Back to School and Overcoming Western Stereotypes

27 Jan

As part of the program here I was required to complete a field study about an aspect of Indonesian life. I decided that I would study Sekolah Dasar that is the Indonesian equivalent of our primary education. For the study my friend Ikka took me to her old primary school here in Salatiga for a morning. After recovering from my excitement at seeing that the school had a pet monkey, Ikka took me to see the principal and I received many curious glances as I walked past classrooms. The principal was happy for me to have a look around and asked that I go have a talk to each of the classes.

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The kids were unbelievably cute and wanted to know all kinds of things about Australia such as what fruit was currently in season and if it is hot there (I was a bit thrown by the fruit question so had to guess) I did PE with some of the younger kids and got a good work out as each of the kids wanted to be my partner. There was a chance to help them out with their English with pronunciation of words like mouse, house, mosque and church. Finally we were left to our own devices in a Grade 5 classroom spent some time talking about Australia and being absolutely shocked when one of the boys could name the capital of Australia.

Overall school was quite similar to what we have here in Australia and the kids were great. The only thing that I found strange was the separation of classes for religion class into different religions with students not receiving any instruction about other religions. This school was a state school and I expected something more comprehensive in a country which has seen so much religious tension.

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This was a far cry from the school I visited on Friday. The night before one of my friends told me to dress modestly so I could participate in an excursion for the level 6 students to a pesantaran (Islamic Boarding School). I was confused as to what to expect from this place as from a security studies background and from reports of mainstream media in Australia, these places have a reputation of being extremist with connotations of mujahadeen and fierce hatred of all things Western being common themes on news and television back home. We went to the school and met the Kyai (the head priest) who sat with us for tea and a chance to talk about what the school was all about.

Surprisingly this school was very liberal allowing people to visit and also operated as a trade school with students able to learn many useful skills. Another unusual aspect was the fact it was for university students who had six hours of study at the boarding school on top of university studies. I was impressed and felt this was a good introduction to something that realistically very few people know anything about. There is no doubt that other such schools operate with slightly more dubious goals however this was an example of people truly working to increase religious tolerance and understanding in Indonesia. After our talk with the Kyai we had a walk around the school meeting some of the students, following this we were asked if we wanted to go have a look inside the new mosque set in spectacular scenery with the mountains forming a magnificent backdrop. We all jumped at the chance and on the whole the visit was an incredible experience.

I realised I knew very little about Indonesian education before last week and after the two visits it was evident how important knowledge about these cultural aspects are no matter how mundane they may sound.

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