Monday, 14 April 2014

Remote schools: Inspiring Papua’s children to go the extra mile for education

By Sarah Grainger
Lima, 7, makes a calculation at school in rural Wamena district, Papua.
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown
Maima Village, Papua province, Indonesia, April 2014 - There’s a chill in the air and the sun is barely up when 8-year-old Tolaka and her sister Lima, 7, leave home for school at 6am. It takes them an hour to walk to class from the thatched hut they share with their mother, close to the banks of the River Baliem, in Papua’s Kurima sub district.

The route takes them over flooded grassland and along woodland tracks sticky with mud to SD Advent Maima primary school.

“I’m used to walking so I don’t get tired at all,” says Tolaka. “I’m happy to come to school. I have a lot of friends here and we like playing and skipping together.”

Tolaka’s mother, Dimika Satai, knows how important it is that her two daughters get a good education. She attended the same school as a child but was forced to leave when her parents told her it was time for her to marry. Now her husband has left and she grows vegetables like corn, potatoes and cabbage for the family to eat, selling the surplus in the market.

“If the girls go to school, they’ll be able to do anything they want in the future. I’d like them both to work in an office. It’s not good for them to work like me as a farmer. I don’t want them to regret not getting an education, like I do,” she says.

Nevertheless, sometimes it can be hard to motivate the children for the long walk to school. The 121 children at SD Advent Maima School live in the highland Baliem valley, accessible from provincial capital Jayapura only by plane or a 21 day walk.

Development has been slow to reach this part of Papua province with many families still living in traditional thatched houses known as honais, cooking on open fires and farming pigs, fish and vegetables. Some of the pupils have to walk for as much as two hours to reach the school.

Tolaka and Lima walk to school for an hour through grasslands and forests.
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown
Inspiring learning

UNICEF Indonesia is working with District Education offices in Papua and West Papua to ensure children in the provinces get a good quality primary education. The aim is to create safe, healthy and inspiring environments for the children to learn in.

UNICEF has supported the strengthening of the school system by training teachers in early and multi grade learning and teaching, and in participatory education, using the ‘child friendly schools’ approach. The concept aims to provide a safe and well-equipped learning environment for girls and boys, children with disabilities or from ethnic minorities and builds partnerships between schools and the community.

Further to this, UNICEF supports the training of head teachers in school management and leadership.

“The illiteracy rate in Papua and West Papua remains high,” says UNICEF Education Specialist Sri Rezki Widuri, “around 30 per cent overall and up to 90 per cent in highland districts. Even some teachers don’t have good literacy and numeracy skills.”

At SD Advent Maima, UNICEF training has encouraged the teachers to introduce a number of changes. Now, every teacher formally greets every child at morning assembly, shaking hands and saying hello. The children are taught to wash their hands and faces and comb their hair at the start of the day.

In the lower grades, the teachers use singing and games as teaching methods. This is more fun and participatory for young children. The older children line up outside their classrooms each morning and the teacher quizzes them about the previous day’s lessons before they are allowed into the classroom. Their classes are also more interactive.

“The new approach has encouraged the children to come to school,” says head teacher Anie Joyce Nirupu. “There has been a real improvement in attendance. When they have to work with a new teacher who is not yet used to these methods, the children don’t have the same relationship with them.”

Tolaka and Lima with their mother outside the clan home.
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown
Tolaka used to skip school a lot but her teacher spoke to her mother about the importance of regular attendance and she now comes to class most days.  “I like singing and drawing most, and I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” she says.

With funding from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, UNICEF is partnering with the Indonesian Government to implement the child friendly schools programme in Papua and West Papua.  This has already brought positive changes in the learning experience of children in urban and semi-urban schools. The partnership has now been extended to schools in rural and remote areas.

Thanks to this programme, children like Tolaka and Lima are already receiving greater opportunities for education than their parents. But Papua is not the only province where illiteracy rates are high, and there are many more children throughout Indonesia who need help, particularly in remote areas.