Andrea Osborne-Smith, program manager for EDC’s education initiative in Indonesia recently returned from Aceh, the remote region ravaged in the tsunami of 2004. Andrea was there to train kindergarten teachers to use EDC’s interactive audio programs. The lessons, developed with local educators, weave songs and stories into literacy and numeracy instruction. She spoke with us from her office in Jakarta.
“Aceh is a beautiful place. When you drive into town from the airport to the hotel you may see elephants along the side of the road working among the palm trees. It’s been two years since the tsunami devastated the region, and it feels like life is returning to normal. New buildings are popping up all the time and they’ve built many wonderful community spaces such as parks, and memorials to victims of the tsunami.
Aceh is a very conservative Muslim region, but it is also one of my favorite places to visit, because it blows away our U.S. stereotypes about traditional Muslim societies. The women have a great sense of humor and are very outspoken. The only thing I do differently when I’m there is try to be very respectful about my dress. I wear longer sleeves and pants.
On my last visit we ran a workshop for teachers and principals—all of them women—and master trainers on how to use the audio programs in their classrooms. They are very excited about the program and the new media. Many tell us this is their first professional development opportunity.
In a typical kindergarten in Aceh you’ll see a large number of children sitting on the floor tracing letters or numbers, while the teacher stands at the front of the room reciting. Our programs bring them active learning methods—songs and games—which encourage hands-on teaching and learning.
On the third day of the workshop, we brought kindergarten students into the training. The children were amazingly receptive to the programs, though most of them had never heard an audio program before. One of the characters in the program is an elephant and the first time he roared, they looked around the room asking, ‘Where’s the elephant?’
What strikes me most about the teachers in Aceh is how hungry they are for learning. If we offer them a three-day training, they ask, ‘Why not five days?’”
The interactive radio programs in Aceh are just one part of a national effort to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Indonesia’s primary schools. Known as the Decentralized Basic Education (DBE2) Program, it is funded by USAID and involves many local partners.
Originally published on September 1, 2007