Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung
The smile never disappeared from Indra’s face as he stumbled over the English words in the textbook he was holding. The 17-year-old simply repeated the words, with help from his teacher, ignoring the laughter of his friends.
Indra and his classmates are street children, living and working around the Rajabasa bus terminal in Bandarlampung, the provincial capital of Lampung. They are learning English in a makeshift classroom with the help of teacher Lili Istifiyati, 21.
Their classroom is really a small house, located along the highway connecting Bandarlampung and Kotaagung regency. It is filled with students every day from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The house, just 300 meters from the bus terminal, is owned by Musonnif, who has named it the Community Education Center.
Every day at 1 p.m., part of the front porch is turned into a classroom, with desks, plastic chairs and a whiteboard. In the guest room students study for their elementary school equivalency certificate.
There are around 200 students at the school and 20 teachers. The students are divided into those studying for their elementary school, junior high school and high school equivalency certificates.
‘ "We are overwhelmed with students taking the (high school equivalency) program because they did not pass the national high school final examination. We welcome them with open arms," said Musonnif.
Indra is attending the alternative school for his junior high school certificate.
After graduating from elementary school in 2000, Indra was forced to drop out because his parents could not afford to enroll him in junior high school.
"I’m happy to study here. Besides, I can still earn money and at the same time earn a certificate," said Indra.
Most of the students at the center come from poor families. During the day they work as newspaper boys, drivers’ assistants on public buses, car washers, construction workers, maids and shopkeepers.
Lili, the English teacher, said she was happy to be able help the students continue their education, although the work required extra patience and dedication.
"We have to adopt a different approach than with students at a formal school. We have to be able to befriend the students. We must also be more understanding if they miss school to earn money since some of them are the breadwinners for their families," said Lili, a graduate of a foreign language institute.
Another teacher at the school, Wilarsih, 39, said she was willing to accept less money for her work as long as the students were serious and eager to learn.
"Thank God, after two years of teaching the students are still eager to study. We are also happy that they passed the exams with flying colors," said Wilarsih, who also teaches at SDN 2 Rajabasa elementary school in Bandarlampung.
Wilarsih acknowledged it would be better if lessons could be conducted in proper classrooms, to help the students concentrate on their studies.
"However, there are no empty classrooms in the schools around Rajabasa district. Classrooms at state schools are already being used for evening classes, so the students have to make do with the available facilities," she said.
Despite the limitations, Musonnif said educational standards at his school were on a par with those at formal schools. "We have given our students tests using questions normally given to students at formal schools. Many of our students scored eights and nines out of 10 on the tests. Also, their examination results were good."
"Everything depends on the quality of the teachers. Besides formal school teachers, our school also employs fresh university graduates to teach," he said.
Musonnif travels around the city recruiting teachers who are willing to work for little money for a good cause.
"I say to the potential teachers that this is a humanitarian mission. They have to be willing to be paid Rp 140,000 (US$15.50) a month as a substitute for transportation costs, because I really don’t have the money and I get little assistance from the local government," Musonnif said.
The school receives Rp 8 million for the elementary school equivalency program and Rp 16 million for the junior high school program. Students are required to pay a Rp 10,000 monthly school fee. The money, said Musonnif, is used to buy textbooks, paper and pay the teachers’ small salaries.
He said all the work was worth it because it helped the students achieve a life they would otherwise have never known.
"I don’t intend to get anything from them. I’ll be happy if they benefit from the knowledge they have gained here. The important thing is that they realize they won’t be living on the streets and at the bus terminal forever."