May 2, is Indonesia’s National Education Day. Why is this day special? May 2, 1889 was the birth of Ki Hajar Dewantara, a pioneer in Education for Indonesians. Back then Indonesia was occupied by the Dutch, and school (education) was a luxury limited to children and relatives of colonial officers. If a few Indonesians were able to study in these schools, they must have come from a very rich or influential family. Ki Hajar Dewantara was one of them, he was born with the name Raden Mas Soerjadi Soerjaningrat, from the Yogyakarta Palace. Later on in his life, he removed his royal title (Raden Mas) and changed his name to Ki Hajar Dewantara to be able to mingle more freely with local people.
Ki Hajar Dewantara was very well known for his critics to the Ducth colonial government. Exploitations of natural resources, human resources, inequalities, discrimination was mostly what his works was about. His writing “Als Ik Eens Nederlander Was” (If I were a Nederlander/ Dutch) was famous for his strong critics when the colonial government imposed tax and retribution fee on Indonesians, for the purpose of celebrating the Dutch Independence Day. His writing was published in a newspaper “De Express” by Douwes Dekker. Colonial responded by sending Ki Hajar Dewantoro to exile, without trial.
Douwes Dekker and Cipto Mangunkusumo, both Indonesian scholars and good friends of Ki Hajar Dewantoro, tried to fight the Colonial government with their writings, but were also sent to exile on the basis of provoking and manipulating Indonesians to fight against the Dutch Colony.
In 1913, still in exile, the colonial government granted their request to finish off their “punishment” in Holland (still in exile). In Holland they studied a lot about education and teachings. And in 1918, they all came back to Indonesia and established Indonesia’s first education institute, called “Nationaal Onderwijs Instituut Tamansiswa” (Tamansiswa National Institute). The institute focuses primarily on nationalism and struggle to fight for Indonesia’s independence. While teaching and “managing” the institute, Ki Hajar Dewantara continues to produce writings, but has slightly changed from political to educational issues.
When the Japanese came to take over Indonesia, Tamansiswa still continues to operate, because the Japanese allows education and nationalism to be given to Indonesians. And when Indonesia finally gained its Independence in 1945, Ki Hajar Dewantoro was appointed Minister of Education and Culture.
Ki Hajar Dewantoro passed away on April 28, 1959, and is attributed “National Hero” from the Indonesian government. Since then May 2nd has been marked as the National Education Day.
Hopefully, today, even though the Indonesian government (as well as the Indonesian people) are concerned with other issues, such as the huge May Day Labor Demonstration that occured yesterday, or the economy of the country, I do hope that education is still an issue that is close to the heart for many of us. Better schools, good books, cheaper (if not free) education remains an ongoing hope for many parents and students in Indonesia.