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School CP - January 1997

Asia Times, 17 January 1997

Bringing peace to the classrooms

By Ong Hock Chuan

JAKARTA - In a country where government officials are viewed dimly for their lack of initiative, fear of upsetting others and being wrong, headmaster Asrul Chatib stands out as an exception.

"He's good," said the parent of a student at SMU 3 (Sekolah Menegah Utama or Lower Secondary School) where Asrul is now posted.

"He managed to reduce the fighting at SMA 70, which was notorious for its student brawls. He also managed to improve the school's performance ranking, [rising] from 40 something to one of the best 10 in Jakarta in the four years he was there," said the parent.

"To understand student violence, you have to look at the background of the students," said Asrul in an interview at his well-worn but neat office at the Kuningan suburb of Jakarta. "You have to look at the background of the students.

"For a start, there is only a minority of students who are really into violence. Many of them come from broken homes and poor families. They see no future."

To compound matters, they then attend schools which are often rundown, congested and low in morale, like SMA 70. "When I first got there, there were fights almost every day," Asrul said.

That was when he set out with his three-step plan to reduce the incidence of violence in the school and improve its academic performance.

"The first step was to improve the environment of the school. Students cannot have any pride in their school or study well when the school environment is not conducive," he said.

The first thing he did was raise funds to put the school into shape. "I wrote to the Parent-Teacher Association and asked them for money." The association agreed and with the infusion of 220 million rupiah (about US$93,000) Asrul gave the school a new coat of paint, made repairs, improved the ventilation in the classrooms and even paved the bathroom with tiles.

The next step was to improve the morale and welfare of the teachers, many of whom were underpaid. This took the form of providing them with subsidized meals. He also spent a lot of time improving communication between himself and the teachers.

With the first two steps in place, Asrul set about implementing discipline among teachers and students. "This could be implemented only after a sense of pride has been instilled in their school."

Penalties were introduced for wrongdoing and Asrul made sure they were implemented. A series of punishments which ranged from warnings, informing parents, one and two-week suspensions and expulsions and caning, the last two as a last resort, were instituted.

"The students had to learn that there were rules and if these were broken then they would have to face the consequences," Asrul said.

The strategy worked and within four years the incidence of violence in the school had dropped to perhaps once a month. Even then it was small-scale violence.

Asrul said that the important factor in his strategy was in instilling a sense of pride and belonging to the school among the teachers and students. With this came self-respect and a sense of purpose for the students, especially those who could not see a way out before.

He also said that it was important to be honest when trying to solicit donations from parents. "If they can see that the money is well spent they would not hesitate to contribute to the well-being of the school."

To assure parents that all the donations were accounted for, Asrul issued a financial report to the Parent-Teacher Association every semester. Asrul said many of his peers were afraid of imposing discipline in their schools for fear of reprisals from parents and making a mistake. "But if we do exactly as we say we would do, then there is nothing to be afraid of," he said.

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