Wachidus (We Es) Sururi
Fellow Since 1998
Rumah Dongeng Indonesia
This description of Wachidus (We Es) Sururi's work was prepared when Wachidus (We Es) Sururi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
Sururi Wachidus (known as Kak WeEs) is reforming education and family communications in Indonesia through storytelling, a traditional communication and teaching method which has been eclipsed recently by the introduction of the mass media. Storytelling, especially in the participatory style Kak WeEs advocates, encourages a kind of dialogue that does not presently exist in either the home or in educational institutions.
The New Idea
Kak WeEs is filling the void of creative and analytic thinking in childrens's social and formal education by reintroducing storytelling as a teaching tool. Whereas the standard curriculum in Indonesian schools emphasizes learning facts, Kak WeEs's teaching methods engage students and promote a deeper level of thinking, understanding, and communication. He trains parents and teachers alike in the skills that will help them enlist storytelling as a teaching tool. The strength of this storytelling approach lies in the interactive communication style. Kak WeEs is utilizing an old source of social energy in Indonesia; the various cultures of Indonesia are rich in storytelling and oral traditions. Historically, social initiatives such as family planning campaigns have successfully used traditional storytelling, which is not only entertaining, but stimulates creativity and teaches about morals and local knowledge. Kak WeEs has allied himself with an established network of neighborhood leaders who use his storytelling techniques to communicate with local residents and promote his approach to family communication. Within the formal education system, he has set up a pilot school project where he trains educators to integrate storytelling techniques into each individual subject in the curriculum. To further spread his idea, Kak WeEs has convinced the Sultan of Yogyakarta, an influential Javanese leader, to support and promote his educational approach.
The education system developed by Soeharto's New Order government focused on quickly educating the masses and improving literacy, but sacrificed the more difficult-to-teach skills of creativity and critical thinking. The government has also used schools to promote its version of history which legitimizes its power. During more than 30 years of totalitarian rule, a rigidly enforced curriculum which stressed repetition and memorization while discouraging students from questioning and criticizing served this purpose well.Classroom instruction in Indonesia is characterized by lessons handed down by the teacher in a one-way interaction with the class. This results in students who do not fully understand the concepts being taught, but are reluctant to communicate their lack of understanding with the teacher. A student who asks questions is typically regarded as naughty, and teachers remain unaware of alternatives to this teaching approach.Even before the recent dramatic developments in Indonesia, the country's economic course over the past two decades has had several unforeseen consequences. Due to the demands of careers and long commutes, home, for many fast-paced, urban families, has become little more than a hotel for sleeping and storing possessions. Communication within the family has deteriorated. Families no longer focus on educating their children or stimulating their creativity and potential. Not only has Indonesia's extremely rapid urbanization changed the way people communicate with one another, but the spread of modern mass media, particularly television, has also had an impact on the lifestyles of rural Indonesians. The advent of television and movies has eclipsed the role that storytelling once held, often promoting violence and greed which contradict traditional Indonesian values.
Kak WeEs believes that storytelling offers an influential alternative to the mass media. He uses a combination of traditional and modern stories from Indonesia and around the world to impart moral lessons and encourage creativity in children. Kak WeEs's multi-level program incorporates storytelling into education at home and in schools. His storytelling workshops teach parents and teachers how to deliver stories, how to help children analyze them, and how to make up stories that address social problems. Using his techniques, parents and educators can impart knowledge and critical thinking skills to young Indonesians.In the past year Kak WeEs has set up pilot programs in a kindergarten and an elementary school in Yogyakarta that incorporate storytelling into all subjects. For example, to teach about countries and cities in a geography class, he uses a tale about an ant who gets taken from town to town, province to province, and country to country, in people's luggage. The ant tells about all the places he has visited. In math classes, Kak WeEs teaches multiplication skills by telling a story about a man who buys eggs that become chickens that lay eggs that start the cycle all over again. Through the pilot school project and his frequent workshops and seminars for educators, he is training teachers to incorporate the storytelling approach into their teaching style. He has had the most success with younger teachers who are more willing to adopt his creative methods than older teachers, who often feel that the teacher should be the only one speaking in the classroom. The young teachers are even eager to come to school early to learn about his methodology and many have begun using stories with their students. For example, they are now experimenting with a technique Kak WeEs calls "morning news" in which students tell a story and the teacher and other students listen. This interactive teaching style is radically new in Indonesia. Kak WeEs has also been invited to work within a Yogyakarta teacher's college where he will spread his approach to new teachers. Kak WeEs collaborates with a network of traditional storytellers, called the pedongeng, to spread his idea throughout Indonesia. To further promote his program, he is currently publishing educational materials for practitioners. With the Sultan of Yogyakarta's encouragement, he is discussing plans with the Yogyakarta Education department to institute his concepts into the local curriculum. He has been invited to teach his techniques to students at Yogyakarta's teachers' college. Kak WeEs believes that once his pilot project has become more established, he will be able to spread his educational program to the provincial level and beyond. Kak WeEs is also working at the community level to reinvigorate storytelling within Indonesian households. After making the initial contacts, Kak WeEs enlists the help of two volunteers from each community who teach parents about the need to place more emphasis on spending time with their children. The volunteers emphasize that storytelling is a vehicle to bring families together and communicate during this quality time.Kak WeEs is also working with the established system of village leaders to help them integrate storytelling into their existing community programs. For example, he worked with community leaders at a primary health care center for children under five years of age. He suggested that the staff use storytelling to creatively communicate their health messages to young mothers in the village. The storytelling method can also help local leaders handle other social problems like the growing generation gap and the influence of modern values on the youth.
The first of eleven children, Kak WaEs grew up in Yogyakarta, but frequently visited the small farming village of his mother's family. He enjoyed washing water buffalo in the stream and helping with the rice harvests, and found a great sense of peace playing and sleeping in the rice fields with his friends. As a bedtime game, Kak WaEs and friends would tell stories to each other until they fell asleep. He recalls that his grandmother was also a skilled storyteller.After primary school, his parents sent him to a Muslim high school in the hopes that he would become a religious teacher. Since his parents could not support his university studies, Kak WeEs hitched a ride to Jakarta on a chicken truck. Later he apprenticed under Arifin C. Noor (a prominent Indonesian theater and film director). He was committed to improving children's education and although he liked the medium of film, he knew that producing children's movies would not fulfill his mission of promoting creativity and communication. He was offered a position to teach values education at a Muslim school and used this job to experiment with storytelling as a part of a formal curriculum.In 1991, Kak WeEs established the Indonesian House of Stories in Jakarta as a place to conduct storytelling training sessions and events. Kak WeEs is not satisfied with his own popularity as a storyteller; his mission is to teach storytelling skills to teachers, parents, and other community members. He has performed and led workshops in many Indonesian cities and organized a national storytelling week in Jakarta involving thousands of participants and sponsored by private and public sector funds.Kak WeEs's mission has taken him to cities throughout Java and Sumatra where he has told stories to thousands of children in various public and private schools, Islamic study centers, schools for the hearing impaired, fairs, and cultural events. His radio and television performances have expanded his audience. Kak WeEs has tapped the vast potential of storytelling to help stimulate children's natural creativity and promote social values.