The Brief History of
Community Learning Qaryah Thayyibah
It is a model of community based education that would lead the society to the great civilization.
This learning community’s main concern is noble universal values with justice, including social
justice with gender equity and ecological fairness. Its learning process, always stands on local living context with all community members’ participation (as learners and tutors as well) and the surrounding environment as learning laboratory.
Its learning strategy is learner-centered rather than teacher-centered; it always utilizes anything available in the surrounding environment as the source of learning, including the complexity of matter or problem. The common logic “because I’m poor and incapable, I don’t go to school” would be turned to “it is because I’m poor and incapable; I have to study so I could get smarter and more prosperous”. Learning does not have to be through being in school. We might drop out of school but we should never drop out of learning. Drop out of learning is equal with drop out of life.
The “umbrella” institution of this learning community is “attached” to PKBM (or Community Learning Center) that operates under the coordination of Ditjen P N F I (or Directorate General of Non Formal and Informal Education).
I prefer to say that it was by accident rather than by design.
It began (on July 2003) when my first son, Hilmy, just graduated from SD (or 6th grade elementary school). Thus, he should go to higher education we called SLTP (or 3rd grade junior high school, also known as SMP). Then, because his academic rate was quite good, I registered him to SLTPN 9. It was the second best junior high school in this city, after SLTPN 1. And, alhamdulillah he was welcomed by SLTPN 9.
To show my gratitude and as the chief of RW 1 (or neighborhood association) in Kalibening hamlet, I invited my neighbors who had the same “fate”, whose children were just graduated from SD/MI and about going to SLTP/MTs. There were 30 households. The meeting was to discuss our anticipation concerning our children, who had studied only in the village, but must go to school downtown later on.
During the discussion, the subject developed to the actual problematic issues of education. Some of those were expensive tuition fee and education quality. I felt the same because my son had to pay 750,000.- rupiahs for school facility contribution only.
Because the discussion on tuition fee and quality ended nowhere, I emotionally proposed an idea, “How about we run a school on our own? So we can decide the tuition fee, at any rate we like? It would be our own people who even run it. So the matter of quality would depend on our own efforts.”
My idea had aroused various responds. Most of them thought it was a “joke”, wishful thinking, even “nonsense”. But there were some who saw it as a serious and reasonable idea. With all courage, I said, “Well, if there are 10 children, let’s try it. If less than 10, just forget it; I would let my son go to SLTPN 9.”
Fortunately there were 12 children, including my own son, agreed with my idea and ready to run the independent schooling. Together with these 12 households we started this schooling and we agreed to name this schooling after SLTP Alternatif Qaryah Thayyibah. Alternative refers to in-expensive and quality education. Low-price has always been the poor people’s preference (the alternative, and quality is the rich people’s preference (the alternative). So, anything cheap and good must be the preferred alternative for everyone. Qaryah Thayyibah was taken from the name of a farmer union. Qaryah Thayyibah, which means advanced village, could fit and represent our dream that this schooling will lead our village to become an empowered village. This is unique, because the name Qaryah Thayyibah which sounds very Islamic and very Arabic was actually a “gift” from Mr. Raymond Toruan, who is a Catholic and of Batak descent.
Practically we had only a week to execute that spontaneous idea into a real school, because we didn’t want to be behind academic schedule, issued by Depdiknas (or national education authority); it was 3rd Monday of July. To be precise, it was July 21st, 2003. On that day we started the class.
Utilizing whatever we have, including a small room in my house, the class began. Even the teachers were my friends from the farmer organization.
Because of our various limitations, we delegated the decision making of most issues to children, such as when parents wished their children to wear uniform (most of parents think that a school should have school uniform, so it won’t look out of control), we made it a common decision, but we fully entrust children to make any decision on its style, color, and model. Finally, we found that this kind of entrustment could genuinely improve children’s creation, innovation and imagination.
We use anything that is currently available as the learning media. We didn't start it by making up new things. When we discussed on improving learning media, we decided to put computer as our first priority. We seek any information about the price, and we knew that it cost one million rupiahs. Then we converted the amount into our financing capacity; it fit well with most children’s daily allowance. We tried to calculate how much money parents give to their junior-high-school age children. The answer we got, parents give at least (for the poorest) 3.000 rupiahs everyday to their children. For children who went to school down town, that amount of money would end only for public transportation and snacks.
Then, we managed the Rp 3,000 by redistributing it further. Rp 1000 for saving computer, 1000 for usual savings and 1000 for food. If the price of a computer is one million, meanwhile, saving computer only 1000 hence 1000 days which will come we can have a computer. it has not been 1 year and we have already collected 4 million, and apparently after we try asking the price of a computer, there was an offer for a second hand P 2 computer with the price of Rp 750000 per unit. Therefore for 12 units we would need Rp 9 million. Since we already have 4 million, we try searching for a loan of 5 million. After earning the loan we to bought those computers so that each child can bring a computer to their homes and the saving of 1000 rupiah still continue only the name is changed to become instalment.
