- Education & Catastrophe
- School Should Look Like This Open Learning Community In Bali
School Should Look Like This Open Learning Community In Bali
Education & Catastrophe 63
Begawan Open Learning Community
Hey y’all! This is John.
This newsletter is about human flourishing. Ostensibly it’s about better parenting and fixing education, but ultimately what I really care about is helping young people flourish.
In last week’s newsletter ‘School Is Not Enough’, we discussed the purpose of school and questioned whether keeping our kids in school for the first twenty years of their life made sense.
This week I’ll be sharing about an open learning community in Bali where local children develop literacy, numeracy and life skills by harvesting mushrooms, preparing planting beds, feeding crickets and checking beehives in the bird conservatory, learning centre, regenerative rice fields, cooking school and farm-to-table restaurant that are part of this community called Begawan.
Let’s dive in!
Begawan is an open learning community consisting of three main programmes - conservation for the critically endangered Bali Starling, free after-school education for local children, and community-based regenerative farming collaborating with local farmers to cultivate the forgotten Balinese Heritage rice seeds.
Begawan’s first initiative, the Bali Starling Conservation Program, was launched in 1999 with the goal of saving this critically endangered bird from extinction. Begawan is actively releasing Bali Starlings back into nature in Melinggih Kelod Village, with a target to release at least 20 Bali Starlings every year. There are very few places where a visitor can spot the Bali Starling flying freely in nature. Melinggih Kelod Village is one of them.
The distinctive feature of the Bali Stirling is the bare blue skin around its eyes.
At the after-school learning centre, 60 Balinese children participate in thematic classes (e.g. biomimicry, natural symmetry), entrepreneurship classes (e.g. coding, robotics), proficiency classes (math, English) and extracurricular activities (e.g. dancing, karate). The classes are highly experiential, with much of the learning happening beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom. Instead of reading a science textbook about bees and butterflies, they are in the garden catching and releasing butterflies, or at the bird conservatory tending to beehives. Similarly, with mushroom cultivation or regenerative farming, students are growing mushrooms and out in the padi fields working the land.
It’s not all doing without understanding. With mushroom farming, for example, students go into the lab to learn about spores from biologists and get practical, hands-on experience with lab equipment.
At Begawan, they use the term ‘facilitators’ rather than ‘teachers’. The adults supporting students are a knowledgeable team with diverse and progressive backgrounds. Student achievements are measured based on perseverance in learning rather than how they perform in standardised tests. Students work alone or in small teams on specific projects. Learning facilitators give students opportunities to learn by allowing them to participate as freely as possible in the appropriate, relevant environment.
With a pedagogy designed around the mottos of ‘Learning by Doing’ and ‘Grow Your Own’, students are encouraged to express their ideas and take an active role in addressing various challenges in their community. What I like about Begawan’s approach to learning is providing learners with context that is experiential and relevant to their lives, and empowering them to get hands-on so knowledge is immediately applied.
For example, Growing in Bali and Soil & Farming are two of the thematic classes offered at Begawan. Students visit local farmers in their community to see how traditional farming is reliant on the intensive use of agrochemicals. Facilitators explain to students the damage to the soil, the environment, and the wider ecological system caused by the excessive use of chemicals in farming. Students then help out at Begawan’s Regenerative Farming Program, using only natural fertilisers, weed, and pest controls. The entire experience is personally meaningful to the students because they are protecting their land and the environment, helping farmers in their community make a better living through higher yields, and cooking and eating the Balinese heritage rice they help farmers cultivate.
Begawan Learning Centre is an after-school program that provides holistic learning opportunities to develop life skills, environmental responsiveness, entrepreneurial mindset, and a love of learning. Through our comprehensive curriculum, we aim to break the cycle of poverty in rural Balinese villages and create a brighter future for local communities.
During a recent conversation with an educator who is a master teacher at the Academy of Singapore Teachers, he told me about a teacher who brought his students on a field trip to the airport. The teacher took the opportunity to ask his students to use Pythagoras theorem to calculate the height of the air traffic control tower. Turning theory into application! All well and good, until one girl put her hand up and asked the teacher why she needed to calculate the height of the control tower. The teacher was stumped.
Contrast that with Begawan’s field trip to the airport.
Project-based learning focused on application rather than theory is better than reading from a textbook, but it is far more effective when the projects are personally meaningful to the learners. Here’s another example of getting students to put math theories into practice. When I visited Hakuba International School earlier this year, the pioneer batch of students were heavily involved in the design of the new school. They had to use trigonometry to figure out what angles trees will fell, in order to clear the land for the building site. No one asked why they needed to calculate angles.
