Fri, 23 Jun 2000

Factories offer free schooling for workers

TANGERANG (JP): Enlightened by the awareness that education is a valuable investment in order to earn a decent living, many casual workers at factories -- with strong support from their employers -- have proudly begun to take part in classes at the plants.

Mostly coming from poor families with low educational backgrounds, the factory workers hope that with their new qualifications their future jobs will be far better than the ones they have today.

They realize that their lives and earnings can only be changed by working harder, including taking classes after working hours.

For many of them, a good education is no longer the monopoly of the privileged.

Marni, a worker at PT Astra Graphia Shoes Industry Division, a subcontractor of the world's giant footwear producer Nike Inc., is one factory worker that has such a positive attitude, which was a rare thing among workers in the past.

In an attempt to obtain her senior high school diploma, the worker in pressing department of the company, joined a one-and-a- half-year program at Nike's factory school scheme last year.

She hopes she can pass the final exam later this year.

"By joining the voluntary program, I hope that I can broaden my perspective. I expect that it can also be a stepping stone to reach a better career," she told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The program, which is free, was initiated and financed jointly by Nike and all of its 11 subcontractors here in May 1998 in a bid to enhance the educational background of the workers.

The scheme was inaugurated on Thursday by the remaining four of Nike's subcontractors to take part, namely PT Doson Indonesia, PT Starwin Indonesia, PT Lintas Adhikrida and PT Fengtay Enterprises.

According to the companies' executives, the program -- to be held at newly established schools at the factory complexes -- will be participated in by some 350 workers from the four firms.

Several workers interviewed believe that the school program could also be a potential back-up for the workers for a possible dismissal threat.

"By having a better education, I might easily be able to find another job if, for example, the company went bankrupt," Samsudin, a worker at PT KMK Global Sport, another Nike subcontractor, told the Post.

Samsudin was one of the 1,200 workers of the 11 factories who has already graduated from the education scheme. Having entered the school for elementary students, he turned out to be the best student in his class.

At the PT Starwin Factory in Cikupa here, where the inauguration ceremony took place on Thursday, about 90 Starwin students wearing the blue uniform of the factory were sitting in their chairs in two buildings redesigned for school purposes.

Several teachers, hired by the firms from local education offices, were teaching their adult students.

Mujtahid, a teacher at the nearby Tigaraksa Senior high school, said he was delighted to transfer his knowledge to the junior level high school students at the plant.

"It's good to earn extra money. Moreover, the classes here begin after the working hours at my school," he said.

The classes at the factory schools for the workers are held from 4 p.m to 8 p.m.

For elementary students, the classes are held three times a week, while those at junior and senior high school level are held five days a week.

"Despite the fact that it's tiring, I enjoy the school," said Samsudin.

Their employers do not only give free school to their workers but also, probably to lure them to follow the education program, give an extra allowance to those participating in the scheme.

"It's about Rp 55,000 per month for meals and transportation," Samsudin said.

Director general for informal schools, youth and sports education at the Ministry of Education Makmuri Muchlas praised the companies' effort, saying it would enhance the quality of human resources in Indonesia.

"The education program will broaden workers' perspectives and give them strong basic education, which will be useful to welcome the advancement of the technology," he said.

According to Tony Nava, general manager of Nike Inc. Indonesia, a subsidiary of Nike International, the program is part of the company's commitment to implement a series of corporate responsibility initiatives launched by Nike's chief executive, Philip H. Knight, in 1998 for workers at its subcontractor factories in Indonesia.

"The program is to promote better education for the workers, as well as their working conditions. Education is the key to the success of our workers," he said.

Nike has been operating in Indonesia for almost 11 years.(asa)