HELPING EAST JAVA SCHOOLS GO IT ALONE © Duncan Graham 2006
Barry Clark knew the project was a goer when he saw the classroom decorated with posters, mobiles and colored drawings.
“It was a cheerful place, much like a school in Australia and nothing like the drab places of the past,” he said. “Clearly the messages about making learning fun in a stimulating environment were being accepted.”
The veteran aid administrator has seen a lot of projects over his 12 years in Indonesia. Not all have been so hopeful – though not for want of goodwill.
Demands change, time gets devoured by talk and reality swamps flow charts. Hopes surface only to get drowned by torrents of paper. Fickle fate doesn’t spare aid projects, however much goodwill and cash has been invested.
“However this project has the best chance of any I’ve seen of continuing,” Clark said in his Malang office.
“The Indonesia-Australia Partnership in Basic Education (IAPBE) has been well designed and it’s extremely effective. So far it’s had a positive and potentially lasting impact for about 55,000 kids in East Java.”
Clark has just taken over IAPBE after the previous team leader Geoff Sanderson returned to Australia for family reasons.
The AUD $9.1 million (Rp 64,000 million) project started in 2004 and has only a year left. However it has built up such a momentum that Clark believes it may well survive.
Not all projects keep going after the major donor stops filling the fuel tank. A program may have merit but the decision makers can have other priorities. The best hope for continuity comes when ordinary people see the merit and demand maintenance
Indonesia is still a nation in transition. The new policy is decentralisation – and that includes education. After more than 30 years of authoritarian rule power is being stripped from Jakarta and passed to the provinces.
It all seems highly commendable, but there’s one big problem. Few administrators in the regions have decision-making skills. In the past they’d run to Jakarta for direction; now they have to run the show themselves.
The economic crisis of 1997 compounded the situation. Hundreds of thousands of families pulled their kids out of school to save costs. A generation was in danger of being lost to ignorance. They need to be coaxed back to their desks.
Principals and teachers faced further difficulties when a new Education Act was passed in 2003 promoting the Competency Based Curriculum and emphasising school development. This included getting the community involved in decision-making – a novel experience for many parents.
All very democratic. But how are local governments supposed to handle these bigger responsibilities?
At the time the Australian government’s overseas aid program AusAID had no projects covering the first nine years of schooling. The post-Suharto aid policy was now concentrating on helping Indonesians get access to basic social services. There were clear needs at all levels.
In association with the Indonesian government, the Offices of Education and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the IAPBE project opened in the East Java districts of Jember, Jombang and Gresik in April 2004.
“This project doesn’t interfere with the curriculum or the regulations which are set by the Indonesian government,” said Clark. “Nor is it putting money into schools. We’re not equipment providers.
“We’re offering the expertise so administrators and teachers can do their job better. This happens at local government and in the participating schools”
Apart from Clark two other Australians are employed. All other staff are local and include 25 consultants mainly from universities and 125 full-time trainers. By July there’ll be 450 more district trainers on the payroll.
The 180 participating State schools and Islamic day schools were selected by local governments. Workshops cover issues as diverse as planning a budget and spending the money wisely, through to lesson planning and classroom techniques. In raw terms this means tips on keeping kids keen.
Teachers and administrators, including principals who attend the workshops then have to act as trainers themselves back in their districts.
New rules for running schools and student attendance have been decided. In one town these have been published in the local paper. True transparency reminding readers that education is everyone’s concern, not just a matter for Mums and Dads.
IAPBE also cooperates with the US Aid Managing Basic Education Project and another AusAID program called Creating Learning Communities for Children. This operates in nine provinces, including East Java. The aim is to create “active, joyful and effective learning.”
“It sounds complex and I’m still trying to get my mind around it all,” said Clark. “Amongst the logistics of organisation and administration of a big program like this it’s important that we never get caught up in the jargon and lose sight of the real reason for being here.
“We’re here to help Indonesia provide the next generation with a better education.
“Although IAPBE has already affected 55,000 students there’s a lot more to be done. People want to get their schools involved. Helping create model schools was one of our early goals, and it’s working. Successes can be duplicated.
“Parents, teachers and local governments are seeing results. Their pressure should help sustain this development even when the overseas money runs out.”
(Information on the project in Indonesian and English can be found on www.iapbe.org )
(First published in The Jakarta Post Friday 7 April 2006)