In schools across the Semarang region of Indonesia, a small revolution is taking place.
Students, parents and head teachers are coming together for the first time to challenge poor school facilities and teacher performance via Cek Sekolah Ku (Check my School), an online platform that publicises school budgets, allows students to highlight teacher absenteeism, and reports issues directly to the Department of Education.
Making All Voices Count's Lucy von Sturmer visited schools in the region to ask them how Cek Sekolah Ku is working on the ground.
To get people on board, you need to show success - and fast
SMP 41 secondary school was chosen by project lead Rosihan Widi Nugroho to launch the platform in Semarang.
But, despite picking a school where the principal was known for welcoming change, launching any new project is an uphill battle - and SMP 41's Principal Nurwahidah was wary about embracing a platform which revealed the school's budget data and encouraged students to question and report on teachers.
Rosihan knew he had to work hard to gain her trust: he needed a quick win.
Walking around the school grounds, Rosihan noticed the school's toilet was too small and had no roof - and spotted an opportunity.
He uploaded a picture of the toilet on the Cek Sekolah Ku platform. This alerted the district’s Head of Education and, within a week, the toilet was fixed.
“This small, visible change inspired the whole school to start using the platform,” says Principal Nurwahidah. “I now tell my students: if you see something wrong, send a complaint to Cek Sekolah Ku so we can get it fixed!”
Students need both support and safe spaces in order to question authority
The Cek Sekolah Ku platform has also become an active part of the students’ daily lives, and the school's IT classes include training on how to access the site and lodge questions.
Rian Pratana (above right), age 14, says that the platform feels like a safe space.
“If I couldn’t give feedback here, I wouldn’t know where to do it.”
Aisyah Dini (above left), also says she’s noticed that since the school began using the platform, teachers are now always on time and much more engaged in their lessons.
She points to recent examples of complaints that have been logged on the platform and brought quick responses from the school - including fans for every classroom and new desks replacing the old ones that were rotten with woodworm.
The right information can turn ‘feelings of concern’ into actionable complaints
Just down the road, at SMP 23 elementary school in Semarang, parents said that they were concerned for years that teachers’ requests for ‘voluntary’ payments were actually fraud, but had no proof that anything was being done wrong.
“Teachers kept asking us for money on an almost daily basis. They said it’s for a refurbished prayer room, an outdoor excursion, or new equipment, but we were frustrated with these on-going demands. These we’re not really voluntary, because the teachers would stand by the donation box and the students felt intimidated not to pay.” – Parents Committee, SMP 23
But, using the budget information on Cek Sekolah Ku, the Parents’ Committee was able to see just how much funding was coming into the school and what it was being spent on – helping to highlight where these ‘requests’ were actually already covered by the school’s budget.
At the monthly Cek Sekolah Ku meetings, where parents, school leadership and education department discuss reports lodged on the platform, the Parents' Committee finally felt they could raise the issue, using the school's budget information to back up their complaint.
“The teachers defended the requests saying there were teaching the students generosity... but after this meeting the requests stopped.”
We're changing minds - one toilet at a time
The changes in schools may be small, but the changes in attitudes of parents, teachers, students and the education authority is significant.
Sujono Soedjono, Education Agency Secretary, responsible for all 400 schools in the city explains
“We used to receive complaints in a wooden box; now it’s an online platform - it feels like a very big difference."
And the small victories really do seem to be adding up to big changes.
This blog is one of a series of articles highlighting some of the new voices that are emerging in Indonesia’s quest for better governance, showing how school children, university students and women are speaking up about issues that affect them.
To explore projects Making All Voices Count is supporting in Indonesia see here.
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