visited”.

The school is taking steps to become more sustainable every day; the education provided to make children understand that our planet is not indestructible; the sense of integrity and the efforts to give back to the Balinese and Indonesian communities are what lead me to admit that the whole establishment is a ruling model for the rest of the world.

This village-school offers the possibility to explore and appreciate nature freely with no rules, and this experimental sense of responsibility, at the heart of the Green School, is what guided Maya to enrol in the first place:

“I wanted to go myself because I realised I wasn’t suited for the rules and restrictions of a conventional education system. I knew I could explore and learn in this environment and thrive by doing so.”

 

 


Featured image by Marc Romanelli of Green School.