Feature

Good education does not
need a price tag

Education for all: Two female students walk in the compound of a free school in Depok, West Java. The school provides a good education for underprivileged children. Mar Costa

Something draws the children to a bus station in Depok Baru. Entranced, the kids come in swarms of 40, 50 and even 100.

They come early in the morning, in the heat of the afternoon, and late at night after a long day of labor. Weaving through the traffic and crowds in front of the terminal, they sneak through corridors and dart through alleys toward the area behind the building.

Children aged 5, young adults nearing 18, they are being driven behind the bus station not by mischief or opportunity for teenage delinquency. There is a common desire that brings 900 children together by their own volition: They want to learn.

In Greater Jakarta, education comes with a price, with tuition being only a part of it.

In addition to paying a portion of a family’s income toward a student’s education, the family also loses what supplemental income the children may earn.

Too often, families are left with little choice: In a debate between having a child in school or food on the table, impoverished children are left without an education.

In 2001, a man named Nurrohim noticed that children in the newly expanding city of Depok could not afford to go to school and were left to work or loiter all day.

Surely he wasn’t the first to notice; surely others could see a generation of young minds with no opportunity beyond a life of labor on Depok’s streets. Unlike those before him, Nurrohim followed an instinct echoed in the American film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

MASTER school started as a small project run out of a mosque near the bus terminal. It sought to educate locals who worked in and around the station: Street vendors, public transportation drivers, children who hung around with nowhere else to go.

However, local interest became so great that there was not enough space to handle demand. The school, founded by the Bina Insan Mandiri Foundation, developed into a larger project, and took the name “Master” as a portmanteau of the words Masjid (Mosque) and Terminal. The single room gathering expanded to several open-air classrooms in the area behind the terminal.

Soon, the school received enough donations to afford to build a two-story building out of recycled containers. Included in the small building is a computer lab.

The students, who would normally never imagine owning a computer at home, are now able to become fluent in computer programs.

The generosity of the community doesn’t stop there: The school also has music and art laboratories, and a design classroom where students learn to make textiles that are sold to benefit the school. The giving comes in response to the great progress being made by the students every day.

The students become well rounded by being educated in a wide variety of subjects, including math, writing, economics, geography, history, religion, arts, and the English language.

Upon completion of the different levels of education (elementary, junior high, high school), the students receive degrees from the Kejar Packet system.

By receiving a Packet A, B, or C degree, a student gets a certificate that, while different, has equivalent status to a diploma from state school. The Packet C certificate is a prized possession. With this, the students are able to further their education at university.

A few years ago, the school sent a few students to a math competition in Jakarta. They faced stiff competition from the many state schools in the city. One student, Raka Novian, manifested the efforts of Master when he proved that poverty is not, and should never be, a barrier to education.

The 15-year-old boy won the competition. According to the Master website, Raka started his education in Jakarta, but sadly, his parents could no longer afford the school fees and he had to enroll in the free program at Master.

Now, thanks to his strong ambitions and the help provided from the school, Raka is a student at the prestigious University of Indonesia.

Raka is an example of the students that Master wishes to help: those of poverty and limiting conditions, those who otherwise would be left to work on the streets.

He heeded the call that still sounds resiliently over the loud hum of dozens of buses; the silent siren of education that begins in the school behind the terminal but stretches throughout Depok and Jakarta.

Watch the children as they come in droves, escaping the crowds and busy work life for the liberating opportunity the school presents. See the students brilliantly display that poverty is no barrier.

As long as there are giving people willing to give children a chance, there is nothing that can stop the will to learn.

Kurban is a university student from the US.

For more information on Master School, visit the website at http://pobs.vibizportal.com/masterdepok

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