The remaining 1000, after being collected can be used by the children for guitars, a set of English languange learning tapes from BBC, and a pair of English-Indonesia/Indonesia-English dictionary by Hasan Sadili-John McEchols.
The other 1000 is used for food. We still divide them, the 500 rupiah for filling food such as 'arem-arem', gemblong and others, and the other 500 rupiah we bought fresh milk. The price of fresh milk at the time was Rp 1200. Because there are 12 children and one litre can be used for 4 glasses then the total is Rp 3600. The remaining amount of Rp 2400 we used to buy honey.
Hence with only Rp 3000 that is equivalent to the allowance of the poorest children that goes to school downtown, children in Qaryah Thayyibah an have a computer, a set of English language learning tools with the dictionary, a guitar, and can drink milk with honey every day.
Then, the school "joined" the SLTP Terbuka (or open junior high school program), and automatically fall under the supervision of SLTPN 10 Salatiga. To be honest, the children really disliked the supervisor school. Because the Children knew, and that is a true fact, that the supervisor school had the lowest rating among others in Salatiga City. But, because it had been chosen by local authority to be the only institution to run SLTP Terbuka, we had no choice but to be attached to SLTPN 10, as TKBM (or self-support tuition point) SLTP Terbuka, with the name Qaryah Thayyibah (QT).
Since the first time we joined SLTP Terbuka, there was irresolvable “clash”. The SLTPN 10 as the parent school, refuse the “Alternative” labeling, while we insisted to put “Alternative” as part of this school name. They always call us TKBM QT, while we insisted with SLTP Alternatif QT. Actually, we had proposed the term TKBM “SLTP Alternatif QT” as a solution, but they refused it.
Conflict was also involved in other cases. Because SLTPN 10 thought they have rights to direct us, and, on the contrary, we practiced “liberating” education, conflict was unavoidable on many issues. We often send back exam sheet to the parenting school, as we founded misleading questions in it. Once, for example, student was asked in Civic exam to fill blank spaces, while the question was, “The independence of Indonesia was achieved after …and….” The right answers according to the answer key were collective and cooperative spirit. So, if any student fills it with founding father efforts and God’s will, the student would be considered as stupid, because his answers don’t match with the answer key.
The conflict climax was on 3rd semester (after 1.5 years running). We declared to stop any relationship with the parenting school or to quit SLTP Terbuka system. We want to move to PLS (or non-formal education program) which we believe to be more flexible. We went to Diknas (or local authority for education program) to ask for approval. Basically they agreed, but we have to complete the 3 grades/academic years (to graduate SLTP beforehand). So, practically we didn’t have any “parents” during the time (for 1.5 years). We have quit SLTP Terbuka, but we haven’t officially joined PLS. However in the meantime, children’s creativity was surprisingly all out. Children produced so many works; we even communicated directly with Ditjend PLS (or national authority for non-formal education program). That’s why the head of Diknas Salatiga offered me to register all QT students to SNBI (or international standard class) of SMAN 1 Salatiga. I was so proud to hear the offer. Why not, SMAN 1 was the most favorite high school of all SMA in Salatiga; moreover, SNBI was just opened a year before.
But the story had different end. Children’s creativity was getting intense, that they decided to end their SLTP period by presenting final work. Then they asked about any term which refers to academic final work. What is term paper, what is thesis and what is dissertation? After we gave explanation, they chose to call their final work as dissertation. Because of deep engagement on their dissertation, they didn’t let anyone and anything whatsoever distracting their attention. Unfortunately, even National Exam shouldn’t be a distraction, so they decided to miss the National Exam. By this case, we were really shocked, because just before that, we were so happy to hear that our student had privileged chances to go to SMAN 1 Salatiga. For once, we regretted why we should give unconditional freedom to children. Ok, whatever happens we will keep supporting children’s decision: we tried to hide our disappointment and told them that if it was their decision, we would keep supporting them. About academic certificate, we could arrange it ourselves or if needed, we could even ask proofs to some professors.
Then, suddenly, there were 3 students who decided to do National Exam; they are Izza, Fina, and Kana, who later call their group as Zafika. Their decision surprised the rest of the children. They were called as traitors, because they had agreed to miss National Exam. Zafika defended them selves by saying that they have rights to decide anything of their own interest. Zafika protested, why they should be left out? Finally all children got together and could understand it because there was a clear reason that their dissertation would be about National Exam, so Zafika needed to follow the exam (for participatory research).
Zafika finally did National Exam and also wrote about it. They did the exam and the research at the same time. Zafika really kept their promise. Right after they finished the exam, they finished their report as well. The resume of their report surprised the public when it was published on the national paper titled, “Should National Exam be abolished?” The complete work was finally published by national publisher, titled “It’s groovier without National Exam”.
Passing the “National Exam” case, children got more self-confident and their courage was getting intense, so they took initiative to establish a High School without any intervention from anyone or anywhere except the support we are supposed to give. Finally, Zafika and friends founded a “high school”, named SMU Qaryah Thayyibah. SMU is not a short form of Sekolah Menengah Umum (or regular high school), but Sekolah Menengah Universal (or universal high school).