Begawan’s founders Bradley and Debbie Gardner are working on turning the after-school centre into Begawan Learning Village, a full-fledged Indonesian school where local, biracial and expat children can immerse themselves in an Asian-centred educational model that engenders a life-long love of learning, providing students with the opportunities that will take them forward in their chosen futures. Local Balinese students will attend on scholarships, giving them the opportunity to go on field trips and eventually enrol in global universities.
Do children today have useful childhoods?
This is the question at the heart of Simon Sarris’s article ‘School Is Not Enough’. I’m a proponent of Begawan Learning Village’s pedagogical approach because it is designed for children to have useful childhoods. Students are learning in real-life situations, contributing to their communities, connecting with children from different parts of the world, developing life skills and self-awareness, taking initiative, gaining agency, and becoming global citizens.
But if education matters to a parent, then they should think hard about how they can allow their child a deep venture. Parents owe it to children to furnish them with materials, time, and useful pursuits. Schools will not supply them, and the most common failure mode with parenting is probably giving children options along the same feeble lines, and responsibilities too close to what they already have at school.
Begawan Learning Village promises to be a place where learners pursue mastery of skills, discover a sense of self, and perhaps most importantly, develop agency.
Rather than calling it a school, I posit that more schools should look and work like Begawan Learning Village.
Many fairy tales and stories are about finding one’s place. The hero begins as a child full of wonder and ends up achieving mastery over the world. Visions of the future need to allow people—not just the cleverest among us, but all people—to imagine accepting a place in the world. If we fail to do this during the years of education, then we are not really educating. If we fail to allow children continuous contact with the world, we risk them coming to see their own lives as mere abstractions.
The purpose of education is to develop agency within a child. Purposeful work and achieving mastery are tools to getting there. They aren’t the results of learning and imagination, it’s the other way around—learning is simply the consequence of doing. To understand this is to understand the ecology that fosters genius and talent.
Begawan’s Pedagogical Concepts
Coordinated bilingual education in English and Indonesian. By working closely with those families affected, support is offered for those students speaking another mother tongue at home.
Learning in real-life situations: Students learn how to cope with situations here and now, not some hypothetical situation in the distant future, not adult situations. Coping does not only mean surviving in situations but also being able to grasp them as alterable and oneself as effective.
The connection between social and factual learning: This works against alienated learning. There is no separation of initial mathematical operations from social contexts, no promotion of a kind of speech that has nothing to do with own experience and no learning that is devoid of sense. Factual learning is important but is to be integrated into the process of social learning and, whenever possible, with reference to social contexts. Students acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to understand and create real-life situations.
Students take part in creating situations in which they are involved, and in life within and outside the classroom: They cooperate in selecting and planning activities; not everything is simply arranged for them. They are encouraged to influence situations and change them. Self-initiative and responsibility are promoted.
Students experience the sense of norms in real-life situations: They do not receive lectures on norms, but are given the opportunity of making sense of them in context, and to negotiate their activity in them correspondingly.
The teachers secure a promotion of basic qualifications appropriate to the stage of development, taking into account the individual characteristics of each student and their different levels of development.
The teachers promote the diversity of the students' expressive possibilities. They encourage activity involving all the senses, diverse forms of movement alternating with quiet and thoughtfulness, free play as well as creative and artistic activity, the expression of feelings, and emotional intelligence.
Students have a right to increasingly understand the world themselves, and their social environment: They gradually become acquainted with their own culture and learn to respect the cultures of others, step by step they become more familiar with the world of the spirit, tradition, and religion.
Students live and learn in mixed age groups as much as possible: Three-year-olds often accept more from five-year-olds than from adults, and older children can develop real empathy for the needs of younger children. Outside in real life, everything is learned among people of mixed ages. On the other hand, the mixing of age groups is no dogma - there can also be situations in which peer groups want to be among themselves.
The teacher assumes a partner-like, impulse-giving role with regard to the students: She is curious and encourages curiosity, full of initiative and promotes the same in the students, and learns along with them. She plans the pedagogical events openly, with input from the students. There are no fixed planning models - a specific design of activities no longer acts as corset to the normal school day.
Learning for life situations also means learning in life situations: Hence fields of activity outside of the classroom will be integrated so that the school truly becomes a part of the social network.
The teacher remains in close dialogue with parents and families: The parents are not just onlookers, but rather personal authorities on the situations of their children. They take part in their child’s education.
Students of different nationalities grow up together: Integration does not mean giving up your own origins and culture. On the contrary, it means respect for each other is the key to international understanding and mutual cultural enrichment.