Recently I was invited to attend the South Sulawesi government’s celebrations for National Education Day 2017, or Hardiknas (Hari Pendidikan Nasional). It was Tuesday 2nd May, and the celebrations were held in the gardens of the Governor’s official residence with several hundred officials, school principals and guests seated under awnings. About one thousand high school students from around the province were seated left and right of a large stage opposite the officials’ seating.
Governor Dr HM Syahrul Yasin Limpo was in the front row of officials, and the head of the provincial education service Pak Irman Yasin Limpo was seated next to him. As is the protocol in Indonesia, other senior guests in the front row included the provincial chief of police, the representative of the local military commander, the speaker of the local parliament and other senior political leaders. I was in the second row with Bupatis (regency heads) and bank managers, and high school principals were behind us.
I reflected on the idea of a national education day. In Indonesia Hardiknas actually commemorates the date of birth (2 May 1889) of Indonesia’s father of national education, Ki Hadjar Dewantoro, who was a writer, philosopher and champion of native Indonesian education in Dutch colonial times. He was a freedom fighter and an educationalist who established the Taman Siswa school movement in Yogyakarta for native Indonesians. He believed education should be available to all, based on common humanity and rooted in the local community. He is remembered for his description of the ideal teacher: be a model when leading; give inspiration when in the middle; and give encouragement from behind.
I like these ideals, and understand the awe with which Indonesians hold this figure. He was imprisoned by the Dutch for his activism, but he lived to see Indonesian independence. Shortly after his death in 1959 he was made a National Hero by President Sukarno.
We don’t have anything that equates to Hardiknas in Australia. We have a National Public Education Week, although that leaves out a whole segment of the Australian education sector. There is a National Literacy and Numeracy Week, and various education awareness days and weeks in the States and Territories. We have had many great educators in Australia, but we do not have the same nationalist approach towards remembering our past that is the rule in Indonesia.
So what happens on National Education Day around Indonesia? Well, in Makassar the Governor and Pak Irman gave speeches honouring teachers and educators. And 39 local figures in South Sulawesi were given awards for their contributions towards the development of education in the province. The newly appointed Police Chief for example, got an award for the contribution that police make towards the safety and security of schools and students.
I got an award from the Governor for the contribution that the Australian Consulate-General has made – over the past year - towards facilitating Australian-South Sulawesi education relations. When Governor Syahrul presented the award I thanked him and said we still have much to do. But as I looked out at the local media, and the school kids sweltering in the sun, I was hopeful that this ceremony would help energise teachers and administrators to do more for the young people of South Sulawesi.
Certainly Hardiknas energised the university students of Makassar, for at the same time as this ceremony was taking place in the graceful grounds of the Governor’s residence, the uni students were demonstrating in the streets near the local parliament demanding the abolition of university fees.
Over the past year I have visited over 12 schools around eastern Indonesia. I will visit more; but those I have visited range from elite private schools in Makassar and Manado, to the small junior high schools built under the Australia-Indonesia Education Partnership over the past ten years, to some local Islamic schools, or madrassas, which have been involved in Australia's BRIDGE program.
I have noticed that the further one travels from the provincial or district capital, the poorer are the schools. The absentee rate among teachers rises and the schools lack key resources – such as books. Indonesia faces a huge challenge in providing good quality education to the millions of children in rural areas. In previous blogs I have written of my visits to some of the Australian –built schools in the eastern provinces. We have always been heartily welcomed by the local communities. The enthusiasm of the students has been infectious: they are proud of their communities and hungry for learning. Their school principals are dedicated but often find it hard to get good qualified teachers to teach in their schools. So in the rural areas a system of guru honorer has developed, where local, unregistered teachers take on the lion’s share of educating their community’s children. They are paid a small honorarium from the school’s operational fund.
In the cities where schools can easily recruit full-time, well-qualified teachers, the education standards are higher and outcomes better. At the National Education Day celebrations in Makassar I saw some of the results on display, when following the official part of the ceremony the fun part began. Students performed some lovely local dances, then a series of massed modern dances. Their energy, despite the hot sun, made us all smile.
And to finish off the show, a famous singer from Java came on stage. Adera, son of my favourite Indonesian balladeer Ebiet, sang a set of great songs – Terlambat (Late), a few love songs, and then a version of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”.
The students knew the words. And they loved it.