As they prepare for a new chapter in the history of Gecko school, Celi Harper and Huw Roberts, the school’s founders, reflect on what made their vision of bringing community-based education to Phuket a success.
Gecko is nothing like typical school we’re all used to. If there’s one word to describe it, it’s “open”, but other words such as “welcoming” and “green” spring to mind too.
Located in Thalang, Gecko occupies a two-story villa with a massive garden, giving it an authentic, homely vibe. There are children everywhere – in and outside the building, in the treehouse, playing in the mud kitchen, reading in the outdoor sala. If there’s one thing that there is more of in Gecko than children, it’s books, books are everywhere. And so is art; all walls are decorated with art made by children over the school’s three-year run.
“When we moved in here there was nothing in the garden,” states Celi. “The kids were involved in the process of planning this space, they made it their own and because it’s the children who made it happen, they also care for it more, they have a sense of responsibility.”
This theme of letting the children decide is a recurring one. Celi and Huw believe in building their student’s confidence by allowing them to make their own choices. They set a goal, guide them but let the kids get there on their own terms. The children sitting on the floor, or outdoors, aren’t just idling away, they are learning.
“After all not everybody likes to sit at tables, some of us prefer to do our work on the floor, or on the sofa, we let children decide,” says Huw.
The kids seem to love it, but does this approach work? Celi has no doubt. “I took the kids to Japan to monitor the dolphin slaughter and they also delivered presentations at international schools in Osaka. I had teachers approach me to tell me how impressed they were with our children’s confidence. I think it’s because we teach them that they are important and they can make a difference, they have this confidence and independence,” she explains.
It’s not just the children who love Gecko, it’s also the parents. Gecko’s doors are always open to parents, they can sit in on classes, watch and join their children as they learn, there are club days when parents come in and teach their skills to the children. All this creates a sense of community that many schools strive for but few manage to achieve.
“Creating community within the school is very important to us. Everyone coming together for events, social functions, fundraisers,” says Celi, and she tears up as she brings up one particular memory.
“One especially memorable experience was a 100-kilometre bike ride we organised. I remember turning around and seeing all our kids, all our parents and even children who couldn’t ride bikes using scooters. There was this sea of people and that’s when I thought this is what a community is all about.”
The community aspect of Gecko doesn’t just work inwards but radiates outwards. The school teaches the children and their parents how to be a part of the place that they live in and contribute positively.
“It’s about giving back to the people around us, working to help the local community,” explains Huw citing a few examples of Gecko’s activities and achievements: beach cleanups, the funding of a library in Phuket Town with a local charity, sponsorship of a recycling bin at Nai Yang beach, to name just a few.
Now, three years into the school’s history, and with the concept well established, it’s time for some fresh blood and ideas.
As Huw and Celi set out for a journey through which they intend to take the Gecko style of education beyond the borders of Phuket and Thailand with “Gecko on the Move”, they join forces with a couple of like-minded teachers on the island, to keep Gecko's vision alive. The two new teachers bring more than fresh blood. Not only do they bring new ideas, but also vast experience in early-years education, shifting the focus to younger age groups.
“We’ve sold half of the shares to two teachers who share our values and passion and will guarantee that Gecko stays on its course,” says Huw.
“This was very important to us, I think we’d feel very uncomfortable to sell the school to just anyone. We wouldn’t like to see it turn into yet another rigid, traditional educational facility or worse, a cash cow for some investor. Luckily that didn’t happen and with the new passionate owners and us staying on as partners, we are confident that Gecko will remain what it is and is meant to be – a school that children and parents love.”
For more information visit the school website: geckoschool.org