Injecting fun into schools in Indonesia

Initiative with Aussie school to help pupils, who may be stressed, to enjoy learning

A group of Indonesian scholars, in collaboration with primary school teachers from Australia, have created a movement to make schools in Indonesia a fun place for children to study in.

The initiative is called the Fun School Movement and the group has been working with Clayton North Primary School, a state school in Victoria, which has, since last year, sent five teachers to Indonesia to share whole-school teaching methods with 40 teachers and 30 pre-service teachers for elementary schools in Yogyakarta.

With the support of the University of Ahmad Dahlan, the movement held workshops for teachers in Indonesia to learn from the experience of their Australian counterparts and develop a new approach that provides a joyful and positive learning environment for pupils.

Children in a village school in Bogor, Indonesia. An Australian primary school is helping Indonesia's Fun School Movement to make learning fun for Indonesian children. It hopes the pupils will eventually feel empowered to contribute to society. PHOTO: SHAMSYDAR ANI ISMAIL

Some schools in Aceh and Bandung and the Central Java cities of Magelang and Klaten are interested in joining the movement because they are attracted by the bottom-up approach provided for the teacher capacity building.


Mr Muhammad Nur Rizal was inspired to start this movement after seeing how the Australian education system worked through his daughters' experiences.

In 2009, he moved to Melbourne with his family for his PhD at Monash University.

He enrolled his children in Clayton North Primary School.

Every time he picks up his children, they are happy and keen to tell him what they had done at school. They even like to go to the school during the weekends.

In contrast, when they went to school in Indonesia, they were tired and overwhelmed by the amount of work they had to do in each subject.

Children in Indonesian schools have a mountain of homework and many parents have to help them for hours to finish their homework because they worry the children cannot complete all the tasks.

The schools focus on transferring as much knowledge as possible, even when the materials may not be relevant to students' needs and their developmental stage.

The Indonesian government had attempted to reduce the overload of materials in 2013. It introduced a new curriculum that integrated subjects into a theme and promoted character-building and creativity.

But this approach failed as many teachers did not have the relevant skills to implement the new curriculum. Character-building and creativity were also taught only in theory and assessed in a final test. The curriculum has since been terminated by Indonesia's minister for education and culture, Mr Anies Baswedan.

Australia has a different teaching style and school model, which is based on a framework designed by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority or Acara, a federal educational body.

Acara requires schools throughout Australia to make children happy, healthy and feel empowered to contribute to the society.

The schools strive to ensure that every child has a positive learning environment.


Australian students are not the best performers in Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment), the global tests that assess 15-year-old students in mathematics, science and reading.

But they rank high on educational well-being, compared with OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Australia ranks higher than Britain and the United States, as well as Germany and France.

For Pisa, Australia has been ranked joint 10th in reading, 8th in science and 17th in mathematics. These results saw Australian students' rankings slipping from previous years. But they still did better than average compared with school children from other OECD countries.

With all the stress and pressure that students in Indonesia face, they performed much worse in the Pisa tests. They scored the second-lowest out of 65 countries.

Some experts doubt if Pisa is a good standard to test the quality of education in a certain country. They argue that Pisa results are not a reflection of education policies in the respective countries.

Experts argue that students' wellbeing has a significant impact on their learning habits, motivation and positive outlook or behaviour, as this study shows.


At Clayton North, Mr Muhammad Nur Rizal's children were welcomed and included as new students. The school has a "buddy programme" to help new (junior) pupils feel safe, valued and connected to the school community.

Clayton North also engages parents to support children's learning. The school runs a programme called "reading together", where parents are invited to help children read in class every day before their lessons commence.

To build respect in diversity, Clayton North has a "harmony day". All members of the school community come together on that day to celebrate and represent their heritage.

The school uses KidsMatter, a flexible programme that applies a whole-school approach to promote mental health and well-being for children.

It has a "creative play space", where children can express their ideas and make something new. They are supervised to work together to learn and practise real-world learning.

This effectively helps them in building social and emotional well-being.

The Australian primary school education system's emphasis on creating joyful and inclusive schools is similar to what Indonesia's father of modern Indonesian education, Mr Ki Hadjar Dewantoro, had suggested.

In 1922, Mr Dewantoro set up an inclusive school called "Taman Siswa", or students' park. This was during the Dutch colonial rule and formal education was available only for the Dutch and local royalties.

In Taman Siswa, children of ordinary citizens could enrol and were put in a joyful and stimulating environment.

Mr Dewantoro later became Indonesia's first education minister. His policy was that a school should be a fun place.

Unfortunately, it is now difficult to find Taman-like schools that make learning a fun activity in Indonesia.

By collaborating with teachers from Australia, the Fun School Movement seeks to bring "Taman" back to Indonesian children.

This article first appeared in, a website of analysis from academics and researchers.

• Muhammad Nur Rizal is a lecturer in information technology and Novi Poespita Candra is a lecturer in psychology at Universitas Gadjah Mada.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Injecting fun into schools in Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe