Some Kind of Wonderful
Education is a necessity, not a luxury. That’s why Nur Hanifah runs a free school in Bogor, West Java. Gia Wicaksana pays her a visit to find out why—and how—she does it.
For too many youth in Indonesia, higher education is wishful thinking. When their own bellies are empty, their little siblings are not doing well and the house itself is falling apart, survival instincts kick in and formal education takes a back seat. Couple this conundrum with the ever-rising cost of living and it’s no wonder that the underprivileged are forced to enter the workforce before they can reach their fullest employability potential. This results in piecemeal earnings with no real prospects, and thus not much hope to change the family’s future for the better. In 2001, a private Indonesian educational institution came along to change all this.
Located in Bogor, West Java, Bogor EduCare (BEC) attends to poverty-stricken young adults who are not able to continue their education after high school. The institution teaches business administration skills together with Islamic values. This is not only to prepare students for the workforce, but also to enrich their spirituality.
The price tag for all this? Zero. That’s right, education at Bogor EduCare is absolutely free—they provide everything from books to lunches. In short, BEC offers these young adults a light at the end of their poverty-stricken tunnel.
The young woman behind the school is Nur Hanifah, aged 32. The school headmistress dedicates all her time and passion to this institution, caring for little else other than the absolute wellbeing of her students. She believes that everyone is capable of improving their welfare, but that education determines their self-assurance to do so. Hence, the main mission of BEC is to ensure that every student receives adequate knowledge to survive in this world and to escape the vicious cycle of poverty. As the co-founder, Nur has been through her fair share of ups and downs with BEC. Today, she has succeeded in her undertakings.
Why was BEC created?
The idea came up during Indonesia’s 1997 monetary crisis. The CEO of PT Bukaka Teknik Utama and BEC’s founder, Achmad Kalla, witnessed so many children quitting school because their parents had lost their jobs. At that time, I was working for that company, and we decided that we wanted to help the affected children continue their education, to be independent and to eventually increase their family’s welfare. The idea was to set up an educational institution that is absolutely free for the needy… and thus, BEC was born—purely to help.
How did people react when they first heard of BEC?
At first, it was extremely hard for us to get students, because nobody believed that such a good offer was available for free—people assume that we must have some kind of hidden agenda. Therefore, for the first four years, we had very few students because nobody believed in our sincere good cause. Slowly, however, people saw the positive outcomes of BEC’s students, and word of mouth started to spread that we are an honest educational institution that requires no fees whatsoever from the students. Alhamdulillah, as a result, more and more people have trusted us. Currently we have around 250 students, but we are aiming for 300 students this year—the school’s maximum capacity is around 450.
What sort of condition was BEC in when it was first established?
For the first six years, the condition of our school building and facilities was poor. We rented a small, two-storey house in the Panaragan area, and divided the small rooms into even tinier classrooms. Our computers were very outdated—our most advanced one was a Pentium 1—and we assembled our own computer desks. During those years, I doubted whether the school would survive.
One day during Ramadhan in 2007, Mr Kalla came to visit us. He saw the students cramped in the small classrooms, jostling to break fast together. Moved, he held a meeting with his company’s board of directors. Soon after Hari Raya, the construction of our current school began. Now, we have a very decent building with spacious classrooms and superior facilities, such as a computer lab and a sports field. Alhamdulillah, it’s probably part of the blessings of Ramadhan. In fact, working here has indeed given us all so many blessings. That’s probably why I have stayed throughout these years.
What is the BEC programme like?
Initially, we wanted to focus on English in our one-year courses. However, we figured out that employers seek a different skillset. After doing some research, we found out that the best formula to cater to this demand consists of 50 percent English language skills, 20 percent computer or IT skills, 20 percent office administration skills and 10 percent soft skills. This formula is similar to a business administration course. However, we are flexible and open to modifications, as demand changes continually. This is one of our advantages of not being bound to the General Directorate of Higher Education.
What is the biggest challenge facing BEC?
I think our biggest challenge today is keeping the students in school until they graduate and are ready for work. The thing is, BEC has quite a high academic standard. Therefore, there are always expellees who are dismissed every year. We aim for only 5 percent dismissals every year, but up till now it is still around 15 percent. The key is keeping them motivated. We have many students that are capable of getting high grades, but because of external situations—for example, their parents’ divorces—they feel down and lose all spirit. In some cases, there’s not much we can do to change their minds.
Can you tell us more about the graduation requirements at BEC?
To pass, a student’s GPA cannot be lower than 2.00, nor can they have a D. We also monitor their behaviour and attendance records, as we want them to be disciplined and committed to their studies. It is not always easy for them, but we cannot lower the standards.
That is actually one of my messages to them—never stop learning
How do BEC graduates fare in the workplace?
Ninety percent of our graduates manage to land decent jobs or start their own businesses. A couple of students became journalists in Radar Bandung and Jurnal Bogor (newspapers). Some others found work in big national companies such as PT Bosowa and PT Sampoerna in high positions. Some of them, after they become financially capable, enroll themselves in colleges and universities to obtain higher degrees. That is actually one of my messages to them—never stop learning.
Overall, I can say that BEC graduates have always managed to improve their lives and those of their family, and that means our mission is being accomplished.
Besides donating money, how can people help?
We always need people who can volunteer their expertise and skills through our public lecture sessions. Our students look forward to these to broaden their horizons.
Another person we need here is a psychologist. We have many students who need mental health support. Teachers and academic advisors can only assume their psychological problems, but I want my students to receive professional help. We also desperately need health support. Our students often have serious illnesses or injuries, but they don’t bother to take them seriously since they don’t have the money to have them treated.
I’ll give you a recent example. A student had a bike accident. However, he never told us about it and appeared to be fine until he started having vision problems. Suddenly, his condition worsened and he wasn’t able to go to school. When we visited him, he was already in a coma. We hurried him to the hospital for a CT scan, but it was all too late. After two days in the hospital, he passed away, right in front of our eyes. It was fate, I’m sure, but I also believe we could’ve done something to save him. I still feel very sad whenever I think of him.
You are also a wife and a mother. How do you manage your time?
I have three small kids—6, 4, and 2-years old. I work all day, so they have someone taking care of them while I work, and I monitor them via the phone throughout the day. My rule of thumb is to never bring work back home, so that I can focus on them. At weekends, I often have to go to BEC to take care of matters, so the kids come with me. So BEC has become their weekend place. They love it here since they can run around freely on its grounds.
Jl Cikiray RT 03 RW 06 Desa Sukaraja
Do you have any thoughts about our current education system?
My hope for Indonesia is to make its education system more affordable and better in quality. It frustrates me that schooling is so expensive nowadays, yet, they still use the drilling method that forces students to memorise theories instead of making them understand the concepts. In other words, students pay a high fee only to be turned into robots.
What is your message for young people who cannot afford further education?
In Indonesia, there are actually a number of free education foundations, for example Insan Cendikia, and BEC, of course. Although there aren’t too many of us, we do exist. So people just need to dig up the information to access free education. The key is to never give up.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Aquila Style
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