We have known about The Green School for many years, not making a tour three years earlier when we were last in Bali due to limited funds at the end of a long journey. It did however appeal to us back then and with our interest in education much greater now we were very excited to be finally taking the tour of the globally renowned sustainable school.
Our driver dropped us to the school grounds after an early start allowing plenty of time to navigate the morning traffic from Sanur. The first things we saw were the bio buses, the school buses fuelled by veggie oil and the expat mums all kicking their legs high in what appeared to be a morning exercise class, in a grassed area central to the car park.
Inside the gates we were welcomed and mingled a little with the other 12 or so international bunch also here for the 9am tour. Kate, our Australian tour guide greeted us as we all plugged into our radio’s.
Kate began the tour promptly leading us first past the schools kitchen area that produces on average 500 meals per day. Food, she exclaimed is just one of the wonderful pleasures of being at the Green School with daily international and local food buffets available to all. All diets are catered for and cooked in wood fired ovens fuelled by the bamboo shavings from the bamboo factory, PT Bamboo that operates next door to the school. First established to enable the school to be built, PT Bamboo now operates as its own entity.
Founded in 2008 by John and Cynthia Hardy, jewellery designers eager to give something back to the island they had called home for 30 years, the school is a physical manifestation of their dream. After a shocking experience in his own school days John was eager to create a new way of educating children and in a sustainable hub that, if everyone were to leave, could be swallowed up by the jungle.
Just adjacent to the main school campus we were led to a sister project of the Green school, the Green Camp. The program is available to an international youth education market and offers programs for young children through to 18 during both term time and holidays. With several different programs on offer, many age groups and needs are catered for. Family camps with river rafting, gardening and cooking right through to teenage experiences. Kate spoke about the Quantum Leap program available to teenagers covering the creative, social/emotional and physical development of the teenage brain. Another camp for this age group being the Risky Business camp which Kate’s 15 year old son had just attended. This 5 day camp tackles head-on risk-taking behaviour, its relationship to the teenage brain and decision making all supported by actors, role play, immersion and reflection.
The camp is particularly attractive to the Asian Pacific region schools where urbanised students may lack an outdoor component to their education. Here, survival skills, tree climbing, camp fires, communal eating, abseiling, coconut sugar making are all but a few of the skills and experiences the Green Camp has to offer.
Down a few misshaped steps we were back onto the schools campus and met by several students practising archery over the schools mud pit. We were assured that the mud pit, somewhat green in colour was a favourite spot for the children, and parents alike, to cool off. The mud pit also stands as the teaching space for the ancient balinese martial art and of course a bit of mud wrestling. Gratefully Basil and Wren were a little preoccupied with the bows and arrows at this point, mud and wrestling being their favourite pastimes.
We continued on past the spectacular yoga studio, a key component to primary education at the Green School and an elective option in both the middle and high school, with all students currently electing yoga nidra as part of their curriculum. Kate spoke about choice being central to the Green School’s philosophy with lots of electives on offer.
The Green School opens its doors to students as young as 3 in its early years program which Kate described as “…a magical fairy land for tiny humans..”. Separated by gates from the rest of the school, students are then able to move up into the largest part of The Green School, the primary school currently catering for some 200 students in grades 1-5 with 2 classes for every grade. This part of the school is where students on shorter experiences of 1-4 semesters are often found, from families keen to offer their children a ‘Green School Experience’.
The primary students day is split into 3 ‘frames’ the first being what the school refers to as the thematic frame, time exploring at depth a chosen theme and encompassing the school’s “big 4” or holistic approach of; intellectual, creative, social/emotional and physical development. Kate gave an example of a previous theme: ‘rice’, where students explored over several months rice in Indonesia, the history of rice, the different species, farming techniques, genetic modification etc, before taking on the task of building their own paddy and growing their own crop. In accordance with local tradition, the students welcomed a local priest to bless their plants before harvesting and processing, then cooking their crop on stage in the school auditorium. The audience of teachers, students and parents all then communally enjoyed the rice which had been prepared by a technique local to Sumatra.
Students then move onto the second frame of their day in proficiency where maths and english are delivered in a hands on way. The third frame, the experiential frame welcomes students into their manual and visual art time.
Graduating primary school students are then able to move into the middle school which caters fro grades 6-8. The little ‘community within a community’ gets booked out quickly and focuses more on developing the social and emotional needs of children during these years. Teachers try to move more into roles of facilitators to allow the natural desire of togetherness to manifest.
The high school is housed in the spectacular heart of the school, an architectural masterpiece and home to 75 high schoolers.
With creative design, entrepreneurial thinking and sustainability the top 3 aspirations of the school, graduating students are sought out by universities with all last years graduates getting into their first choice of university. Kate explained how the school encourages and supports children to develop their own enterprises. With a shop on site and a fortnightly farmers market there are many opportunities for students to bring their enterprises or businesses to the community. This equates to most graduate students having had direct experience in entrepreneurial business. First aid, mastery to some level of an instrument and Bahasa Indonesian, plus something substantial by the way of community service are also proudly found on a students portfolio on graduation.
Our tour concluded in the community meeting space where students practised for their afternoon game of cricket. Parents sipped on coffee and chatted and the small shop selling produce from another sister project, a permaculture farm, buzzed with activity. Kate pointed out the space where parents are able to stay and work during school time and the coffee business enterprise that had been started by a parent partnership. “We love parents” Kate exclaimed.
There were many other highlights of the tour including the aquaponics venture housed under a glass roof of old car windscreens, the hydro electric vortex turbine waiting for the right person to get it working and the spectacular bamboo architecture. We heard rave reviews of the school from our guide Kate, originally from Canberra and now a school administrator and proud mother of 3 Green School Students.
All in all it was very impressive! For me though, I left without the sensation of hovering on a cloud of grass-roots-radical-learning-revolution-bliss that I have felt leaving other schools we have visited. I wonder if it had to do with the exclusive expat bubble that the school sits in? Despite many statements during the tour that this is what the school is about, and the wonderful programs that fully fund local students places, engagement with the local community and working positively for Bali’s sustainable future, it seemed impossible to deny that the school is exclusive.
We also didn’t really see any students. The ones we did see, we were moved away from swiftly and reminded not to take any pictures. It’s hard to gauge how successful a school is without experiencing what the children have to say. The thorough description of the school during the tour was very impressive and, I liked very much the thematic component to the primary education and the school’s holistic approach of: intelectual, creative, social/emotional and physical development. I also liked that students are encouraged to get business savvy from an early age and what this must expose them too. I felt however that here competition between students may be an issue as the final product of the graduating student felt weighted. As I write this I’m trying to look further into myself to grasp what it was that left me unexcited. Privilege in the alternate education movement has been very much on my mind lately and how this can be avoided. I think this school might just have triggered some discomfort in me in regards to that. That said, The Green School is impressive and has some really great programs. I just hope the students love it as much as Kate our guide did.