Tuesday, 29 August 2017

In West Java, learning to play, playing to learn

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Alifah plays outside her preschool with her mother © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Bogor: "When we color, we have to go slow because Alifah loves it so much she doesn’t want to stop,” says Neng Selphia, 29, a teacher at Aisyayah Baiturrahman Preschool and Kindergarten in the West Java district of Leuwiliang.

Shy by nature, Alifah lights up when it’s time to draw. Of all the colors, she says red is her favorite.

It is 10 am and the sun is already high in the sky, the humid air seemingly on boil. Alifah sits with six 4-year-olds sit on the floor eating an early lunch of bubur ayam (rice porridge), her doting mother an arm’s length away.

In a booming alto, Neng tries to keep the children from crawling over the desks: “What is a word that begins with ‘A’?” she queries. “Ayah, (father)!” one child shouts, the only to respond.

For the most part, however, Neng is keeping children focused on how to glue paper to paper -- and from wandering outside.

“We need more training on how to approach every kind of child, those that get angry, those that cry, etc.” Neng says. Cluttered shelves full of half-colored paper and two sets of faded color wood blocks sit behind her, badly needing upgrading.

Only a few of Bogor’s preschools – which have some of the lowest preschool attendance rates in Java – have teachers with undergraduate degrees. And fewer still have teachers with training on how to teach preschool.

“We need more evaluations [of our performance as teachers], too,” Neng adds.

Early education pilot

As part of a new 3-year, UNICEF-led ECD initiative funded by IKEA, Neng and hundreds of other teachers in Bogor will receive training on dynamic, age-appropriate teaching methods. Schools will also receive funds to improve teaching tools, upgrade classrooms and make them safer for children like Alifa.

At Aisyayah Baiturrahman, the money will likely go to replace an asbestos roof and upgrade flimsy plywood walls. “The walls can fall down if children push on them, and that makes me afraid they might get hurt,” Neng says.

The programme will support 100 ECD centres in the district improve all aspects of their instruction, “helping teachers and parents nurture the social. emotional and cognitive foundations necessary for children to develop to their potential,” says Meliana Istanto, UNICEF Indonesia Education Officer.

The idea is to instill an appreciation for ‘playing as learning’ among teachers and parents alike, and to save literacy skills for Kindergarten, when the brain is more developed and such instruction becomes empowering. Studies show such an approach to preschool is one of the best ways to give every child an equal chance to succeed in life.

Getting parents on board can be a challenge, however. They get confused, says Misem Hidaya (who manages 10 of the area preschools and holds a bachelor’s degree in preschool education), if preschool teachers don’t make reading and writing skills a priority.

“They can consider it a waste of money,” Misem says, alluding to the $4 USD monthly fees that supplement the government's small operational funds to keep preschools up and running. “It is important for us [teachers] to explain to them [parents] that this [preschool] is not primary school – it is an education that is appropriate to their ages,” she adds.

Such age-appropriate learning means structured playtime that emphasizes the development of motor skills and social awareness.

In Alifa’s case, her mother, Reni, says she can tell drawing and coloring among her peers helps her build independence.

“I hope preschool will help her become smarter, to become more confident in herself,” she adds.

It is a hope shared by hundreds of other families who stand to benefit from the new preschool programme in the district.

“I hope Alifah will be more ambitious than me. She’s already getting braver.”