Yogyakarta, D.I. Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Fellow Since 1991
This profile was prepared when Sri Washyaningsih was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Distressed by seeing so many schoolchildren learning little, having no fun, and becoming alienated from their surroundings, Wahya has developed an alternative approach to education that demonstrably does far better on all three accounts. She has applied it to preschool and, for older children up to eighteen, in an after-school program that typically begins at 3:00 p.m. After initial hostility from the government schoolteachers, her approaches are beginning to gain acceptance. Visible educational success, community support, and her tact explain and demonstrate the program's impact as well as suggest the broader potential of her ideas.Her approach is participative and democratic for both teachers and students. It weaves together basic reading, current events, language skills, and some science along with dance, music, and drama. All of these studies are then brought to life, in the students' daily chores and in the real achievements and problems of the community.The teachers, all volunteers, meet weekly to design the next week's curriculum. The students also make suggestions. Not only do they block out what they are going to cover, but they look for local experiences or problems that will help in the learning process. For example, when they chose to study plant disease, they went to a sick field and investigated. (They discovered that bad seeds were the cause, which in turn invited a discussion of how this happened and of the possible remedies available to the affected farmer.)The youngsters learn to help one another with their school assignments, in the group's artistic productions, and in getting their chores done. Projects such as rabbit raising are also done together, with profits going half in dividends to the participating students and half into savings accounts for them. Thus learning to collaborate is not only a valuable work skill traditionally greatly valued by Javanese society, but is very much part of Wahya's strategy of building a strong, warm sense of community-- one of the most powerful antidotes to the alienating pull of the formal schools and the urban-based media.By incorporating chores into the curriculum, Wahya has found an important key to winning the parents' support for her work, and to avoiding their opposition. By then adding new and successful income-generating programs for these parents' youngsters, she has further solidified parents' support for her program.In the course of doing so, she has developed a new funding mechanism that could eventually prove to be of wide-ranging value well beyond the immediate application for which she developed it. She has, in effect, found a successful way to connect middle-class urban savers with rural borrowers that allows the former very high yields and the latter medium-term loans that would be prohibitive at the rates charged by local money lenders.Some of her urban friends, whom she met as a student in Yogyakarta, lend enough for a village youth to buy a calf for 400,000 rupiah (roughly $140). The youth then raises the calf to maturity in six to twelve months, benefiting from it in the meantime, and then sells it for 600,000 rupiah. Half the profit goes to the lender, providing a return in nine months of over thirty percent. The student gets both his or her equal profit share and another successful learning experience likely to encourage interest in the local economy.Even after just a few years' work, Wahya's youngsters stand out as especially articulate and confident, and Lawen has begun winning one government competition after another.