Wearing his high school uniform of white and grey, Syahrul Abad, showed his classroom at Paninggaran High School or Sekolah Menengah Atas Negeri 1 Paninggaran in Pekalongan District, Central Java. Syahrul (19) just finished his trial class during the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past two weeks, the high school senior has gone back to school, attending face-to-face learning after almost two years of studying online to halt the spread of Corona virus.
Not many suspected that the seventh child of eight siblings in a family of farm labourers had quit school once after graduating from Madrasah Tsanawiyah (Islamic Junior High School) Paninggaran in 2016. The school had even withheld his diploma due to the outstanding school tuition. Since then, his dream of getting a decent job was halted. Syahrul could not continue his education because of his family’s financial situation as his parents could not pay for the tuition.
After graduating from Madrasah Tsanawiyah Paninggaran, Syahrul decided to try his luck in Jakarta. “I chose to work and make money, to help my parents,” he said. He once worked as a porter, carrying scrap metal from one truck to another. He had to work for eight hours every day to receive Rp1 million (AUD 100) at the end of every week. As he could not bear the heavy load of physical work, he decided to return to his home village of Paninggaran.
Back in his village, Syahrul helped his father in the field to work as a farm labourer. In 2017, Paninggaran Village Head, Rusdiyono, encouraged Syahrul to continue his education. However, Rusdiyono’s offer was not accepted right away by Syahrul. The 55-year-old village head had to relentlessly persuade and motivate Syahrul. Rusdiyono never got tired of cheering Syahrul on and rebuilding his confidence. Rusdiyono even gave Syahrul school uniforms for free to attract his interest in returning to school.
Syahrul Ibad represents thousands of children in Pekalongan District who had to leave school. Based on the 2018 Integrated Database (Basis Data Terpadu/BDT), there were 4,346 ATS (out of school children) in Pekalongan District. Poverty, early marriage, children with disabilities, and lack of understanding on the importance of education were the causes of children leaving school.
Therefore, in December 2018, the Pekalongan District Government initiated a program to return the ATSs to school. Resulting from discussions with the Office of Education and Regional Development Planning Agency, the program was an effort to improve the low Human Development Index (HDI) in the education sector in Pekalongan, while breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Abbreviated from Kembali Upayakan Dukungan (KUDU), a support movement for children to go back to school, this movement aimed to improve the quality of human resources in the Pekalongan District by involving schools.
KOMPAK facilitated the Pekalongan District Government in preparing District Head Regulation Number 48 of Year 2019 regarding 12-year Compulsory Education as a legal umbrella for KUDU Sekolah Movement. The District Head Regulation on the 12-year Compulsory Education and inclusive schools that has been issued became one of the commitments and efforts by the Pekalongan District Government to lower its ATS rate.
In 2021, the Pekalongan District Government with the support from KOMPAK, launched KUDU Sekolah application to strengthen data collecting and monitoring of ATS. The website and Android-based application would manage ATS data from various sources, including the public. KUDU Sekolah application simplifies data update, verification, and validation, as well as monitoring of ATS data and accomplishments of KUDU Sekolah Movement for the district government and related parties.
“KUDU Sekolah Movement is essentially a collaboration between all elements in society with the objective of returning ATSs to school,” explained Subagyo, Acting Head of Pekalongan District Education Office. According to him, one of the keys to the success of KUDU Sekolah Movement was in the active role of the village government in collecting and monitoring data, as well as in its support in the form of budget allocations, special initiatives, or village regulations that supported returning ATSs to school.
Paninggaran Village, for example, has allocated Village Fund to support the provision of free uniforms, shoes, and eyeglasses for ATSs who were willing to return to school. The Village Fund of Rp12 million (AUD 1,200) was used by the Paninggaran Village Government to buy 30 sets of uniform and shoes. “We hope the uniforms, shoes and eyeglasses can motivate ATSs to return to school and boost their self-confidence,” Rusdiyono said.
Rusdiyono realized that most ATSs came from poor families who generally worked as farm labourers, tea pickers, batik crafters, or angkringan (street food) traders. The majority of these children decided to leave school to help their parents make a living. Rusdiyono believed that if the families were not going through financial difficulty, the parents would not mind if their children went back to school.
