Notes from the Field

Books Help Transform Indonesia’s Poorest Elementary Schools

April 27, 2011

A year ago, the Leuwiranji Elementary School in West Java was falling down. Located in a remote corner of the district of Bogor, the school’s 177 students come from poor families who are mostly employed in the sand-and-rock harvesting business that supplies a booming construction industry in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta.

Students at Leuwiranji Elementary School in West Java study from books donated by Books for Asia. Photo by Anne Luntungan.

Dompet Dhuafa, one of Indonesia’s largest charity organizations, identified the school for assistance in 2010. The charity started by mobilizing in-kind resources to rebuild the school’s facilities. Trakindo, Indonesia’s main distributor of Caterpillar equipment, sponsored repairs to the school’s buildings, which were completed last November. Then, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program donated much-needed English-language teaching materials for the school’s classrooms and library. Dompet Dhuafa has since placed a year-long, on-site mentor for Leuwiranji’s teachers. By modeling interactive classroom learning methods, the mentor has significantly improved how teachers do their jobs.

Indonesian school children

A student practices a mathematics assignment. Photo by Anne Luntungan.

“Our school has been transformed,” Principal Sobirin told me on a recent trip to Leuwiranji. “I didn’t believe it could all happen so quickly,” he said, reflecting on his four years as the head of the school.

A tour of the fourth-grade classroom showcased the positive changes. Desks are set up roundtable-style, encouraging student interaction and discussion, rather than just rote memorization. The teacher leads an assignment, using oranges to engage students in an interactive mathematics lesson on estimation, averages, mean, and mode. Brand new readers and math workbooks are available and in great demand in the classroom library. While the space was still sparse, the class was alive with energy.

I visited Leuwiranji because it is one of 24 schools that received Books for Asia assistance through our partnership with Dompet Dhuafa in Indonesia. Other beneficiary schools are located across the far reaches of Indonesia’s archipelago, literally from Indonesia’s eastern-most town of Merauke, in Papua, to a school located in North Aceh, one of Indonesia’s farthest northwest locales. Over 13,000 English-language teaching books published by Pearson will be distributed to these partner schools this year.

Students in classroom in Indonesia

Desks at Leuwiranji school were recently set up roundtable-style to encourage student interaction and discussion. Photo by Anne Luntungan.

“We use Dompet Dhuafa’s national network to identify schools most in need of assistance,” said Sri Nurhidayah, director of the Lembaga Pengembangan Insani unit, which manages the organization’s educational assistance. “We aim to improve the quality of education in low-income and remote schools. Our programs have reached more than 10,300 Indonesian teachers to date.”

The day I visited Leuwiranji, Dompet Dhuafa hosted a celebration of Books for Asia’s assistance, featuring music and a poetry reading by students. Fittingly, the event began with a quote from Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia’s first vice president (1945-1956): “I’d volunteer to go to prison, as long as there are books. Because with books I am free.”

Laurel MacLaren is the deputy country representative of The Asia Foundation’s Indonesia office. She can be reached at lmaclaren@tafindo.org.

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