Sunday, September 18, 2011

School is Not School. A Place Where The Community, Not The School, Provides Learning.

I recently shared three radical ideas to transform education without school.  In it, I shared Linda Dobson’s timeless article, When the School Doors Close:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream where she outlines the transformation that would occur if schools ceased to exist and instead we engaged in community-centered learning.  Rather than compulsory, age-based facilities, with community learning people choose to attend and learn about topics of deep personal passion and interest.  There would be many options available to individuals of any age.  The community takes ownership and responsibility of the learning and well-being of others.  As my wise friend Jeff Pulver recently said, “The only difference between a dream and reality is making it happen.”  

There is a community that is doing just that.  I learned about this community from Arif Hidayat.  Although we aren’t the same age, live on opposite ends of the earth, and don’t speak the same language we are connected by our passion to  provide children with learning opportunities that best fit their needs. Through the wonders of Google Translate we have been able to engage in an ongoing dialogue where he has shared stories about two Learning Communities in Indonesia. 

The Qaryah Thayibah Learning Community (QTLC) in Salatiga and the Sekar Gandrung Learning Community (SGLC) in Jepara have been designed to meet the needs of the wider community, with a quality, affordable learning environment. The Learning Community does not require large funds because there are no teachers on the payroll and no large facility costs. It is not tied to a building or place, but rather it is tied to the community, its resources, and the people who are a part of it.  Instead of a learning facility, community resources are used such as the mosques, fields, homes, squares, etc. which already belong to the community and its citizens.  The LC has at it’s foundation a belief of solidarity (mutual assistance), democratization, and sharing.

At the QTLC and SGLC there are study groups that are held in the homes and on the property of their citizens. Those who have knowledge can share it with interested learners. There are theater groups, painting groups, and music. All run in collaboration, synergy, and are democratic. The community is made up of those who have the means to lend, those who have a place to lend, those who have knowledge to share, and those who have money donate, etc.
The events held by these Learning Communities are supported by the community who provide the tools necessary to give or lend to their members. For instance at a recent event the LC put on a show.  Various committees worked together to set the stage, build the roof of the stage, provide chairs for seating, catering for food, etc.. Some community members lent diesel for lighting, lights, sound systems, cameras, etc.. Everything is on loan from residents. 

The Learning Communities are managed by mostly young villagers as well as the students all of whom volunteer to do this work. The Learning Communities also honor their members passions.  If a learner may want to be a mechanic or carpenter then they simply find an internship to learn about that field.  In fact in Jepara there are established businesses, such as the carved furniture businesses that have found success and employed workers without formal schooling necessary.  There is a realization that traditional schooling is not necessary for success in all careers.  The Learning Communities also instill in learners the importance of giving back for the betterment of the community.

Here is what some learning community participants have to say about their experience:
Rohmatun (teacher of SGLC)
Places of learning, for me, absolutely no problem, because children can learn anywhere. But that has always been my thinking is what activities make them more qualified. Whether religious subjects, arts, life skills like planting crops, livestock, etc, according to their interests.

Defri (member of SGLC) :
I have a year more in SGLC. I used to feel inferior to mingle with many people, especially for the performances on stage. But now I dare to appear to sing and play music on stage.

Wide (member of SGLC) :
I learned a lot about the sense of togetherness, volunteerism, learning how to organize and run an event, sharing facilities, sharing time, etc..

Didin Ardiansyah (teacher and founder of SGLC) :
No man is stupid and useless in this world. Everyone has potential. And the potential it will be known in the process of socializing. With a spirit of independence, togetherness, we are trying to empower themselves. We are confident that we will become a great power by continuing to learn and synergize the various potentials.

Tia (member of QTLC) :
Here I discovered the world of photography which allows me to learn the character of the people I meet. I also write for a newspaper which lets me earn money to help my parents. This school enables me to see other world, because here, I have more leisure time than at formal schools to explore my interests. 