For that reason, the village government undertook various measures to attract out-of-school children to continue their studies. One of them was to allow poor families to work at agricultural lands and fields owned by village government, as well as to manage catfish farming in the ponds owned by village government.
Rusdiyono continued to encourage students to continue their study at a Community Learning Activity Centre (PKBM), an education institution with more flexible learning schedules than formal schools. The students could attend PKBM during the day and still help their parents sell angkringan at night.
Paninggaran Village recorded 56 students who managed to return to these non-formal schools (PKBM), and 7 students who returned to formal schools. Ahmad Fawaid, Secretary of PKBM Akar Nusa in Paninggaran Village, explained that the 56 students consisted of Primary, Junior High, and High Schools students. The students at the non-formal school were given lessons in applied knowledge and skills, such as batik craft, colouring with acrylic paints, and computer skills.
“The lessons are given according to the needs of our students. We are preparing them to have skills that are useful in the work place,” said Ahmad. The lessons were offered twice weekly, every Monday and Tuesday, starting from 13.00 to 15.00 WIB. Before the pandemic, the learning activities took place in a Madrasah Ibtidaiyah building in Paninggaran Village.
Meanwhile, in Curugmuncar Village, Nur Hidayat, the secretary of Jabal Rokhmah PKBM remarked that there were 13 ATS who attended the non-formal school at the PKBM in Tlogopakis Village, Petungkriono District. There, the teaching-learning activities only happened twice a week on Monday and Thursday, from 14.00 to 16.00 WIB. Before the pandemic, these activities took place at Primary School buildings in each village, which were then shifted to online learning during the pandemic. The students who came from Tlogopakis, Yosorejo, Simego, Kayupuring, and Curugmuncar villages received lessons from six tutors who attended the non-formal school.
As with other PKBMs in general, Nur said the centre helped students to be more flexible with their time so they could still work and help their families. He used the example of a Kejar Paket C student who could still study online at night as that student worked as a labourer at a perfume factory in Jakarta during daytime.
This was what happened to Firda Sulistiana, an ATS student in Curugmuncar Village. She left school after a semester in SMA Negeri 1, Petungkriono because her family could not afford to pay for the school tuition anymore. Her mother worked as a farm labour and grass sickle worker, while her father was bedridden from stroke.
Nur visited Firda at her home and persuaded her to return to school. He explained to Firda’s parents that education would be their daughter’s investment to improve her standard of living in the future. Eventually, Firda was willing to continue her education and chose PKBM for its flexible learning schedule.
According to Nur Hidayat in Petungkriono Sub-District, another reason for students to leave school apart from economic factors was also the long journey. To get to school, students must walk several kilometres uphill as there was no public transportation in the village. “Our area has steep geography. Some students even have to walk 23 kilometres to reach their school, especially those who live in the mountains,” he added.
“We did babat alas. We went door to door from village to village, persuading children to return to school,” explained Nufliyanti, Sub-directorate Head of Education and Culture at the Regional Development Planning, Research, and Development Agency.
Anik Hariwayati, Secretary of Family Welfare Guidance Program (PKK) of the Pekalongan District, shared the active involvement of PKK mothers in approaching ATS and parents. The cadres usually found opportunities to chat with ATS parents when they shopped at a kiosk. “Meanwhile, during RT (neighbourhood unit) meetings, PKK cadres disseminated on the importance of going back to school for children,” said Anik.
By the end of 2021, Bappeda Pekalongan recorded a total of 1,397 children who returned to school thanks to KUDU Sekolah Movement. Fadia A Rafiq, Pekalongan District Head, remarked that KUDU Sekolah was able to contribute to improving the Human Development Index. “KUDU Sekolah Movement was able to realize the dreams of these children of going back to school. It opened up opportunities for children from poor families to reach for their dreams and create a bright future,” she said in closing.
 Babat Alas is a term in Javanese language that means clearing forest to open new land. In this context, the term is used to explain starting something new from the roots.
 High School Equivalency certification
 Data from the Pekalongan Education Office in 2019.
 Anak Tidak Sekolah