BODY & SOUL section: July 15 2017, The Times
Juliet Kinsman moved her daughter to a jungle school in Bali, where lessons are outside
The Green School in Bali was started ten years ago by a pair of silversmiths from Canada and America
‘Ule-leh le oooh leh ooh leh ooh, Gr-e-een School, the bamboo cathedral,” we’re all singing, following as words are projected on to a big screen on a roughly hewn bamboo stage. “Where the Earth is our te-e-eacher and her care is our song.”
There is dancing. And hand-clapping. Even beatboxing. There’s an awful lot of smiling. This is my daughter’s school assembly in Bali. It’s the destination school for children of chief executives on a sabbatical and techie types who’ve sold their businesses and are looking for a new way to live.
Here, lessons are all about saving the planet and sustainability, and children do much of their learning outside. Guest speakers regularly drop in — a former pro surfer turned anti-plastic activist, a professional YouTuber tackling poverty in villages across India. One of the Beastie Boys recently came by to give a talk.
I first encountered the Green School — started ten years ago by a pair of silversmiths from Canada and America — when in Bali reviewing hotels. I fell in love with the idea of taking my daughter Kitty, nine, to a place where she could learn so much more than English and maths.
At school in Notting Hill, Kitty was the youngest in her Year Five class. She was flourishing academically, but socially it was strained. Unlike many city kids she isn’t in a rush to grow up. Showing Kitty images of maypoles and swings suspended from coconut palms as an alternative to the concrete playground in her school made the move an easy sell. And I’ll be honest. The fact that Kitty’s school is a private one made the move possible — they agreed to keep her place for a year.
That said, Kitty’s first day at school in the Tropics started with the same parental panic that we had in west London. The only diUerence is that with the Green School there is no homework to be stuUed into my daughter’s backpack, just a refillable water bottle and insect repellent.
Now every day we race to school down a bumpy lane dodging scooters and wild dogs, passing sarong-clad women carrying baskets laden with canang sari, the colourful floral Hindu oUerings, on their heads. The Green School has a bus, run on used cooking oil collected by the pupils from hotels and restaurants. But my daughter was put oU by all the kids on it being glued to their phones. Yes, even in the jungle children are addicted to their screens.
Arriving each day at the undulating cane constructions that make up the Green School’s campus, there’s no mistaking that it is a very special place of learning.
With a backdrop of palm trees, long-haired boys and girls in baseball caps high five and fist-bump each other. When the school first opened it served 90 children; now there are almost 400, aged three to 18. And there’s a waiting list. Americans make up the largest contingent, most of them desperate to be far from home in the present climate: in both senses. For them and me it feels good to see ourselves as global citizens. I like to feel that I am instilling in my daughter values that will help her to think of herself as a change-maker, a problem-solver.
John Hardy and his wife, Cynthia, set up the school after watching the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth. They had been home-schooling their daughters in Bali, from where they exported jewellery, but wanted them to go to a “proper” school — only one that shared their values. Sarong-wearing John is not shy when it comes to pointing out how we could all be living greener lives.
“Everywhere in the world kids are learning how to be green, but in completely unsustainable environments,” he says. “Green School kids are learning about the same things, but they are living it instead.”
Here the toilets are compostable, power comes from solar panels, there’s a bamboo-sawdust hot water and cooking system and an ambitious hydro-powered vortex generator. There’s an after-school programme for local children, who pay their fees in trash — 5kg of recyclables.
In the primary school, maths and reading are priorities, but learning goes alongside projects that aim to promote entrepreneurial thinking, environmental awareness, practical skills and the arts. “Since maths and science are in cooking, we like to get them in the kitchen,” says Kate Druhan. The high school has international-school accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Their first group just graduated and 90 per cent got into their chosen university, including an Ivy League university.
Not that the set-up would appeal to every tiger mother. “Did you even use a pen today?” asked a parent of their child recently. And when, shortly after our arrival, I asked Kitty what she was studying, she replied almost concerned: “Mum, I’m not learning much.” In my view, this is because she’s not learning by rote, so she
doesn’t get the same sense of how much is sinking in. When we got her school report it was clear that she was doing so much more in music, drama and creative arts than she ever did at home.
The playground has maypoles and swings suspended from coconut palms We live in a rented villa, but it is tough being away from Kitty’s dad, whose fulltime job meant that he had to hold the fort at home. We get by on daily FaceTime calls. It’s also expensive. A term’s fees are comparable to Kitty’s London school.
Most people who come rent out their properties back home to cover costs, which wasn’t possible for us. And as idealistic as it all sounds, Bali is not paradise. It’s chaotic. But to see Kitty
flourish in ways that she could never have done at home, and to experience such a different type of life, has made the move worth it. We’ll move back to London after Christmas and will have to start dealing with issues such as the 11-plus. But I know that wherever Kitty finishes her education, her life will have been enriched.