Award-Winning Thai School: Green, Buddhist, and Private
“Life is deeper and richer than working in order to consume.”
So proclaims the promotional material for Panyaden, a new private elementary school in northern Thailand that combines Buddhist teachings and ecological knowledge in a half-Thai half-English education. Highlighted recently on The Buddhist Channel, Panyaden is a fascinating effort to create holistic, Buddhist schooling that includes teaching children how to care for the earth.
The more I learn about Panyaden, the more intrigued I become about its social and political meaning.
Green is a hands-on thing here, and often focused on what’s local. The school plants and grows vegetables on campus, without the use of pesticides. They use natural insect repellants like wood vinegar, and produce biogas and bio-fertilizer. Traditional knowledge plays a significant role: students learn about local botany and agricultural methods, regional food traditions, and small-scale textile making.
And yet, the school seems to be highly international, as well. The gorgeous adobe-bamboo-recycled-glass campus (with a layout modeled after a tropical antler horn fern) was designed by a Dutch firm, 24H Architecture, and has won global eco-awards for sustainability and environmental friendliness. Panyaden’s head Spiritual Advisor, Ajahn Jayasaro, is not Thai, but British-born. And one of the school’s core principles is to remain “academically competitive,” with a bilingual (Thai-English) curriculum combining the national Thai curriculum with the International Primary Curriculum.
Perhaps it’s this word “competitive” that points to a certain paradox about ethical schooling. Life is indeed deeper and richer than getting a job, and yet Panyaden’s “375 students, including 10- 20 percent of local Thai kids funded by scholarships,” still face pressure to exist in a capitalist, market-based, competitive society. I’d love to know more about how the founders, teachers, parents, and students of the school live this paradox, together.
What do you think, BPFers? Should we ask our friends in Thailand for an interview for Turning Wheel?