Aini Zulfa (Student of QTLC) :
I've been here for 4,5 years. When I started the system was formal: At 6 am we have to learn English, other regular lessons, performing Dzuhur prayer in the afternoon, and having lessons again until 2 pm. In the second year.. it was starting to be free, and in the third year we've been released to be as we wish.

Ahmad Bahruddin (teacher and founder of QTLC):
The best is the useful one, not the smart one. Smart could be bad.  Of course.. the most important is how to be a nation.. a community that is intelligent, civilized, and useful. So that.. togetherness is important because it provides mutual benefits.

Maia Rosyida (student of QTLC):
Since the 2nd grade I found something was wrong with school. I started to get bored because at a young age I already liked writing, started dreaming about wanting to be this and that... but the teachers did not always support my dreams. For example.. when I wanted to know the history of Chairil Anwar. The teacher said: "That's later.. when you are in 6th and 7th grade.  This disturbed me. Since that time, I dreamed of when there would be a place where teachers really understood children as though they were our own parents.  Now I found a place where others have the same thinking.. so I join with friends in a place where we are incredibly supported.   The children are managers. The curriculum is also from children. Everything returns back to the children. Because we are who learn, and we are who need to learn, not other people... so we are who run it and are responsible. It is fully trusted that every child has potential, has different desires, and has ability.  Today  while others in school are still writing "once upon a time", I've already written articles that I have been inspired to write because I idolized and studied writers like Chairil Anwar.

Ridwan (parent of QTLC):
Here I really feel valued because as parent, I can learn as well. It turned out that I still need to learn many things from the children here. That is what differs from the schooling system... where there is a boundary between parents and the school. Here parents can also become learners.

If you want to see what this looks like, you can watch their recently created videos below.

Part 1

Part 2

Is this type of learning environment of interest to you?  If it is, how will you can make it a reality in your community?

To learn more, download the SGLC presentation here.


  1. I'm intrigued by this thinking. I wonder how a system like this could work in an environment like the United States where the majority of both or the only parent(s) hold jobs away from home. Anyone have any thoughts on that issue?

  2. @Chris Francik, once you let go of the idea that learning happens in a place/building you can think about this differently. If children are in a community they can learn from all the businesses / resources in the community and those in the community can support children learning in mutually beneficial ways.

    For instance, children who love animals might have the opportunity to spend time tending to the monkeys in the zoo. Children who love skateboarding might spend time at the local skate shop learning to repair and build skateboards. Children that love music might spend time at the local instrument shop learning with customers and talking about music etc. Basically, those who spend their days in the community where the children live would take part in providing learning opportunities for the children.

  3. I'm okay with learning not having to be in a specific place or building. I'm having trouble imagining a whole new construct. Even in my fairly large city of Louisville, Kentucky, many students end up in camps and classes that seem very similar to school. I'm intrigued by a new way of thinking. What would anyone recommend as initial steps in work in this direction? As interested as I am in the ideas, envisioning this type of change as politicians and other power brokers move learning in the opposite direction has me stymied.

  4. Chris, If I live in town, probably also will find it difficult to start education model as this Learning Community. I can imagine big city life, where people are very individualistic. This is what makes it difficult.
    I live in Indonesia on rural areas, where people still enjoy the tradition of mutual help. Sharing knowledge, sharing facilities, sharing the place ... it is our custom.
    What can be applied in urban areas? I think it might be. But this will require an uphill battle, because they have to fight tradition.

    First, I think, that must be done is to find members who join. 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 people .. then 10 people should understand first what a Learning Community. (Did you download the presentation?)
    Secondly, if they have agreed to follow the ideology and system of the practice learning Learning Community has been able to start, by making subsequent agreements.

  5. Wow-this sounds ideal! Very inspiring and I think It makes perfect sense to me. When I was a classroom teacher the only way I felt it truly worked was when I was able to facilitate the class becoming as close to this kind of learning community as possible. Finding ways to get into the students into the community and bring the outside community resources into the classroom helped make learning real. Trying to help students find,follow and share passions beyond the required curriculum is so worthwhile.

    1. Yes, certainly so. And in fact, the curriculum for us, should fit the needs and interests of children. No need for education bureaucracy.