Remote School Project Papua
Support for multilingual education in remote areas of Papua.
Why is the support needed?
The Garden of Eden and Paradise Lost…
Papua is, except for Greenland, the biggest island in the world and has the biggest tropical rainforest apart from the Amazon. The different people and tribes of Papua are currently not living in their natural habitat, which some would say is a state of paradise, but rather predominantly in a state of survival. While facing huge health problems there are ecological, social and political factors limiting their own development. Ever since the introduction of the educational system in the province of Papua/West-Papua of Indonesia, the level of education has been very poor or in many cases even absent. The majority of the people of Papua however deem the education of their children of great importance, especially for their social, political and economical development. They consider the development of knowledge and communication abilities as the key to survival.
How did this problem came to rise?
A contemporary Babylon…
There are several causes for the poor condition of the educational system. One of which is because of the difficult geographical accessibility of several areas. These areas are either right in the jungle/tropical rain forest or in the highlands between the mountain tops of the Baliem valley. The latter area, which is the home base of the Dani and Lani tribes (historically known for the wearing of Koteka, also known as penis gourds), are predominantly only accessible by
airplane. This makes the transport of materials, including school materials such as books, extremely expensive since their transport costs are paid by their weight.
Another cause is the political situation. Because of the tension and violence between the government (particularly their military) on the one hand and the freedom fighters of an independent Papua on the other, the government has completely withdrawn from most of these areas where our support project is active. The only institute in the Lanijaya area, which has remained and is ‘allowed’ by the indigenous people, is the Church. Given that the Indonesian government has not permitted any foreign help organizations in Papua for decades, there is no healthcare in these areas and the educational system, which they have put in place, has come to a standstill.
This brings us to perhaps the most important reason for the decline of a good education system in Papua. Just as the Dutch government, when Papua was still considered Dutch New Guinea, has tried to teach Dutch to the people of Papua, so did the Indonesian government, ever since the annexation of Papua in 1969, tried to teach the people of Papua the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) in order to integrate them in the Indonesian culture. The people of Papua however belong to a different race. They are Melanesian rather than Asian, originate from very different tribe cultures and are predominantly (over 90%) converted to Christianity, while the dominant Indonesian culture is Islamic. More important, every tribe in Papua speaks a very distinct own language. There are in total about a thousand different languages on the island which means that over 80% of all the languages on earth are being spoken on Papua alone. Consequently these tribes have much difficulty understanding each other, let alone Indonesian, which is not their mother tongue. Then there is the problem of illiteracy for most of these indigenous languages only know an oral tradition.
It is not strange that because of all these different languages the Indonesian government wanted to teach the children of Papua Indonesian as a sort of ‘lingua franca’ in order for them to communicate with government officials, Indonesian immigrants (currently over 50% of the population in Papua) and amongst the tribes. However, these teachers of the Indonesian language where predominantly immigrants themselves, who did not know the indigenous cultures nor the mother tongue of the tribes. Consequently, 96% of these teachers never showed up in the schools. Most of the children had to walk for one, sometimes two hours in the morning only to find out that in four of the 5 school days their teachers did not show. When they did show they had much difficulty to understand each other
How do we want to improve this?
In the beginning was the Word… (John 1:1)
The solution to this problem lies momentarily in the large scale project of the introduction of a multilingual education, which for the first time is being supported by the Indonesian government. This means that teachers are being recruited from their own tribes in their own territories who speak the native language and basic Indonesian. During the first years (toddler and preschool) they can teach in their own indigenous language and gradually they make the transition to a multilingual education, where eventually after the third year preschool they make the transition to Indonesian education. In cooperation with S.I.L., the linguistic institute that oversees the project, Marlôt has written part of the curriculum for this educational program. The project finds itself in a large scale, four years, test phase, where the goal of this multilingual education in remote areas is to improve the children’s achievements in school, their knowledge of the Indonesian language and a better transition to high schools and vocational education.
Multilingual learning methods are already developed, as are learning and reading materials (including the Bible) in their indigenous language, which is in this case Lani. Teachers are being recruited and trained and school are being build or, when already present, fixed and improved. All this with the support of the local people.
The entire process is running prosperous and has led to the ‘literacy award’ for the project leader. Mostly because this project leads to the improvement of the educational achievements of the children in Indonesian, that is their ability to read and write, but more importantly that they also learn all these abilities in their own native language. This safeguards their basic knowledge of their own culture and language from extinction. In one of the villages for example, they built a special traditional hut which functions as a public library for schools and the whole community with reading material in Indonesian and in their own language. This was developed by linguists, but hopefully in time the indigenous people can develop this further themselves.
In short: a revolutionary and prosperous project that, for the first time, establishes cooperation between government and local areas and, when even more successful, can be implemented in entire Papua.
However, one factor is underestimated in this phase, namely the remote and isolated nature of these areas. There is no infrastructure, that is there are no roads, no motorized traffic, no fossil fuels, no communication network (such as telephone), no electricity, no lamps, not even candles. There is no way for teachers, or children and families, to read their books after dark, which is after six in the evening. This makes it extremely hard for teachers to prepare their lessons for the next day. After deliberation with the tribes and their chiefs it became clear there is much enthusiasm amongst the tribes for this project, but they did point out the simple necessity of lamps and electricity in order for them to read the books. And then there is the problem of the huge transport costs for all these books and their weight. They proposed a solution to this problem themselves, which was introduced to them via the Church, namely solar energy, lamps on solar energy and tablets and e-books instead of heavy paper books.
At first this may sound a bit strange to supply these indigenous tribes with technology such as solar energy and tablets, yet the idea is as ingenious as it is ecologically justified. On one tablet of 500 grams an entire library of books can be placed. Also learning methods can be interactively presented to the teachers and the children and they are easily updated digitally (with the use of USB). The costs with this technology, when compared with the costs of pressing and transporting books, are negligible. Reading materials in their own language can easily be created via the linguistic database and over time tribes can create their own digital material without the high costs of pressing and transporting books. Economically and educationally there is room for ‘leapfrogging’, that is with one leap the dependence of fossil fuels and paper books is dissolved for the purpose of sustainable, flexible and interactive development.
The first dozens of solar lamps and a large solar panel for charging a couple of laptops and tablets for the teachers (which were delivered by us personally), are already received by the educational team with the support of our network. Those lamps and panels will be brought and installed during the next visit of the educational training team. The teachers in the villages will be ‘instructed’ in how to use them. Our goal is to eventually provide all schools, which are involved with this pilot-project, with solar panels, tablets and their first indigenous solar powered tablet-library. If this pilot with solar energy is successful, there is a good change the Indonesian government will eventually finance, provide and implement such digital solar technology over the whole of Papua, just as we have seen now in other developing countries and the neighboring PNG.
Perhaps it sounds idealistic, but observing what already has been achieved, accomplishing our goals does seem realistic. We were there, we have the knowledge, the networks, the access and we are going back. We not only believe in what is possible, but we are doing it, on the spot, together with other Ngo’s and the local people. Several steps have been made and the first results are realized. Yet there is still a long way ahead of us. What we need is your support.