Friday, April 25, 2008

Visit to an Islamic Elementary school

This morning, Katie and I visited an Islamic Elementary school. Today is Saturday and here in Indonesia, almost all public schools run Monday through Saturday. UIN also had scheduled classes on Saturday but that changed last year, thankfully. Our connection to the school is a bit convoluted. A doctoral student at UIN has a friend whose wife is the headmistress of a newly-founded Islamic Elementary school. None of the students at this school had ever met a Westerner and she wanted to encourage the students to be more committed to learning English. She hoped that by meeting a Westerner, they might be a bit more inspired. I asked (read: forced) Katie to join me so that the students could see someone their own age, but also, and more importantly, I wanted Katie to see what an ordinary Indonesian, and Islamic, school looked like. To this point, Katie has only experienced International schools, which are quite different from Indonesian public schools.

The school has been operating for five years and so only has grades 1-5. In Indonesia, they are not called grades but classes. The school is an Indonesian Islamic public school. In Indonesia there are three streams of education. The first stream is made up of public schools that have no religious teaching included in their core curriculum. If there is religious teaching in this stream, it must include the teachings of at least two of the official religions of Indonesia, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. So, such a class would be something like a World Religions course. The second stream is made up of special public schools that include religious education in their core curriculum and so are Christian schools, or Islamic schools, etc. These schools are not required to teach other religions. The third stream is made up of private religious schools that are devoted primarily to religious education. These schools, which are almost all Islamic, are called pesantrans, or madrassa, and are led by a kyai, a religious teacher. Those who graduate from this third stream are generally not qualified to continue their studies in post-secondary institutions since their education is almost exclusively religious. Lately, however, in the face of declining enrollment, pesantrans have been including curriculum from the public school system so that graduates can be eligible to attend university.

The school we visited is an Islamic public school that mixes a public school curriculum with Islamic education, which includes learning to read and write Arabic, as well as memorizing the Koran. All the teachers have an undergraduate degree in education from one of the main universities here in Jogja. The students come from the neighbourhood. Tuition is Rp60.000 per month which translates to about $7CDN. This tuition includes lunch. Classes begin at 7am and finish at 2pm, with two breaks. The school has just over 40 students and includes both boys and girls. The school is building a new structure nearby since the building they are in now was damaged by an earthquake two years ago. Classes 1 and 2 have their own rooms, since they are larger groups, while Classes 3,4 and 5 share a single large room separated by dividers. Also in this room is the teachers' 'offices'. There is a play area in front of the school with several play structures but not much room.

We spent most of our time with Classes 3-5, who have the most English training. We began by introducing ourselves and having each of the children introduce themselves to us. This was great fun and filled with much laughing and giggling. Then I taught the students the song 'Mary had a little lamb'. After they were able to sing it by themselves, they sang 'Are you sleeping?', which they already knew. This was a bit of an odd experience for me because I could only think of the French version of the song. After we finished with these classes, we visited Class 2, who were busy learning how to write/draw Arabic. Up to this point, the girls had been very shy, pointing at Katie from a distance. But as it became clear that we were leaving, the girls swarmed around Katie, shaking her hand, and asking her all sorts of questions about where she lived and went to school. I know Katie felt awkward and conspicuous, but I hope she gained a bit better understanding of Indonesian life.

Our hosts were very generous and welcoming and we had a wonderful time. I am not sure how much good we did for the school, but I know that Katie and I received something special.

(See Webalbum for pictures.)


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The End of Rainy Season

It is still raining. Apparently the rainy season is supposed to be done by the end of March but the humidity remains in the high 80s and it rains every day. One thing that has changed is that the nights are cooler, it may drop down to 26C or 27C, but during the day the temperature is still in the low 30s. In one part of our house, where we don't have fans running, the temperature is 31C.

For the most part, it isn't a big deal that the rainy season continues. One plans on the fact that it will rain late in the afternoon and perhaps in the evening. We try to walk as much as possible so if there is somewhere we have to go, we plan on doing it sometime earlier in the day. And I love thunderstorms. For a while, we had great thunderstorms three or four times a week. Around our place, there is very little wind so the rain falls straight down and creates a nice breeze around the house. The other day we had a thunderstorm that knocked out the electricity. While I sat on our back veranda the girls played in the rain. (The Indonesians are troubled that I let our kids play in the rain. They believe that getting rain on one's head leads to one having 'angin', which is usually translated as 'wind'. But in this case, 'angin' means something like a cold or flu or general internal distress. So there are many advertisements for medicine that cure 'angin', which doesn't mean what one might think if 'angin' means 'wind'. Anyways, the Indonesians don't like that our kids play in the rain and our helpers are not impressed with this aspect of my parenting skills. But the kids love it.) The rain was so heavy that it overflowed the gutters and flooded the back yard, making great puddles for the girls to splash in. If that was all, the rainy season would be great.

However, when it rains every afternoon, and the humidity is in the high 80s, and one air drys ones clothes, it means that clothes take more than one day to dry. I really am getting tired of wearing almost dry clothes. And it's a problem because Katie and Mia have school uniforms that are either dirty or not quite dry. Every morning I have to evaluate whether uniforms are dry enough or clean enough. I look forward to those days when our clothes dry the same day they are washed.

I have been told that when the rainy season finishes, it won't rain again for four or five months. I remember there being no rain through September and most of October but given the climate I would be surprised if there was no rain for several months. In Nigeria we had dry seasons that lasted half the year and it literally did not rain for five or six months, but it was bone dry. It just seems too tropical for there to be no rain. And apparently it gets hotter. I hope the humidity drops so it is more comfortable in the shade. I can't say I am looking forward to higher temperatures with this humidity.

But all this interest in the weather is such a Canadian thing. Just like Nigerians, Indonesians aren't interested in the weather except if it is of the disaster sort. In large part this disinterest is due to the fact that there are only two seasons and very little variation. But I like a change in seasons and having weather. I found it a bit disorienting when I would realize that it was January or February and too hot to take a walk outside. On the other hand, the kids love the fact that they can just run outside and jump on their bikes.