A NEW WAVE IN EDUCATION BRINGS STUDENTS CLOSER TO NATURE
From a bamboo campus without walls in the Balinese jungle to an isolated ranch in rural California, schools that bring students closer to nature are inspiring more and more parents to abandon conventional education models.
A veil of morning mist hangs lightly over towering palm trees in Abiansemal, about a half-hour drive southwest of Ubud in Bali. A gong sounds—but it doesn’t come from a temple or a wellness retreat. It’s a school bell. Mums in yoga gear and tanned dads with man buns kiss their kids goodbye and watch as they disappear into elaborate bamboo structures that resemble something out of James Cameron’s Avatar. This is Green School, where living and functioning sustainably isn’t only encouraged, it is the norm, experienced day in and day out by its students. The entire 8-hectare campus is solar and water powered, boasting a food-generating aquaponics facility and even an on-site bird conservation centre which has, over the years, significantly boosted the population of the endangered Bali starling.
Anyone paying attention to world affairs will recognise that the students of today will be grappling with issues of energy, climate and food security for their entire lives—regardless of their field of study or their profession. And recognising their children’s fate, a growing number of parents have abandoned traditional education models in favour of alternative, sustainability-focused schools.
It isn’t just the parents who are concerned—in November 2019, hundreds of thousands of students took to their respective cities’ streets, from Manila to Sydney to Madrid, demanding the world’s leaders take action on climate change. In fact, a 2018 survey of 11,000 students and parents by The Princeton Review found that 63 per cent said their decision to apply to or attend a college would be influenced by the school’s commitment to the environment.
LEARNING FROM THE LAND
Where education was once about preparing for an individual’s future, schools like Green School are priming young minds for the future at large, placing a mindset of collective consciousness at the heart of their curriculums. Alongside essential subjects like maths and English, they emphasise problem-solving and “doing”—be it scuba diving with CoralWatch, attending UN climate conferences, or growing and harvesting food. Many of them include a “return to the land” programme that puts students to work as part of their studies.
“I believe that it’s important to review and challenge the traditional model of education as our world rapidly evolves beyond what we grew up with,” says Sena Husband who, along with her husband, Paul, lives between Bali and Hong Kong so that their twin children can attend Green School. “Different skills are needed, and the ability to learn with a sense of relevance in this world at a young age is critical. It fosters self-motivation and is empowering to know that they are the future.”
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
The intention is to foster future generations of green leaders. Six years ago, 2018 Green School graduate Melati Wijsen and her sister, Isabel, founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a youth-led organisation that educates and empowers people to say no to single-use plastic. “We didn’t want to wait until we were older to start making a difference,” says Wijsen, who in January 2020 spoke at the World Economic Forum.
The sisters more recently established Youthtopia, which offers short peer-to-peer programmes guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to inspire young people to take action. Other students have gone on to develop Bio Buses fuelled by used cooking oil—now used by Green School—eco-friendly clothing materials and other innovative solutions.
“We believe that if you love something, you will choose to protect it”, says Husband, who adds: “We chose to expose our kids at this early age to the beauty and wonderful aspects of our natural world, so that they can feel connected to it. This is the education we signed up for. If they can connect authentically to their natural world, we believe that they will want to play an active role in protecting it as they grow older”.
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