Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Including Raisyam

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Raisyham with his mother © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Bogor: From the safety of his mother’s arms, Rayisham, 5, squints at his classmates laughing and dancing in the early morning sun.

“He wants so bad to get better,” says Dian, 24, Rayisham’s mother.

She stands near the crowd of 40 or so four and five year old children at Hidyatul Hasanah Preschool near Bogor, West Java – a satellite city of 1 million south of Jakarta.  “He’s always saying ‘Mom, I want to play again, I want to run again. I tell him to be patient, that God willing, he’ll be able to walk one day.”

Early last March, Rayisham was hit by a motorcycle on the way home from the market. His right leg needed surgery, and the nearest hospital was three hours away. By the time he arrived, it was too late to save his leg, and doctors were forced to amputate.

“After the accident, we wanted to delay sending him to preschool because we were worried he’d be ostracized [by his peers],” Dian says standing outside the two-room preschool amid rice paddies. But after a cousin started talking to Rayisham about school, “he really wanted to go, and so we decided to come,” she adds.

Reaching all children

A month since that decision, Dian says she’s noticed big changes in Rayisham’s attitude. 

“His [emotional] development is improving. He is no longer so cepat marah (getting angry quickly), and school has given him something to look forward to,” she says. 

Starting this month, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and local implementing partners will begin an early education programme to equip preschool teachers in the district with the tools and training they need to reach all children and help them reach their potential.

“All children, no matter what their ability, deserve access to the benefits of high-quality early childhood development that brings together cognitive and emotional development,” says UNICEF Education Officer Meliana Istanto. 
The programme will target 100 early education centres with block grants totalling Rp100,000,000 (around $7,500 USD) over a period of three years.
“No child should be left out.”

According to Siti Nuraeni, a teacher at the school, the best strategy for reaching every child is to never apply a one-size-fits-all logic. She pays close attention to how mothers speak to children, and strives to mimic those approaches. That is easy to do as mothers are never far away at Hidyatul Hasanah, swapping stories and eating snacks while their children learn and play.

The proximity is a double-edged sword; though it helps children focus, teachers say it emboldens mothers to request reading and writing instruction, which are skills best left for older, more developed brains.

“The most important thing about preschool is finding out how to stoke children’s curiosity,” says Sukendar, the Government’s area preschool supervisor – not literacy, in other words. “Every year there’s a new crop of parents to reach [and educate], and that becomes a challenge.” 

In addition to funding parent outreach, the UNICEF funding will help schools renovate their campuses to make them more child-friendly and hygienic.

At Hidyatul Hasanah, for example, water is currently sourced from an above-ground well. The well is exposed and the water is muddy and contaminated. With the purchase of pipes and a pump, the water could be kept underground. More playground equipment could also be bought to replace the broken, rusty swingset.

In the end, some 7,500 children in greater Bogor District will benefit from improvements to their curriculums, schools, teachers and grounds, giving every student, including Rayisham, a better chance to dream big. His tale captures the transformative power that early childhood education can wield.

“Somehow, it was him who motivated me to come here,” Dian says, picking Rayisham up from his chair and placing him on her motorbike for the drive home. “It was him who motivated me.”

Rayisham grins when asked what he wants to do when he grows up. “I want to be a doctor,” he says.

“So I can fix people.”