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Building a Bridge to Better Education

Trigonometry – what’s the point?

If you’ve had that question, you’re not the only one. More and more, the classroom has become disconnected from the real world. And as tomorrow’s problems become more complex, we need to find new ways to engage students.

What would that look like – Is the problem that the knowledge students are learning has no use? Or is it that they never get to learn the real-world connections?

The Green School in Bali, Indonesia, has found an answer. Several years ago, the school partnered with an industrial designer named Matt Bell. He worked with middle-school students to build a bridge for their math class, and “from idea conception to bamboo selection, to material fabrication, and final construction, all hands were on deck.” (2)

Imagine building a 72-foot bridge with all the different measurements, angles, and cost estimations. It provides students with valuable experiences, and it gave them a chance to enjoy their education.

Seeing how we use the knowledge and understand its applications brings history to life, physics to reality, and trigonometry to bridge building.


Project-based learning has been growing across the educational landscape, and the Green School is one of the many leaders. They have run other projects like Operation Rain or Shine, where they partnered with the University of Cologne.

And this is where the school has stayed true to its name. By designing and building a solar and hydro-powered system, they reduced their carbon footprint by 40% - which makes it only 10% of that of other schools (1)

The school’s dynamic approach has been far-reaching, as it has pulled students into understanding the global community. The list of initiatives goes on(1, 2):

  1. They created a fashion company.

  2. They have gardens that grew 150KG of edible produce per month during the 2017-2018 school year.

  3. They have a maker’s space where students can use wood-working tools, 3D printers, and laser engravers.

  4. It has a project hub where new ideas are born, bringing fresh perspectives to the classroom.

  5. They use a Bio-Bus that uses their kitchen’s cooking-oil to run, saving 4 tons of carbon emissions annually.

  6. And they have the Kul Kul Connection Program that helps them teach sustainability to 350 local children in the surrounding community.

The School

Located on Bali, a small island in Indonesia, this school was built through John and Cynthia Hardy’s vision for better education. As they wanted to blend the structure into the community’s natural environment, they focused on building techniques that are traditional to the island.

The school’s primary structure of three interconnected spirals is all made from materials local to the island. The structure is built with bamboo, and the two-story-high roof is made from Alang Alang Thatching – traditional roofing made from local grass.

You can find various buildings and areas around the campus that add to the school’s natural environment. The Warung, an outdoor café filled with fresh fruit, local chocolate treats, and other fresh food, serves food to visitors all day long (3)

“Local Balinese women cook the food on sawdust burners using secrets that only their grandmothers know,” John Hardy said in his Ted Talk about the school. As you learn more about the school, you begin to see it as a mini-ecosystem that fits naturally into the local community. And this is the model Hardy is replicating internationally.

A Model for the Diverse Student

As we have seen in the western world, education has faced hiccups regarding students’ differences in abilities. Our standardized environment forces a single learning pace that not everyone can meet – and in other cases, it’s not fast enough.

This has shown up in many ways, and it has specifically impacted students’ with Specific Learning Disabilities compared to those without. In the United Kingdom, in schools with a standardized environment, there was an 11-point difference in test scores.

The Green schools’ fluidity gives a diverse set of teachers and experiences that students can learn from, letting them take some control over how they progress. And so, the school has been able to close the gaps as well as raise the overall average score (3).

In his Ted Talk above, John Hardy said that the school’s focus is on the whole child – a practice of holism. “And for me [John], it’s just the idea that, if this little girl graduates as a whole person, chances are she’ll demand a whole world -- a whole world.”

This idea models a concept that isn’t seen in our conventional education systems, and it could likely be a secret missing in our world today. From year one, our approach provides a model that says there is one professional – one expert – in the room that we must listen to. And we have to wonder what consequences that plays as students leave as adults.

This learning follows us into our adult lives, but it is a learning that doesn’t help us think critically about where we get our information sources or what ideas we allow. Dissent is a crucial part of remaining free, but we must do it responsibly. And self-pacing gives students a foundation that they can grow on to stay steady in what’s true.

The Green School allows students to discover their days on their own. And despite the large open spaces and nature being just beyond the classroom, there is a new feeling that arises from the school.

“Conversely, when I have done observations in conventional classrooms, my presence has always been a distraction, no matter how quiet I try to be. Here, just as the occasional passerby or observer, or even picture-taking visitor, does not draw attention, the gobble of turkeys or rustle of lemongrass in the wind does not elicit a conspicuous response.”

Among these, there were other observed results in the classroom (3):

  1. Less Stress

  2. Resilience

  3. Calmness

  4. Better Behavior

  5. Higher Confidence and Self-Esteem

  6. Focus on Strengths

  7. Motivation to Learn

Being Seen

Being seen comes with magic that exceeds just a metric or grade. In this magic, students can realize their parts that can shine a light upon this world.

Humans have long been explorers of the unknown. And as we enter a new age, our digital world’s exploration comes with a unique information atmosphere. It is our duty not only to our children but to all the generations after us to equip children with the tools to thrive more than we ever have.

Education is more than just giving students an organized system of knowledge to go out into the world with – it should be about developing full-humans that can explore beyond the expanse of their comfort zones.

The Green School is a school setting a model of what it means to do this – to see their student. And that’s why so many families have moved there to give their children a unique chance at life. In fact, 35% of the school’s families moved to Bali to be a part of this opportunity (3).

The co-founder, John Hardy, is a beautiful example of the changes we can get. His hard work, determination, and refusal to be restrained by his dyslexia helped him give birth to this educational vision. Creating a world that encourages all students to grow to their potential is a whole world – one in which we can reach the stars.

What Does This Look Like Elsewhere?

The school’s philosophy has grown in popularity since it was established in 2008. Building other schools in Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa, they’ve developed the same fundamentals internationally.

The school has proven to be truly unique, and it has used customs and traditions that are unique to Indonesia. Though the exact model may not expand to the world, it’s building a philosophy that develops global citizens.

Countries, East and West, can find the Green School’s wisdom as they look towards a more inclusive school setting. And with it, we can see progress in conserving values and traditions.

If anything, this school has taught one of the greatest lessons for the modern world. It has mixed what seems to be oil and water opposites. And as the past and the future live in one structure, we can see that maybe, we aren’t as divided as it all may seem.

Special Thanks!

1. World Economic Forum. (2020). Schools of the Future Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Schools_of_the_Future_Report_2019.pdf

2. Building Bridges. (2014, August 5). Bamboo News Magazine | Green School Bali. https://bnmag.greenschool.org/green-lead/2014/08/05/building-bridges/

3. Spector, Jennipher. “The Green School Effect” on Students with Specific Learning Differences: A Case Study Inquiring into the Cognitive, Emotional, and Behavioral Benefits of Outdoor Classrooms. Aug. 2012.

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