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Schools teach peace in sectarian conflict-scarred regency

By Pandaya, October 10th, 2010

This is an article from Indonesia’s largest English-language daily, the Jakarta Post, issued on October 10th. It recounts - fortuitously to Mr Taberez’ focus on training (read his article) and, to our AEPF workshop outcome conviction - how peace education at schools helps to overcome deep scars of earlier religious conflict in a central part of that country.
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The article was transfered by Sini Cedercreutz, who is an anthropologist and who participated to our AEPF workshop on religious diversity on October 3rd, 2010.

Central Sulawesi overcame its religious conflict, and hence offers us teachings and hope. This is a short time schema on what happened:

Muslims and Christians in Indonesia, in central Sulawesi island, were pitted in a bloody sectarian conflict between 1998-2006. An estimated 1.000 lives were lost, and 25.000 people displaced. Between 1998-2003, people were split along religious lines; Christians in certain districts and Muslims in Poso in north-central Sulawesi. Although the peace accord was signed in Dec-2001 in Malino coastal resort on the island, occasional clashes continued five more years due to armed illegal warriors from other regions and islands. On the surface, life is back to normal. Poso has both denomination ethnic groups, Christian refugees from Pamona have returned there, communities mingle. What worked in Central Sulawesi, was pairing of strong priests with strong Moslem clerics, where unity was added by strong intermediary local Moslem politicians who ’brought in’ the clerics. Local security forces listened to their wishes (repatriate external mujahidin soldiers), and local markets and economy got working soon. Little infrastructure support for ’annihilating memeory of conflict’ (burned houses and vital services like energy, roads, schools) came from central government but this peace was lucky to have the country’s (South Sulawesi born) Vice-President to first mediate the peace and then pay special attention (his family runs much needed hydroelectric plant).

Schools teach peace in sectarian conflict-scarred regency

This is part of a series on peace building efforts in Poso regency, Central Sulawesi. The Jakarta Post’s Pandaya recently visited Poso on an invitation of Wahana Visi Indonesia, which runs community development programs there.

The classroom setting is no ordinary one. Each table is shared by four students facing each other.

The scene is dominated by colorful objects hanging from the ceiling and on the walls and sitting on the tables. Every piece of the scene is important because it is all teaching and learning aids that make classroom activities lively.

Welcome to GKST 2 Christian elementary school, one of a growing number of schools in Poso regency that use Pakem, a more active and creative methodological teaching technique that makes teaching and learning activities fun for both teachers and students.

The technique, jointly promoted by Wahana Visi Indonesia and Unicef, is intended to shatter the obsolete, ineffective and boring old teaching method that has partly been blamed for the high rates of exam failures and dropouts in Central Sulawesi province.

Statistics show that in 2007, 16 percent (or 4,231 of 26,323) of junior high school students in this province failed their final exams. The dropout rate, mainly stemming from poverty, stood at 9.4 percent at the primary school level, 8.17 percent at junior high and 2.13 at high school.

In the new learning-teaching concept, parents have a greater say in the school’s decision making process, and teachers receive modern school management training, something teachers welcomed enthusiastically.

The smiling principal, Y.M. Tampa’i, steps into the classroom. The students stand up, and wish her a very good day. Acknowledging the greeting, she raises her hand and yells “Harmony!” and the high spirited pupils shout, “Yes.”

“Harmony” is a new battle cry among students and teachers in Poso, where citizens are still nursing their wounds from an eight-year sectarian conflict between 1998 and 2006, in which hundreds were killed and thousands of families displaced.

Intended to instill tolerance and boost self-esteem in children, the peace education program was introduced a year ago and has been promoted at 21 public, Muslim and Christian schools throughout the regency along with the Pakem technique.

As a brand new approach to education, “harmony” is yet to be found in classes or guidebooks. If you happen to ask a school teacher what “harmony education” is, chances are you will get a philosophical answer about peace.

Tampa’i, the initiator of harmony education, says children are taught to understand that to begin with one must be at peace with oneself.

“With peace education, we mean to create child-friendly schooling, where teachers serve as pupils’ brothers and sisters, friends and guides.”

As the guiding principle, students are trained to be in harmony with themselves, with others and with nature. In their daily lives, students are instilled with an awareness of the need to help each other, respect differences, promote equality and uphold democracy.

Students are trained to conserve nature, from doing simple things such as dumping garbage in the rubbish bins, to planting trees and keeping their spaces tidy.

The peace education program, Pakem and modern school management techniques have also been introduced to Al Khairaat and Muhammadiyah Islamic schools in Poso city, where Muslims constitute the majority of the population. Several state schools have adopted these methods also.

Al Khairaat, one of the oldest Islamic schools in Poso and a loyal adherent of classic teaching techniques, sees Pakem and modern school management as innovations that turn education inside out.

“This should have been used during my school years to make learning mathematics fun like it is today,” mathematics teacher Marlina said.

The harmony education program has also introduced an entirely new concept of student-teacher relations at Al Khairaat, which runs classes from kindergarten to high school. “Our relations are so close and we teachers and pupils build strong bonds like we never did before.”

The peace education program has found fertile ground at mixed-religion Poso State Elementary School No. 7, a public school located in a “Muslim area”. According to school master Ani Dako, in the past no non-Muslim parents would dare send their children to study here.

“Now, the proportion of Muslim to Christian teachers is around 50-50, and about a quarter of the almost 400 students are Christian. The school also has a small number of Hindu students,” she said.

“Teachers act as role models, not just lecturing about harmony. We are fed up with conflicts, and everybody wants to live in harmony.”

With a total beneficiary of 95,000 people in 54 villages throughout Poso regency, the area development program is hoped to sow the seeds of lasting peace in one of the most diverse regions in Indonesia.

Pandaya, The Jakarta Post, Poso

The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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