Visitors from Indonesia are a force for learning

A group of Indonesian teachers and principals visited Five Mile Prairie School last week to learn about nontraditional education.

Traveling with the Friendship Force, an international exchange program, the 11 teachers and four principals were spending a week in Spokane before heading to Whidbey Island, Wash., for professional training.

“People are very friendly here,” said Wawang Hoetawarman, principal of Sman-Mojoagung Senior High School in Jombang.

Five Mile Prairie School works with students of all ages who are being homeschooled in the Mead School District. Homeschoolers can attend classes their parents don’t feel qualified to teach to make sure they meet graduation requirements.

Explaining the concept of homeschooling was a little tricky.

“There is not a lot of homeschooling in Indonesia,” said Wiyono Atmopawiro, principal of Sma Sewon School in Yogyakarta. Indonesian children start in a playgroup when they are around 3 years old, he said, followed by kindergarten. They enter first grade when they are 6.

“Public school is free through junior high school,” Atmopawiro said. “You have to pay for senior high school. How much you pay depends on the school.”

More than 242 million people live in Indonesia and the majority are Muslim, but the country doesn’t have an official state religion. Hundreds of ethnic groups – many speaking their own dialect – live in the island kingdom northwest of Australia.

The visitors were impressed by the beautifully restored building, and seemed puzzled by the wide age range of the children there.

“In Indonesia, kindergarten is not in the same building,” said Hoetawarman, while peeking into the lunch room. “Little kids go to school only for two hours.” He added that older students attend school from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Long time,” he said, smiling, “we must learn all the topics.”

Toward the end of the school visit, the Indonesian teachers joined a group of Five Mile Prairie students for an informal conversation.

Hoetawarman, who is also a chemistry teacher, pulled a student aside for an impromptu lesson on the periodic table, which is the same in all languages.

“You must learn this to learn chemistry,” said a smiling Hoetawarman to the student who nodded in equal parts agreement and bewilderment.

The group’s Spokane host, Anita Tschirgi, said there were some language issues.

“The women in the group are all English teachers, so their language skills are good,” she said. “It’s a little tougher with the principals.” She added this was the first time she was involved in a themed exchange.

“The theme for their entire trip is education,” said Tschirgi. “My job was to find nontraditional education options for the group to visit.” The group is also visiting the Contract Based Education School in the Central Valley School District and the Hutton Settlement. Tschirgi got involved with Friendship Force about 10 years ago when a friend brought her to a meeting. She has hosted people from Germany, Tasmania, New Zealand and Australia, and also traveled with the organization.

“You get a whole different and much better travel experience when you stay with a family,” Tschirgi said. “That’s why I do it.”[]

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