Ki Hadjar Dewantara, Father of Indonesian Education

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Ki Hadjar Dewantara. (Wikimedia)

IO – May is also known as National Education Month, about the National Education Day on May 2. This date is designated as National Education Day based on the date of birth of the Indonesian Education figure, Raden Mas Soewardi Soerjaningrat or Ki Hadjar Dewantara who was born in Pakualaman, 2 May 1889 and died in Yogyakarta, 26 April 1959 at the age of 69 years. 

Ki Hadjar was an activist for the Indonesian independence movement, columnist, politician, and pioneer of education for Indonesian natives during the Dutch colonial era. He is the founder of Perguruan Taman Siswa, an educational institution that provides opportunities for natives to gain education rights just like members of the aristocracy and Dutch people. 

Part of his motto: “Tut Wuri Handayani”, is today the slogan of the Indonesian Ministry of National Education. His name is immortalized as the name of an Indonesian warship, KRI Ki Hajar Dewantara. His portrait was immortalized on the 1998 edition of the 20,000 Rupiah banknote. 

He was confirmed as the second national hero by the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Sukarno, on November 28, 1959 (Presidential Decree No. 305 of 1959, dated November 28, 1959). 

Soewardi comes from the Pakualaman Palace family, the son of GPH Soerjaningrat, and the grandson of Pakualam III. He completed his basic education at ELS (European/ Dutch Elementary School). Then he continued to STOVIA (Native Doctor School) but did not graduate, due to illness. Then he worked as a writer and journalist in several newspapers, including Sediotomo, Midden Java, De Expres, Oetoesan Hindia, Kaoem Moeda, Tjahaja Timoer, and Poesara. In his time, he was classified as a reliable writer. His writings were communicative and sharp, with an anti-colonial spirit. 

From the founding of Boedi Oetomo in 1908, he was active in the propaganda section, in the quest to socialize and raise awareness of the Indonesian people (especially Javanese) at that time about the importance of unity and integrity in the nation. The first Boedi Oetomo congress in Yogyakarta was also organized by him. 

Young Soewardi also became a member of the Insulinde organization, a multiethnic organization dominated by the Indos or Indonesian-born Dutch people that fought for self-rule in the Dutch East Indies, under the influence of Ernest Douwes Dekker. When Douwes Dekker later founded the Indische Partij, he invited Soewardi to join. 

When the Dutch East Indies government attempted to collect donations from citizens, including natives, for the celebration of Dutch independence from France in 1913, there was a critical reaction from nationalists, including Soewardi. He later wrote “Een voor Allen maar Ook Allen voor Een” or “One for All, but All for One Also”. 

However, his most famous article, “If I Were a Dutchman” (original title: “Als ik een Nederlander was”), was published in the De Expres newspaper led by Douwes Dekker, July 13, 1913. The contents of this article were very scathing toward Dutch East Indies officials. The quote of the text is as written below. 

“If I were a Dutchman, I would not have organized independence parties in a country which we have taken over its independence for ourselves. Parallel to that line of thought, it is not only unfair, but it is also inappropriate to ask the natives to contribute to the celebration fund. To organize that celebration alone has insulted them, and now we are also digging their pockets. Let’s just go on with that physical and mental insult! If I were a Dutchman, the thing that would especially offend me and my fellow countrymen was the fact that the natives are required to support an activity that was not in their interest – not even a little bit.” 

As a result of this exposition, he was arrested with the approval of Governor-General Idenburg and would be exiled to Bangka Island (at his request). However, his two colleagues, Douwes Dekker and Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo, protested, and finally, the three of them were exiled to the Netherlands (1913). These three figures are known as the “Tiga Serangkai”. Soewardi was then 24 years of age. 

While in exile in the Netherlands, Soewardi was active in the organization of Indonesian students, Indische Vereeniging (Association of the Indies). In 1913 he founded the Indonesisch Pers-bureau, the “Indonesian news agency”. This was in fact the first formal use of the term “Indonesia”, coined in 1850 by British linguist George Windsor Earl and Scottish legal scholar James Richardson Logan. 

This is where he then pioneered his goal of advancing the natives’ interests, by studying educational science until he obtained the Europeesche Akta, a prestigious educational diploma that would later become a foothold in establishing an original educational institution. In this study, Soewardi was attracted to the ideas of several Western education figures, such as Froebel and Montessori, as well as the Indian education movement, Santiniketan, by the Tagore family. These influences underlie the development of his educational system. 

Soewardi returned to Indonesia in September 1919. Soon thereafter he joined his brother’s school. This teaching experience was then used to develop the concept of teaching for the school he founded on July 3, 1922: Nationaal Onderwijs Instituut Tamansiswa or Tamansiswa National School. When he turned 40, according to the Javanese calendar, he changed his name to Ki Hadjar Dewantara. He no longer used the aristocratic title in front of his name. This is so that he can freely be close to the people, both physically and mentally. 

The motto in the education system he uses is now well known in Indonesian education circles. In its entirety, the motto in Javanese reads: ing ngarsa sung tuladha, ing madya mangun karsa, tut wuri handayani. (“Giving an example at the front, encouraging in the middle, giving support from behind”). This motto is still used in the world of education for the Indonesian people, especially in Tamansiswa schools. 

On August 17, 1946, Ki Hadjar Dewantara was appointed the main teacher at the Police High School of the Republic of Indonesia in Mertoyudan Magelang by the President of the Republic of Indonesia. 

In the first cabinet of the Republic of Indonesia, Ki Hadjar Dewantara was appointed the first Indonesian Minister of Teaching (his post was called the Minister of Education, Teaching, and Culture). In 1957 he received an honorary doctorate from Indonesia’s oldest university, Gadjah Mada University. (rp)