By Peter Biro
Teunom, Aceh, Indonesia 23 Apr 2007 - Wardiati has been teaching primary school children in Indonesia's Aceh province for the past 20 years. As she gathers the class in the fishing town of Teunom this morning it is to try something completely new. From her bag she unpacks small fishing rods with magnets attached to them, along with small painted balls pinned to a piece of Styrofoam, symbolizing the solar system.
"We have just made this material ourselves, so it's not perfect" she says, smiling.
Wardiati, who like many Acehnese uses only one name, has just completed an International Rescue Committee-organized training course with her colleagues to make teaching more lively and the children are curiously eyeing the new props.
"We are helping the local Indonesian Ministry of Education instruct the teachers to use a new, modernized curriculum which was introduced last year," explains Martino Budiawan, the IRC's education and youth development officer in Teunom. "The level of education among teachers has been too low and the drop-out rates among students high. The goal is to move away from just lecturing, which has always been the standard in Indonesia, to a more modern, interactive and fun way to teach children. It's more fun for the teachers too."
In 1999, Indonesia shifted responsibility for management and delivery of public services, including education, from the central government in Jakarta to local governments. Even before the 2004 tsunami, most local authorities, struggling with bad economies and fragile political structures, were ill-equipped to train teachers. Teunom was one of the hardest hit towns in the tsunami and it has taken over two years to rebuild houses and basic infrastructure. The death toll here was extremely high and many teachers and students perished in the disaster.
"The educational system was in complete chaos and the IRC has helped gather the staff from the surrounding schools to help them organize themselves and start teaching the children again," Martino says.
The IRC initially started working with local teacher training institutes and eventually helped the school clusters, called Gugus, gather again after the chaos following the tsunami, which claimed the lives of an estimated 5,500 teachers in Aceh. Since then, IRC education staff here have helped the Gugus obtain new materials and organized Ministry of Education-authorized trainers to instruct teachers in the new national curriculum and teaching methods. So far, nearly 900 teachers like Wardiati have taken part in IRC-sponsored trainings across Aceh.
"It's easier to teach now," Wardiati says, as a row of children gather in front of the classroom to catch a Styrofoam fish with a bamboo fishing rod.
"Look," Wardiati laughs. "Both fish and rod are equipped with a small magnet and the children can try their luck. After this we will explain how a magnet works."
"The children are much more active now," she adds. "I didn't know that we could do so much with such cheap material. We can easily find all the material we need in the village. And once you learn to make these things, it is easier to invent new teaching aids."
New activities like dancing, singing and telling stories have also been introduced into the school day.
"A lot of these children lost parents, sibling and friends," Martino says. "This also helps the children to open up and talk about their experience during the tsunami."