Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Pushing for better early education in North Lombok

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer
Children climb at the PAUD Banu Manaf playground in Terujuk Village, North Lombok

North Lombok: Few preschools or kindergartens (PAUD) in Indonesia boast a slide, a swing and a basketball hoop. Fewer still keep them inside. 

"We had to move all that indoors to keep it safe from adults," said Ibu Lastri, principal at Terpadu PAUD in northwest Lombok, a Muslim-majority island just east of Bali.

A library of children’s books abuts
a slide in a classroom at PAUD Terpadu
"I guess they didn't have access to these things when they were kids!" she laughed.

And yet, neither do many of Indonesia’s youngest citizens. Though 98 percent of Indonesia's 85 million children start primary school at the age of 6 or 7, just 70 percent of those between 3 and 6 access early childhood development (ECD) services of any kind.

"That means there's 10 million children who do not receive the brain stimulation ECDs can provide -- stimulation that is proven to pay dividends, both for individual children and societies at large," said Widodo Suhartoyo, UNICEF Indonesia's ECD Specialist.

Ibu Lastri is a shining example of someone who refuses to compromise, despite the difficulties of providing high-quality care in a district short on funds. Her PAUD, which sits just below an outer shoulder of the towering Mt. Rinjani, has three sturdy rooms, toys galore, and an inspired curriculum that favors play and interaction to reading and memorization.

“This kind of holistic [ECD] is the way to go,” said the 53-year-old, who has been teaching since her early 20’s. “In many places, however, we’re still asked to be patient [about ECD] -- mostly due to the lack of funds.”

Ibu Lastri stands outside her school with a flower pot 
made from a recycled water bottle
Holistic, Integrated Early Childhood Development

Like Ibu Lastri, UNICEF considers holistic, integrated early childhood development (HI-ECD) the best way to nurture young brains. 

"The ideal HI-ECD brings education, health check-ups, nutrition and child protection together in a one-stop-shop for children at their crucial stage of development," said UNICEF’s Widodo.
"The teacher should prioritize healthy social interactions, psycho-stimulation and applied concepts, and to engage all stakeholders, especially parents, whose contribution to a child's brain development is far greater than the two hours a day he or she may get at an ECD centre,” he added.  

In 2015 and 2016, UNICEF helped 10 PAUDS in North Lombok adopt HI-ECD instruction, awarding block grants, trainings, and doing advocacy on their behalf.

PAUD Banu Manaf, an hour's south of Terpadu, was one of the first ECD centres to receive UNICEF assistance. The school sits high up a steep road near the coast, on the site of a former warung (small restaurant). A tumbling, boulder-flecked river roars beneath the school's back window, providing a natural soundtrack to the learning. 

Students at PAUD Banu Manaf enjoy a sing-a-long with their
"Until we built this ECD, mothers had to take their children two kilometers away to a PAUD in another village," said headmaster Pak Lukman. "Now they can just drop them off here.” 

Except that most mothers prefer to wait on the front steps, chatting, snacking and enjoying the sun. 

The intimacy helps reinforce the community ethos of HI-ECD, and also makes it easy to keep parents informed, said Ibu Saadah a teacher at the school. 

"Unfortunately, some parents still want us to teach these children how to write and read, so I have to remind them that at this age, they're supposed to play! I tell them it actually gives children more self-confidence and makes them more school-ready," she added.

Children use homemade play dough
at ECD centres in North Lombok

Ibu Saadah first learned about HI-ECD during UNICEF-led trainings held last year in Bandung. "I learned how to build lessons around things like the sun, or water," she said, "to be more organized, and the importance of being patient...so that we try not to teach everything at once [like we used to].”

Her kids love to play with playdough made from garden soil and flour – a recipe she picked up in the training -- and to build with wooden blocks bought with UNICEF aid. 
"But the thing they love most is writing on the white board," she laughed. "I don't know why." 

'It's all our responsibility' 

As Indonesian PAUD are classified as 'non-formal education', they are generally private institutions. But the reality is they still rely on public funding – on national subsidies, district-level outlays and, increasingly, village funds -- all of which can be insecure.

“Only good data”, says Pak Tirep, who heads the PAUD division at the North Lombok District Education Office, “ensures access” to these funds. Helping PAUD principals compile that data was a perennial struggle, he said.

Ibu Saadah (right) with two other teachers
at PAUD Banu Manaf
But getting parents interested in the HI-ECD model is another critical piece, said Sudiartono, who oversees PAUD curriculum in the district.

"Parents often want PAUD to be like SD (primary school). That's not correct,”’ he said. “They need to better understand what the benefits [of HI-ECD PAUD] are for their children.” He said he hoped the UNICEF-supported centre could act as models for replication.
With some 7,000 children under 6 in the district, it is all our responsibility to take care of our children’s future," concurred Ibu Saadah, the teacher at PAUD Banu Manaf.
With darkening skies beginning to grumble, she decided to dismiss class 10 minutes early, "to make sure they don't have to use slippery roads," she said. 
“With this HI-ECD, our kids have more opportunities than we did,” she added. “Now they have chance to become whatever they want to be.”