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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Diennaryati Tjokrosuprihatono: GOLDEN YEARS, GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES

Mum on a mission                                                         
If passion can drive policy – then here’s a parent alert:  the whirlwind Diennaryati Tjokrosuprihatono is on her way with plans for your little ones. 

All benign and constructive, but certainly set to make a difference in the way Indonesia raises the next generation.  She’s out to get people to stop and listen – and that includes the government – but that shouldn’t be too hard for Action Woman. 

Dien, as she is known, wants everyone to grasp the importance of early childhood education, the precious, fleeting first five years when so much of our language and identity is formed.

“We need to change some mindsets,” the academic and government adviser said.  “Everything is structured. Traditionally we’ve thought that a good child is one that’s quiet and doesn’t ask questions.

“It should be the other way around. Run-around children aren’t being naughty – they’re exploring. Some parents get shocked when their children come home from kindergarten saying they’ve been singing and dancing.

“The adults ask: ‘What?  Am I paying for this? My kids should be learning how to read and write.’ That can come later.  Children learn when they’re having fun.  Enough that they know numbers and the alphabet, maybe write their name.”

If all the junked models of education theory could be converted into play equipment there’d be enough sandpits and climbing cubes to keep kiddies content forever.

At one end of the playground are the authoritarians, arms folded, wagging fingers  – at the other the laid-back lovers of free choice.  In between is sometimes a philosophy warzone.

Dien, a child psychologist and lecturer at Universitas Indonesia (UI) adroitly picks her way through the chaos with such aplomb she’s been seconded to the Education Department as a policy adviser.

Television viewers in Indonesia would have seen her earnestly advocating the advantages of early childhood education, how it helps youngsters learn the basic life skills – in particular getting on with others.

It’s a medium she wants to see better used to educate children constructively and plans to lobby stations to telecast quality, not trash.

The research is clear:  Children who have been to pre-school or kindergarten do better when they enter school even if they can’t read and write.

Mastering these skills used to be a pre-condition to school entry.  The policy has now changed – though Dien admits the word has yet to reach every hamlet in the Archipelago – or even every kampong in Jakarta.

“Children need to discover how to learn for themselves,” she said.  “We don’t always need to be told what to do.  Giving children more freedom doesn’t mean a lack of moral values.

“These can be learned without scaring the child into obeying.  Better to ask the child:  ‘How do you think he feels?’ when considering the results of their actions on others.”

Dien’s prescriptions don’t just come from her formal training that includes a master’s degree.  She is also a grandmother of five and a mother of four. (“I never indulged them”) so has the real life qualifications that give her credibility.

Her first three children were born within a year of each other so she stayed at home to nurse and rear.  Though her husband shared duties he works in the oil industry and is often overseas. 

After six housebound years and the kids at school Dien found the routine boring, so returned to UI.

Then, eight years after her last birth she became pregnant again. This time she decided to keep working, taking her little girl to assignments despite the tut-tutting of friends and relatives.  Clearly no harm was done – her daughter is now studying psychology in Australia and plans a career as a marriage counsellor.

Dien became a psychologist when the discipline was still in its infancy. She was driven by her curiosity about the world and people’s behavior – though a stimulating childhood must have been a push factor.

 Her father was a diplomat and she toyed with the idea of following his example – though at the time few women held senior positions in foreign affairs.

She was born in Paris in 1954 moved to Jeddah and then spent her formative “golden years” in Baghdad before school in Bogor.  In Iraq she went to a British Council kindergarten, a multi-cultural environment where she learned English, which she now delivers with high velocity.

For the past week (w /end  16 June) she’s been looking at early childhood education in New Zealand, a country where the government subsidizes child care.  One surprise was discovering that parents are not shooed away once they’ve dropped their kids at the kindy gate, but encouraged to join in the activities.

Another idea she’ll be carrying back to Jakarta will be to look afresh at the curriculum and ensuring carers get qualifications.

“In our culture parents have tended to rely on relatives and babysitters, often young girls with limited education,” she said.  “It would be better if they were qualified and of course parents also want this.

“So many changes are taking place.  We’re in a transition period. More women are working.  Men are beginning to share in their children’s upbringing and happy to push prams in malls.

“Quality children’s books are competing with comics though  bed-time reading is still seen as mum’s work.

“Parents should not feel guilty if they have to work, but they need to be involved with their children,” she said.    “At UI I introduced child care facilities on the campus where staff can leave their children.

“Because it takes so long to cross Jakarta from home to workplace many have become enemies of the sun, leaving their children before dawn and only seeing them again at night.

“If employers supply child care parents and children can spend travelling time together.  Think of the benefits.

“My goal is to help our children gain their full potential, to have good health and integrity, to be surrounded by love and love their surroundings, and to be able to make a contribution.”

(First puiblished in The Jakarta Post 20 June 2012)


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