EDC’s initiative to decentralize and revitalize Indonesia’s schools by improving the quality of teaching has taken root in 535 schools and will ultimately include more than 2,000 schools in the world’s fourth most populous country.
The USAID-funded project, Decentralized Basic Education Program Objective 2 (DBE2), is moving schools away from a rote-memorization tradition to a more “interactive approach with students working together on projects,” says Michael Calvano, chief of party for the project. “Previously there was very little interaction, innovation or variety,” says Calvano. “We completely reverse that process. There’s color and variety in the classroom and students display their work. They don’t just give back what the teacher gave to them; they think things through and provide their own response.”
The multimillion, five-year project, managed by EDC’s International Development Division (IDD) focuses on helping local districts take on management of schools that were formerly run by the national government. Activities include moving control of teacher training to the local level, early childhood education, resource development, school library development and public-private alliances to strengthen elementary education. Activities are underway in seven provinces: Central, West, and East Java; South Sulawesi; North Sumatra; Banten; and Aceh. In each district, two clusters of six to ten schools serve as hubs for project tasks and activities. These clusters offer school administrators, teachers, and community participants an opportunity to become engaged in activities that strengthen their professional identity through active and participatory learning. By May 2010, the project will be active in at least 100 districts and 200 clusters, says Calvano.
Project staff recently celebrated in Jakarta the project’s first, successful year, along with the commemoration of an agreement with 15 Indonesian universities and the Ministry of National Education’s Center for Communication and Information Technology to develop teacher education programs based on the EDC approach. EDC President Luther Luedtke attended the ceremony and visited several Jakarta elementary schools that participate in the project.
“Our teachers are the true pioneers and heroes of our societies, and the future of our planet rests in the hands of the young people they teach,” said Luedtke at the ceremony. “This university partnership allows the project to reach more than 300,000 teachers in training and thousands of schools in seven provinces.”
The school programs focus on teaching teachers new instructional strategies in math, science, Indonesian language, and civics education. Public, private, and religious schools are involved in the programs. “All schools, no matter what type, are very excited about these innovations,” says Calvano. “It’s been extremely well-received in all cases.”
At the beginning, Calvano notes, many speculated that the U.S.-funded project would face opposition or difficulties in a largely Muslim nation.
“There’s a common misconception that in this country, the world’s largest Muslim country, people condone terrorism. It’s not so. The Indonesian people are very moderate for the most part and are neither violent by nature nor in agreement with terrorist tactics,” says Calvano.
Calvano attributes the acceptance of the project to the skills of the largely Indonesian staff and their deep connections to the schools and communities. He also believes EDC’s “sensitive approach” to the civics component of the program is vital.
“We have taken a very careful approach to it. It is a sensitive subject. We consulted with a lot of groups and the consensus was that they didn’t want to re-do the civics curriculum. They feel it’s established and defined. What they needed help with –and this is EDC’s strength—was teaching methods and lesson plans.”
EDC is helping teachers prepare civics lessons that include establishing a classroom code of conduct that mirrors their society’s code. For example, students discuss the relationship between rights and responsibilities (e.g., a right to make choices implies the responsibility for accepting the consequences of your choices). As EDC staff work with teachers to develop lesson plans that reflect rights and responsibilities, Calvano said, they do not advance a political agenda, but focus on fundamental principles. “If we are successful at our approach, we’ll be educating people who are self-thinkers, who can look at a variety of inputs and determine their input and opinion. But we don’t focus on inflammatory agendas.”
The project is also working with local governments and education offices to localize the education process, which has traditionally been governed by national entities. “We want to get people more involved and involve parents and communities in the definition of school programs and in management,” says Calvano. “By bringing these people together, we build interest in the programs and also motivate them to keep their kids enrolled in school.”
The recently finalized university agreement facilitates collaboration between 15 Indonesian universities and three U.S. Universities. To decentralize teacher education, EDC and partners are helping create locally developed teachers education modules. U.S partners include the Academy for Educational Development, Research Triangle Institute, Florida State University, University of Massachusetts, and University of Pittsburgh. The partner universities serve as the central hub from which teacher training materials are developed, disseminated at the provincial level, and shared among provinces.
These activities are complemented by Cluster Resource Centers in each cluster. “At the centers, teachers can prepare materials, find references, get assistance on projects for students, and the community and students can come and use computers and the Internet,” says Calvano. Eventually the centers will have digital libraries, he adds.
Luedtke also visited the project’s office and schools in South Sulawesi province, where clusters and schools are widely dispersed geographically. “It takes enormous dedication on the part of advisers and Indonesian counterparts to make a locally-based approach work across distant communities and schools,” said Luedtke.
Originally published on July 31, 2006