The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, October 20, 2006


GIVING KIDS A HEAD START © Duncan Graham 2006

Imagine you’re a professional woman married to a mid-level government officer. His job includes ensuring you join an hierarchal organisation of public servants’ wives.

Your position in the group known as PKK (Family Welfare Movement) is not determined by election or ability, but by your husband’s rank. So the leader is not necessarily the most competent, energetic or well educated, but the wife of the most senior bureaucrat.

There’s no similar organisation for men who are married to public servants.

To an outsider with Western ideas of women being independent and equal this relic of New Order social engineering seems archaic, certainly unbalanced. But that doesn’t seem to faze Maya Indrayana whose husband Kantika works for the Surabaya City Council.

Maya is employed in the private sector. She’s a lecturer in design at Petra Christian University and also runs her own business. Her superior in the PKK is Dyah Katarina whose husband Bambang Dwi Hartono has a better job than Kantika. He’s the mayor of Surabaya.

Both women are enthusiastically involved in a PKK program to give poor kids a head start in life through early childhood education.

Maybe Maya’s lack of resentment is because the PKK is so well established in the Indonesian social structure. Despite its assumptions about gender and lack of democracy, it seems to be well regarded and doing good work where it’s most needed.

The PKK started in the 1960s in Central Java with a program, of alleviating village poverty. It expanded into other provinces in the following two decades and has been involved in community health, family planning and education. Nationally the titular head is the President’s wife, Kristiani Herrawati.

In the PKK in Surabaya Maya answers to a smart woman who warrants respect, and probably deserves the top position in her own right.

Dyah is no mayor’s handbag. She went to Airlangga, East Java’s most prestigious public university and graduated in psychology. Her first job was with a labour agency assessing the suitability of applicants for overseas jobs as maids by testing personality, aptitude, intelligence and skills.

She said this gave her insights into the backgrounds, hopes and concerns of poor people who leave their homes –often in desperation - and for the first time in their lives head overseas

The two women also share a love of education and kids. So Maya’s imposed role of administrative oversight of a kampung pre-school for the poor seems to be a welcome addition to her other responsibilities.

The PKK in Surabaya wants a free pre-school in every sub-district of the East Java capital. There are almost 1,300 so with only 200 pre-schools in place there’s still some way to go.

Maya’s responsibility is the Bougainvillea Pre-School in a kampung where most breadwinners pedal pedicabs, run food carts or collect scrap metal for a living. Her husband Kantika reckoned that the monthly family income would be well below Rp 500,000 (US $54) a month. There’s not much money, but there are plenty of kids.

For these families a voluntary monthly fee of Rp 5,000 (US $0.50 cents) to have their child get into the learning routine seems to be acceptable, with an enrolment of around 100.

“People here understand the benefits of education,” said Maya. “The problem is finding the money. If they haven’t got it, they can still be enrolled, so in effect the pre-school is free.

“Our vision is to care for the poor. The golden years (of early childhood) are so important in forming attitudes to learning in later life.”

What happens if the parents are sceptical, maybe arguing that school is a waste of precious time? Who could blame them for thinking the future is hopeless, and that their kids will never get work as adults in a nation that already has an estimated 40 million unemployed.

“We say that without education they have no chance in life,” said Dyah. “We tell parents that clever people can become self-sufficient and find ways to work – but they must first have the schooling.

“Indonesia is overcrowded – there are just too many people. However we also have many natural resources and future opportunities. The government doesn’t have the money, so we have to do this ourselves. This is our initiative.”

The pre-school’s name sounds charming, but if there is any scent from the lovely blooms then it’s swamped by the odour of drains. The little kids play in a cramped area so small that the pre-school has to run three shifts a day.

They do have little chairs and tables, bright posters and a few educational toys. Parents (meaning Mums) drop in to watch and lend a hand. It’s far from being an ideal environment, but it’s where they live and clearly popular.

The seven teachers are volunteers who have been trained through a program run by the University of Surabaya.

Dyah said the provincial government now had a budget line for early childhood education. A bid was being made for a Rp 28 million (US $3,000) grant to start new centres and upgrade others. She said there was no help from international aid agencies.

Maya said the PKK pre-school program worked in Surabaya because so many people were prepared to give their services free. “It’s not like this in Jakarta,” she said.

“Here we’re enthusiastic. We want to be involved and provide our time as volunteers. We plan another 14 pre-schools in the next year, all in poor areas.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 October 06)


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