Shiny happy people: Elementary school students laugh after performing a song in a public school in West Kalimantan last month. The school, with the help of an NGO, teaches students using a method that helps increase their self-confidence. JP/Dina Indrasafitri
In Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Warriors), the blockbuster movie adapted from a novel by Andrea Hirata, a humbly dressed and mild-mannered teacher with an iron will fought to keep a school in the remote island of Bangka running despite financial and cultural obstacles.
Andrianus Batara, a 20-something man from West Kalimantan, is a far cry from the movie’s teacher in terms of appearance.
“Is everybody ready to sing with me?” he cheerfully asks the 50 primary school-aged children standing in front of him that day in the remote village of Habang in Sagatani subdistrict — 18 kilometers from Singkawang, West Kalimantan. He was met with a hearty chorus of “yes!”
The song was more or less the Indonesian version of “heads, shoulders, knees and toes,” but instead of going with the usual order, Batara would add new items, such as “mouth”, “ears” and mix up the order of the words. The children tried to follow gleefully and the game ended in laughter and confusion.
Despite having a funkier appearance than that of the teacher in the movie, Batara has been contributing to the education of local children “I think children need guidance in their formal learning. I myself never had such a chance,” Barata said.
On the day, Barat was a guest in the Posyandu Plus informal education center as he is actually posted in neighboring Sijangkung subdistrict, where he and eight other tutors regularly teach around 100 children.
A posyandu is an integrated health center. The “plus” in Habang comes from the afternoon play-and-learn sessions held in the 240-square-meter space equipped with a roof and half-open walls in front of two small rooms dedicated to health check-ups and administrative tasks.
In this rudimentary setup, some of the village children spend their afternoons learning songs, dance and educational games since two years ago.
Daniel, the regular tutor at these sessions, said that it had been difficult to maintain the attendance rates. “At first, [the children] were enthusiastic, and there were about 50 of them, but now there are only around 20 who actively attend the sessions,” he said.
As with Batara, Daniel, who has been teaching Sunday school since 2004, is fond of children and tries to keep the sessions running despite the lack of facilities, such as books Delia, the founder of the village’s Posyandu Plus said the children were “better off attending [the sessions] rather than just playing around”.
She added the school was trying to keep children away from an imminent threat: the temptation of mining for gold in nearby illegal mines. The children, Delia said, would scavenge for bits of gold left over by miners.
“As soon as they are in the fourth and fifth grades, they begin [to look for gold],” Delia said, adding that many of them dropped out of school because of the perceived easy money.
In a speech earlier this year, National Education Minister Muhammad Nuh said that last year, around 1.7 percent of primary school students in the country did not finish their education, while 10 percent of those who graduated did not continue on to junior high.
The government is targeting to lower the number of children who do not finish primary school to 1.5 percent this year and to 0.7 percent by 2014, as well as decrease the number of those not continuing to junior high to 3 percent.
Batara said that in his neighborhood of about 57 families, only one children was in junior high, while only about five were in high school.
“The number [of children continuing to secondary education] has been declining because they are often tempted by the possibility of buying new things that they can’t ask from their parents, so they choose to get jobs,” he said.
Batara added that such materialism lured them into working in the informal sector, such as working in stores. He and other tutors tried to help children with their formal schoolwork and encouraged them to stay in school. “We try to convince them that school is not scary or difficult.”
To the east from Batara and Delia, in the village of Mekar Jaya, Zarina and Setuwanto, a couple, are engaged in their own struggle to support formal education. They started a pre-school around three years ago to help children in the area prepare for primary education. The children also learn how to dance, sing and increase their self-esteem.
Setuwanto said most of the children there did not spend much time during the day with their parents, who are busy working in rubber plantations.
While Batara, Daniel and those in the Mekar Jaya early education center are basically doing the job for free, teachers in public schools might benefit from regular salaries, but whether those salaries are commensurate is another issue.
Agustinus, a teacher in a public primary school in the village of Sake — a one and a half hour drive from Mekar Jaya — said that back in 1999, he worked for Rp 7,000 a month as a substitute teacher. It was only in 2006 that he took the test to become a civil servant, which doubled his paycheck of about Rp 400,000.