Passion for Education
Mark Wilson, WEEKENDER | Wed, 04/25/2012 3:36 PM |
Social activist Iman Usman firmly believes that education is the key to Indonesia’s future success.
It’s 2002 in a neighborhood of Padang, and a 10-year-old child has taken it upon himself to establish a free library for local underprivileged children. It’s a small project, involving only his own books and the books of his friends and neighbors, but nevertheless it makes an impact, with kids getting help with their homework and being able to access the kinds of learning materials that have eluded them at school.
That project marked the beginning of Iman Usman’s mission of empowering young Indonesians through education, thus giving them the ability to change their country for the better. Ten years later, Iman is still focused on that goal.
Today, the 20-year-old is based in Jakarta, where he studies international relations at the University of Indonesia. He is the co-founder and president of Indonesian Future Leaders (IFL), a national non-profit organization dedicated to youth empowerment. But the road to setting up the organization has been long, with Iman first cutting his activist teeth on a regional level.
When he became involved in the West Sumatra children’s forum as a teenager and began advocating for such things as free birth certificates and more after-school clubs, he knew that he wanted to devote himself to social activism.
“Soon after that I established the Indonesian Critical Children Community in West Sumatra,” Iman says. “There were a lot of high school kids who were very critical of the government but who weren’t putting forward any solutions.”
The community attempted to give high school students a creative outlet for their criticism.
“We engaged with issues in different ways, like raising awareness of HIV/AIDS through drama performances or through blogging,” he explains.
In 2009, Iman moved to Jakarta to pursue his studies and immediately saw the opportunities the capital offered.
“I soon realized that this place was the center of everything, government, media – you name it,” he says. “But me and my friends felt that there was little chance for young people to get involved in activism and share their ideas, so IFL grew out of that.”
Two years later, IFL has 150 unpaid staff in Jakarta and 500 core volunteers based in chapters in Bandung, Yogyakarta, South Sulawesi, Medan and Bali. And that’s not to mention the 25,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter and the 2000 members that donate to support IFL’s work or raise awareness of it in the media.
Mobilizing Young People
The figures are impressive, but how does IFL go about encouraging more Indonesian youths to act to bring about social change?
“It’s about mobilizing young people based on their passion,” Iman says, adding that IFL already has about 70,000 beneficiaries. “We conduct a two-day training course in schools to help students find the issue that they most care about.”
The IFL then trains the schoolchildren in project management, leadership skills, fund-raising techniques and networking – both with potential donors and in the media – all of which are designed to help them in their local community development projects.
“It’s better for young people based locally to solve their own problems,” Iman says. “Most of them know all about the problems that they are facing, but don’t really know where to begin to solve those problems. That’s where the IFL comes in.”
Education, Education, Education
Speak to many a young social activist in Jakarta, and you begin to see how most of them share certain characteristics. They are all positive individuals who have faith in others’ ability to do good. They are all outgoing, always looking to network and collaborate, while at the same time carrying little sense of their own importance.
They are all doers: From an early age, they have all been driven to act based on the problems they saw around them, while their peers hung out, played games, dated or did the things that adults expected of them. And finally, they all have an inbuilt lack of patience with the present, a sense that positive social change in this country cannot come quickly enough.
This last characteristic is certainly evident in Iman.
“We have to make young people ready to take responsibility,” he says. “If we are ready today, then we will be ready for tomorrow. We can’t rely on the government because at the moment there are a lot of problems there.”
The answer for Iman is to rely on the ideas, innovation and skills of young Indonesians.
“About 60 percent of this country’s population is made up of young people, and generally young people tend to be very advanced. They’re the ones who are up to date with the current situation. They’re the ones who know the best kinds of approaches to connect with people today.”
So Iman’s argument goes something like this: Making young people more aware of the issues and encouraging them to serve their communities will ensure that the future will bring more promise than the present. And for Iman, the way to secure that future is through education.
“Without better education, we won’t develop,” he argues, going on to detail some of the weaknesses in Indonesia’s education system. “For starters, there’s a coverage problem. There’s limited access to education for people in rural areas.”
Then there’s the quality of the curriculum.
“Should we be asking students to just memorize information? Or should we be asking them to think and apply their learning?”
Iman’s criticism also touches on teaching methods.
“We have some good teachers but many don’t really touch the hearts of the kids,” he says. “Perhaps a teacher will advise the student to go and be a doctor, an engineer, a politician. But these are stock answers, with materialistic goals that don’t really connect with most kids. We have to step back and ask ‘what do these kids really want to do?’”
And what does Iman himself want to be when he leaves university? A diplomat? A journalist?
“I’d love to teach,” he says, but as always, he’s already looking at the bigger picture. “But to teach means you can only really have an impact on one class. So I’d want to design a better curriculum and then teach the teachers, so that we can reach more kids with the right kind of teaching.”