Sekolah Master Indonesia: A Free School for the Marginalized

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Sekolah Master Indonesia. (photo: IO/Yoga Agusta)

IO – Sekolah Master Indonesia is where marginalized citizens can get a free education. It was established by Nurrohim in Depok in the early 2000’s. With the help of local teens and student activists, he initiated the concept of alternative education for the marginalized. His concern was for Indonesian children who drop out of school because of poverty and other causes, as well as his sharpened empathy from his own years living on the streets; this inspired him to vow to do what he could to lift them out of their unfortunate condition. He came up with the idea of opening a school for anyone who wants an education, especially the people at the margins: street hawkers, buskers, and scavengers.

The educational model of Sekolah Master Indonesia is different from that of other private schools. Nurrohim and his friends create school programs according to need. The curriculum is chosen by voting: programs with a majority of votes will be prioritized.  Sekolah Master accepts volunteers who act as companions, motivators, and inspirers to their students, to help them manifest their potential. ‘Each of us possesses a different kind of intelligence. Well, we try to optimize these advantages – to launch them, to mature them, and to group them together,’ he explained.

These marginalized children are imbued with the main values of life. ‘At least they feel comfortable with kindness, understanding that being good feels right: nobody will treat you with suspicion. You can remain on the streets, but you have to act civilized, you have to be ethical. If you want to busk, if you want to scavenge, don’t do it while drunk and don’t carry sharp weapons. The thing is to teach them that they still have feelings – that even though they’re poor, they still have feelings, they can still care for others. They can still help people even if they don’t have any money – like helping people cross the road or carry heavy packages,’ he said.

As the founder of Sekolah Master, Nurrohim prioritizes a balance of character and skills training. ‘So even though they may be poor, they are also healthy and smart, and of course, productive and empowered. They have powerful skills, so when they go into the world of work, they already have a diploma, they have good manners and morals, they can compete with others. If they want to go into business for themselves, we prepare them for it, so they feel empowered. With education, we hope to break the chain of poverty and hopelessness. This is our aspiration,’ he said.

Sekolah Master’s overarching program is ‘one family, one college graduate’. ‘Education will raise both your personal dignity and your family’s position. If you’re educated, you’re no longer viewed as a “lowlife”. Your mother may be a washerwoman, but there will be more respect if at least one of her children is a college graduate. We want to turn marginal people into masters of their own destiny. We hope to eliminate poverty, hopelessness, and underdevelopment through education,’ he concluded.

(Chester Allen)