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Palm oil is shifting the outlook of education in Indonesia


This article was originally published on medium.com on 13 November 2018. 

In recent years, Indonesia has been making gradual progress in improving the accessibility of education to young children in Indonesia. According to UNESCO, Indonesia’s literacy rate is currently around 95 percent. The youth literacy rate is performing better, at 99.67 percent[1].

Personally, I believe that education is the basis to unleashing the potential of many young children, as they build a future for themselves. With fundamental education, they are able to gain access to an ocean of knowledge – broadening their horizon as they develop. In Indonesia, students learn basic subjects like Bahasa Indonesia, Mathematics, Science, and Social Sciences.

Besides the standard classroom subjects, students also take part in co-curricular activities. They take part in performing arts, athletic activities or social clubs. This is where they nurture relationships and develop different perspectives with the community they live in. Their teachers play a big part in developing these relationships and perspectives.

At GAR, we support an all-inclusive education system where elements of culture, personality and belonging all come into play. We believe that every child has the right to education. However, with over 30 percent of the population living in remote rural areas[2], it’s no wonder that education can be an obstacle for these families. This is why we support more than 230 schools across our plantations, from kindergarten to junior high, giving free education for the children of both permanent and casual employees.

As an Education Programme Specialist at GAR, I seek to understand the important skills that students from GAR-supported schools should possess. It is important for children living in and around plantations to fully understand and appreciate the environment that they live in. If palm oil is to become more sustainable and continue to feed the world for generations to come, these children must become stewards of the land. In the past, we’ve seen overuse of chemical fertilisers and clearing of land by “slash-and-burn” methods but things have changed and there are better ways of doing things. Whether they end up working with palm oil or not, GAR believes a strong understanding and appreciation of the environment is important for the next generation.

This is why more than 2,000 of our teachers go the extra mile daily to provide mentorship in academic as well as extracurricular activities. These teachers also teach practical knowledge such as the consequences of ‘slash-and-burn’ practices on plantations, how to prevent forest fires and the persistent practice of sustainable farming. By learning these practical skills from an early age, they form good habits as they grow older, learning to preserve the land for generations to come. 

Opening the doors of knowledge

Apart from recognising the difficulties for children to attend school, we understand the different situations of every individual and family. At GAR, we invest more than US$1.5 million in student scholarships. We strive to enable every child, rich or poor, to have access to quality education. GAR’s donation of books, learning materials, and facilities have reached more than 4,000 university students.

I was, once upon a time, a freshman in university and I fully understand how daunting it can be. There are new friends to make, new subjects to learn and juggling between school and family can be tiresome. GAR’s scholarship programme allows students to be paired with a mentor who will provide direction and support throughout the course of their study.

We believe education and the use of knowledge are equally important. That’s why we make an effort to provide every individual with a wholesome and inclusive environment to pursue their passions. Students are offered the opportunity to either work in our company or pursue other professions upon graduation.

Prior to the formation of our programme, many found it difficult to collect information with regards to their passion as they were living in areas where the internet was limited and libraries were sparse. With the scholarship programme in West Kalimantan, they were granted access to a lot of resources, allowing them to enjoy a better education and to plan for a better future.

Through a clear and transparent process, we select 10 interested applicants from plantations in West Kalimantan that are eligible for GAR’s scholarship programme every year. The student will be allowed to choose among a variety of courses such as Agriculture, Medicine, Education and more. To top it all off, they are given an internship opportunity at GAR’s operations before they graduate.

Heri speaking to students from one of GAR’s supported schools.

Hopes for the future

The scholarship programme by GAR has allowed students to enjoy education worry-free. My hope for future generations is for them to fully absorb and appreciate the beauty of learning and knowledge. We plan to make our programme even more collaborative and have a more profound impact on children living around our plantations. One of our near-term goals is to extend this programme for eight more years and reach out to as many children as we can around our plantations.

We are at the heart of the communities’ journey to responsible palm oil production. Education is just one of GAR’s commitments to ensure that we help enhance and grow our communities sustainably.

If you’re interested in learning more about GAR’s efforts in supporting our communities, read more here.

About the author: Heri Santiko is an Education Programme Specialist based in Jakarta at Golden Agri-Resources (GAR).

[1] UNESCO Report – Indonesia
[2] Agricultural Population in Indonesia – World Bank

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