Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Mon, 12/22/2008 11:05 AM
Education officials in Batu municipality had had enough. The uncontrolled development of its water catchment area had reduced the Brantas River, the city's main water source, to a stream; weather in the resort town was growing warmer every day and sanitation-related diseases were on the rise.
To encourage the involvement of local people, from a young age, in combating these sorts of problems, the city's education agency launched a sanitation and environmental curriculum in 2003.
"At first the program was laughed at by others because it focused on what people often overlook, such as how to bathe, wash the hands...But later people took it seriously because the new curriculum made children aware of the environment and their personal hygiene," education agency head Mistin said.
Visiting Jakarta for a discussion held by the Environmental Services Program (ESP), funded by the United States Agency for International Development, Mistin discussed the difficulties her office faced in implementing the curriculum with some school teachers in the capital.
She said that schools usually choose teachers who worked the least, such as physical education teachers, to teach the environmental studies classes. The teachers were changed regularly because of scheduling issues and no standard teaching material was used.
"As a local curriculum, meaning there is no national examination, the schools didn't pay due attention to it and some of them even integrated it as part of other subjects such as science," Mistin said.
In 2005, the ESP introduced its Clean, Green and Hygiene program to Batu, in a bid to save the forest by encouraging locals to separate their organic and non-organic waste.
After adopting ESP's fun teaching method, school students now learn about river ecosystems, forest conservation, waste management and hygiene.
"There are special teachers handling the class and they have routine meetings to discuss the studies. Now we have standard teaching methods and modules," Mistin said.
ESP Health Communication coordinator Nona Utomo said the program had significantly reduced the number of diarrhea cases among children, the main target of the organization's work in Batu.
"In three years, the number has plunged from nine to 10 cases per month on average to one or two," she said.
Working together with ESP since 2006, Muslim organization Muhammadiyah had also adopted the Clean, Green and Hygiene program in swampy Paciran, Lamongan regency in East Java.
"At first, many people resisted the involvement of a foreign country ... We used religious approach to make them accept the importance of clean and hygienic living," said Syafiq Mughni, chairman of Muhammadiyah in East Java.
Muhammadiyah has 925 schools as well as 815 kindergartens in the province. Currently, 119 elementary schools and 330 Islamic boarding schools have applied the Clean, Green and Hygiene curriculum.
"By May 2009 four model schools (based on the sanitation and environmental curriculum) will be launched in Paciran, Pare, Malang and Surabaya," Syafiq said.
Noted environmentalist Emil Salim said that the Batu municipality and Muhammadiyah in East Java had succeeded in using a holistic approach to build the school curriculum.
"We have to encourage the next generation to develop understanding on living in harmony with nature," he said.
Winda, a teacher at Islamic private school Al-Kenaniyah in Pulomas, East Jakarta, said that the school was considering adopting the special curriculum.
"We need this kind of local curriculum so children will understand why there is always flood and water-borne diseases in Jakarta. But we haven't got any response from the Jakarta administration about this matter," she said.