Bamboo sticks are one answer to Indonesia's educational woes
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Jakarta: All it took was some bamboo for an inspiring teacher from the impoverished Indonesian island of Sumbawa to explain a maths concept that had confounded her grade two students.
Dewi Kurniati's class could do division with numbers, but they failed if the problem was presented in written form such as: "If I have 10 oranges that must be shared equally between two people how many does each receive?"
"I was shocked when I looked at their test results," the effervescent 26-year-old says. "If there were no numbers and just letters, they got confused. So I squeezed my brain â" what has gone wrong?"
Dewi's school in Taliwang, a city on the west coast of Sumbawa, h as few resources. "We only have one printer, one laptop and no wifi."
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But what Dewi did have at her home was plenty of bamboo: "We happened to have just finished building our bamboo fence."
Dewi made four cups out of the bamboo offcuts and a rainbow texta-coloured sign that said "dividing cups".Advertisement
She then devised a game, inviting students to carry out instructions written on a slip of paper: "I pick up 16 sticks and distribute them one by one into four bamboo cups".
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"After they had done it I asked them: 'How many sticks in your hand?' 'Zero'," Dewi says. "'How many sticks in each cup?' 'Four'. By then all of them could solve the problem by themselves."
University of Melbourne Professor Andrew Rosser says over the past few decades Indonesia has made great strides in improving access to education.
"But it has made relatively little progress in improving educational quality and learning outcomes," says Rosser, whose analysis of the Indonesian education system, Beyond Access, will soon be published by the Lowy Institute.
In the latest international standardise d tests of 15-year-olds â" known as the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA â" Indonesian students were ranked in the bottom 10 in maths, science and reading.
(Australia's performance is slipping, but of the 72 participating countries and economies it placed fourteenth in science, sixteenth in reading and twenty-fifth in maths.)
Australia's aid program, which helped build 1154 schools in poor and remote parts of Indonesia between 2010 and 2017, has now shifted its focus to improving education quality in schools.
The $49 million Innovation for Indonesia's School Children (INOVASI), a partnership between the Indonesian and Australian governments, is aimed at improving student learning by trialling local solutions to local problems.
Dewi was selected to participate in the first pilot, known as Guru BAIK, which helps teachers find their own solutions to classroom challenges.
"I learned I should not always point my fin ger at my students," she says. "I should point it at myself, what kind of method have I applied in the classroom?"
After Dewi began teaching using the bamboo cups her class's test results started improving.
She made two more bamboo cups, one with a smiley face and another with a sad face, and told the students to put sticks in the cup that best reflected how they felt about the lessons.
"Thank God, they all put their sticks into the smiley cup," Dewi says. "If they have good marks but they don't like the learning process it is worthless."
On National Teachers' Day last month Dewi was one of six teachers from the Indonesian province of West Nusa Tenggara who won a competition for coming up with innovative teaching ideas.
"This is fantastic work actually," says INOVASI education officer Afifudin. "Division is an abstract concept for children and she turned it into a concrete one by using tea ching aids."
Dewi believes it is crucial to make teaching relevant to students.
"For instance, in West Sumbawa there is no railway," she says.
"So if we teach them using a story about a railway they won't understand even though they see it on TV. But if you use a cidomo (a small horse-drawn carriage) as an example in your teaching, they can relate because they know what a cidomo is, they know how many wheels it has, what kind of animal pulls it etc.
"So making things concrete is a necessary thing to do for students. And, it makes them happier too, they can have discussions because they see the thing, they can touch them."
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