Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Learning two different cultures in language Garden

Simon Howland, Contributor, Yogyakarta

Many Indonesians look upon the days of Dutch colonialism with little favor. Taking the historical relationship of the two nations into account, this should come as no surprise.

Areas do exist, however, in which great benefits can be acquired from the acceptance and integration of Dutch influence. One of these is education. Both nations maintain a strong emphasis on the education of their children. Both education systems offer positive means of development to their students. In Yogyakarta, a group of children are getting contact with both systems.

Nestled in the midst of a kampung in Yogyakarta is a garden of tropical fauna, ferns and flowers. In one corner, there's a pond teeming with fish and at night, with the sound of frogs and geckos, which gives the place the feel of a rain forest.

In this garden, there is a simple house of wood and tiles designed in the local manner, based on an open plan allowing fresh air to permeate the rooms. There's a wind chime hanging from the roof of the patio that works with the slightest breeze.

By day, in this house, there is a school, but not your average school. It's the one that takes a different approach to learning and is dubbed Taman Bahasa, or "Language Garden" by those who frequent it.

The school is attended by children of mixed parentage, Dutch and English. And it is where these children are sent in order to give them the opportunity to maintain contact with their heritage.

For four hours each week, four boys and 10 girls attend this school after they have finished for the day at their Indonesian schools. They study Dutch language but also learn about Holland, not in a historical or geographical sense but in an ideological and social sense.

There is no set curriculum for teaching them how their counterparts in Holland think and learn. Rather, the approach by their teacher gives them an opportunity to appreciate the best of both their worlds, of the father and of the mother.

Karin Hoegen is a primary school teacher from Holland with over 10 years experience. She moved to Yogyakarta three years ago. One day one of her neighbors approached her and asked if she would teach her child Dutch. Karin agreed.

What started with one child grew steadily as friends and associates in the local Indo-Dutch community saw the potential opportunity for their children.

The Dutch community in Yogyakarta is small, comprising about 30 families, and there were no avenues for the children to learn Dutch. Many of the parents had all but stopped speaking Dutch in the house and the children were all but ignorant of the other half of their native language.

Hoegen says that it is important to speak your native language in the house and in front of your child.

"You have to speak your mother tongue to a child when they're young or else it will be far more difficult for them to pick it up later in life. The children associate the language with the parent and will be able to swap languages accordingly from an early age if the environment is right."

But above and beyond language skills the school works on the ways in which the students approach problems and study.

"The culture in Holland and Europe is one in which you are expected to think logically by yourself and where it is acceptable to have an opinion different to that of your teacher."

Whereas, in an Indonesian school the students are taught to repeat what is prescribed and strictly adhere to the commands of their teachers, the European approach is more closely based on an individual's will to learn.

The children themselves appreciate both schools and point out the good things about each. They also say that the greatest difference between the two is that in the Indonesian schools you are expected to listen whereas in the Language Garden you are expected to talk and voice your thoughts and feelings.

Even the approach of the parents differs between the two cultures of education. Parent-teacher interaction, along with inter-parent interaction, is minimal at Indonesian schools, whilst these interactions are desired in Europe and indeed crucial to the success of the school in Yogyakarta.

The parents are happy to have the opportunity to be part of their children's education and like the way their children are given access to two ways of thinking.

Peter Moerbeek, a Dutchman whose daughter attends the school, appreciates both methods of education and the relevant cultures.

"In a Dutch school you learn to think for yourself and approach topics and issues objectively. But the Indonesian schools are also crucial to a child's development. The Indonesian schools tech the child how to interact on a social level. Much of the Indonesian education is based around the group, group projects and activities that enable the child to function as part of a community."

According to another parent Indonesian schooling also reduces the child's reliance on materials.

"The children are far less materialistic than they would probably be in Holland. Here it's not about video games and TV or whether or not you've got good shoes, but more about enjoying your time with other children and having fun outside."

The school relies largely on support from the Dutch government. Books, learning materials and the rent of the house are subsidized, making the operation possible. The children take a break from studies and move out into the garden.

"What is this? What is that?" they chirp from under the trees.

It is this approach their teacher wants them to take with them when they leave and when this is accomplished, her job will be done.