The facilities were impeccable, the students were learning from enthusiastic teachers, and the school had the strong support of parents and its surrounding community.  This is not a school in the United States, but rather the school I’m describing is the Sedati Gede 2 primary school, located in Sidoarjo district in the Indonesian province of East Java, where the Indonesian government has partnered with USAID.  The school has 30 teachers and serves 746 students between the ages of 6 and 12.

Children interact with Assistant Administrator Biswal in a classroom at Sedati Gede 2 primary school. (Photo: USAID)

As part of its Decentralized Basic Education Program, USAID has partnered with the Indonesian government to help improve the school facilities, strengthen school management and accountability (for example, by bolstering parent committees), and enhance the teaching/learning process—all of which contribute to improved student learning.

Education has become a priority in the partnership between the U.S. and Indonesia governments.  USAID’s Decentralized Basic Education Program began in 2005, and since that time has benefitted approximately 1,500 schools, 57,400 educators, and 480,000 students.  Tools and approaches have been replicated by local government and donor agencies, greatly expanding the impact we have had with this program.  By the end of 2011, there will be 26,170 schools replicating best practices from the program.

My first stop on this visit was the kindergarten facility.  Principal Nur Abda’u and local education officials greeted me and led me to a cheerfully decorated classroom, where a USAID-supported Interactive Audio Instruction lesson was in progress. As part of their lesson, the children were excitedly playing an interactive game with a ball.  I remarked to the principal that this is just the kind of nurturing, stimulating school that I would love to send my own children to.

A five-minute walk away was Sedati Gede 2 primary school.  There I observed a science class where students were doing an experiment on electricity by building circuits using batteries and light bulbs; in another class I saw students making observations about the parts of a plant.  I was able to chat with the children about their studies, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Next I visited a cluster resource center.  These centers, established with USAID funding,  provide a space for teachers to develop lesson plans, browse the Internet for teaching materials, and share low-cost materials developed and created by local teachers.  The centers also house trainings and offer a place where teachers and other education stakeholders can gather to discuss training content and classroom innovations, and collaborate with colleagues.  By providing teachers with these spaces, they are able to share best practices with each other and supplement textbooks with outside learning materials.  One of the many benefits of the cluster resource center that I witnessed is the encouragement of a more interactive, hands-on learning environment, with a decreased focus on rote memorization.  Currently, there are 113 such centers in 7 provinces established with USAID support.

The school also boasts an enviable level of support from parents and the greater community.  Parent volunteers rotate through the classroom and provide materials and support for the teachers on a regular basis.  A committee of parents provides input on curriculum priorities and assists with resource mobilization through community-wide fundraising.  Some of these resources are used to purchase learning materials or used for facility maintenance.  All teachers and administrators in this school have been trained and supported with mentoring to better provide effective teaching and improve school management and governance.  The school has now become a model in its district and has hosted several education visits from other regions.

Being able to witness the impact of our education programs in Indonesia firsthand was remarkable.  The comprehensive approach to school management that I witnessed is a path forward to achieving improved educational outcomes.  While the performance of students in Indonesia remains lower than in neighboring countries, USAID is partnering with the Indonesians to improve the future for thousands of Indonesian children by spreading the reforms found in places like the Sedati Gede 2 primary school.