The jungle carries sounds of laughter, occasional screams of delight, and music; the voice of an excited, young speaker delivering a talk on environmental matters. We’re at Green School, nested in the middle of a thick bamboo forest, educating kids for a sustainable future, and possibly itself being the future of education.
I knew about Green School from a TED Talk by founder John Hardy. And the second TED Talk by his daughter Elora, and third TED Talk by two pupils of the school, Melati and Isabel (TED’s the closest thing I have to television, and I watch a lot of these). It’s not listed in any travel guide we know of, nor was it a consideration when planning our trip to the island, but once we arrived here I figured why not visit. It’d be my first time when a TED Talk comes to life.
True to its name, the the school’s mission is to “educate for sustainability” (emphasis in original)—creating a world where natural resources are consumed only in as much as they can be replenished. This mission was literally built into the school by having chosen bamboo as the building material for all structures, large and small, across the campus. School buildings, classrooms, walls, a 22 meter long bridge, even the visitor tags we wore were made of bamboo.
Children learn by doing, with practical workshops and exercises. Many of them take place at dedicated, sustainability-oriented stations—a recycling facility right at the entrance (where “recycling” also includes trading obsolete possessions), several vegetable gardens, a water sourcing station, a power station using water to generate electricity (making the school self-sufficient energy-wise, on most days). Even bamboo construction is part of the curriculum. There’s plenty of arts education too. We witnessed a musical band playing, children practicing dance, and passed by a building used for theater classes. Sir Ken Robinson would’ve been happy.
Cooking is organic, local and traditional Balinese. We noticed women in the kitchen weaving neat, small purses from coconut palm leaves, curiously asked what they were and found out they’re used to… cook rice, they way people did here for centuries, without the use of plastic.
The school is in its eighth year of existence now, and on the way to have a fifth graduating class. 400 children total are enrolled, starting from pre-kindergarten and up to high school. Some of the parents we talked to expressed regret that the school doesn’t offer college degrees.
What the school does offer are scholarships for children from surrounding villages. Fees for campus tours—available for visits are Green School, Bamboo Workshop and the Green Village—contribute towards the scholarship fund. The money we paid for our own tour was perhaps the best-spent entrance fee to anywhere on the island.
Green School in an inspiration. It’s built for excellent education, bringing out the best in children, but also (perhaps first and foremost) to grow responsible citizens in a world of scarce natural resources. A small movement that needs to scale far beyond reaching mere four hundred children, if we’re to have any chance at survival as humanity.
I wish the school went a step further and open-sourced its model. Make everything publicly available and free to copy, from curriculum through organization to finances. This would allow educators around the world to plant the same seeds in their own communities. Obviously not every climate would allow building with bamboo, but with adjustments for local conditions and materials most of the idea is perfectly portable.
I don’t think the school is doing anything like that at this time. Certainly haven’t noticed anything like that on their website. I did notice, though, a worrying footnote in the leaflet advertising tours, forbidding taking any photos due to “intellectual property protection”. It might be my inner geek speaking here, but I can’t understand that sort of attitude. It’s a non-profit organization anyway, so when someone comes and copies what they’re doing, they should actually be happy about it, because it spreads and scales the mission. Work towards it rather than prevent it.
Antiquated restrictions aside, Green School was perhaps the most inspiring location we visited in Bali. It’s one of those places that forces one to think earnestly about how much value is there really in what we’re currently doing with our lives.
Note: apologies for the scarcity of photos. We were forbidden to take more out of privacy concerns of the school’s pupils. A constraint we understood and respected.