Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Sun, 05/17/2009 1:37 PM | Discover

Economics students at the University of Indonesia are encouraged to take on a co-curricular program during their course of study. Last semester, I set about to find out more about its Informal Education program for elementary school children.

I chose the program because, at high school, I had been involved in teaching children from fishermen families in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, and children from a village in Wonogiri as part of a trip to Central Java.

The informal school run by UI's Economics Faculty aims to raise awareness and enlist the support of students in teaching children from underprivileged families living around the Depok campus.

The program started in 1968 when the faculty was still located at Salemba, Central Jakarta, with students teaching children from schools on Jl. Kenari and other areas around Salemba.

The informal school ceased activity when the university moved to Depok, until the Faculty Senate revived it in the mid 1990s.

At present, the faculty has a partnership with the SD 12 and SD 14 elementary schools.

In the program, student teachers engage children in hands-on activities, bringing to life material from the school curriculum. This approach makes learning fun and easy to understand. The children also find it exciting to pay their visits to the faculty building every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon for the extra lessons.

The program also provides scholarships and organizes excursions to places of educational interest.

Before I decided to join in the program, I observed a class of sixth graders taught by my seniors. I was captivated by their eagerness to learn new things. On the next day, on my way to campus, I met some of the students crossing the road hand in hand and they greeted me: "Kak *older sister*, will you be teaching us next semester?" I knew then that I wanted to be a part of the program.

Nobel Prize winner and renowned economist Amartya Sen says that a country's growth is indicated by the expansion of people's capabilities. Sen credited his educational attitudes largely to his school years at Santiniketan, the progressive co-educational school set up by Rabindranath Tagore in rural West Bengal, India. The school fostered curiosity rather than competitive excellence and sought to foster students' understanding of the communities within and around the school campus. It was also at Santiniketan that Sen became involved in running evening schools for children in neighboring villages.

This same spirit of development is at work in UI's Non-Formal Education program. The program has grasped the fact that the fundamental purpose of economics is to understand the resources and potential of a country, both human and natural, so that people can have a better life.

When I sat side by side with Citra, Riska, Nurul and Romi - my first group of enthusiastic sixth graders - I realized that such a program could be the key to the first two of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, set to be achieved by 2015.

The first goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, while the second is to achieve universal primary education. All Indonesian children need education if they are to rise above the poverty line.

Economist Sri-Edi Swasono writes that the expansion of people's capability creates freedom, which fosters self-esteem and a sense of responsibility. It creates a multifaceted freedom: Free from dependency, enslavement, debts, illiteracy and so much more.

The creativity of these children, who are in my care for a just few hours every week, not only speaks of the potential of Indonesian children but of educational institutions as well.

When universities take part in educating children, they are taking part in nation building. A better life for all means a partnership at all levels of society, joining hands across our beautiful archipelago and across the world.

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