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Gandhian Experiment in primary Education

The Story of Taman Kanak-kanak 'Gandhi'

Gedong Bagoes Oka

Nothing turns out right so long as there is no harmony between body, mind, and soul.

— M.K. Gandhi

‘Taman kanak-kanak’ is the Indonesian term for kindergarten, and in further references the letters TK will be used.

As background to TK ‘Gandhi’ in Candi Dasa should be mentioned the Bali Canti Sena Foundation, established in Denpasar, Bali, on 10 December 1970. Its objective was to meet the needs of the time, i.e., to disseminate Gandhian ideas which would give the right orientation to our young generation and make them responsible citizens of the Republic of Indonesia. This, we believed, could only be done when the basis of our life and attitude was ahimsa and satya, the great twin principles of Vedanta successfully demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi. We endeavoured to do this by starting a monthly that would bring out suitable articles to promote open minds, a spirit of enquiry and constructive activities. Holding camps and outdoor activities for students were part and parcel of this endeavour.

Several of such engagements, however, met with little success. It turned out that camps and outdoor activities were popular, but little was achieved in terms of sustained work. The Gandhian way required a more solid interaction.

Then with great trepidation we made bold to try out a Gandhian Ashram which we named ‘Canti Dasa’ — servants of peace — which, as if so ordained, was located at a beautiful spot at the foot of an ancient temple.

The urge to be of some service to our immediate community led to a concern for health. A modest dispensary was started, which brought in its wake a free lunch programme for our neighbour, the village school with its 300 or so pupils.

Hardly a year had this project been underway when we decided to suspend our activities due to strained relations with the provincial religious body, who were suspicious of the motives behind the lunch programme. In order to continue our feeding programme, we hit upon the idea of starting our own school. Our financial limitations compelled us to be modest and imposed severe economy in our approach. For this purpose a kindergarten seemed to be feasible, since our area had no kindergarten.

Candi Dasa derives its name from an ancient temple built around the year 800. It must have been some kind of retreat or hermitage, judging from the austere architectural style. It is an exceedingly beautiful spot: a strip of golden beach with hills as a backdrop, on top of which is perched this austere temple. A small fresh-water lake fed by many springs on its banks runs into the ocean.

On the banks of the little lake is Ashram ‘Canti Dasa’, dedicated to the great soul of Mahatma Gandhi, whom we look upon as our guru, although he himself during his life emphatically refused to be anybody’s guru. Such was his humility and honesty.

Looking back over the years we realize that, unknowingly, we started some pioneering work of the most difficult kind, i.e., to change people’s minds by using persuasion and personal example, the Gandhian way par excellence. And that, it should be added, in the teeth of opposition of vested interests.

With a kindergarten to be developed, our own objectives and goals began to take clearer shape. As a concrete manifestation of the Bali Canti Sena Foundation’s aim, which has for its guiding principles ahimsa and satya, the objectives of TK ‘Gandhi’ are:

(a) to apply a holistic approach to the education of our pupils. The holistic approach, which is derived from the noble Vedantic dictum tat tvam asi — oneness of life — should be reflected in the methods and methodology of the school;

(b) to bring out and foster all the potential in the child and help it express these through ahimsic channels; and

(c) to make school a happy adventure of discovery for the child.

Candi Dasa cannot be properly called a village, as it consists of a score of hamlets sprawling across the beach area of the village of Bugbug. Its inhabitants number not more than 750 to 800 people. Their source of living is petty farming. Only coconut groves thrive in the locality. Cattle raising adds to their income, but in the dry season grass is scarce. Fishing is also taken up, but it seems that of late the catch has decreased due to superior methods of fishing by people with capital. Of the lime kilns that used to help a few families, some have had to be closed down due to the enforcement of laws supporting ecological balance. Even from colonial times this area has been a poor one and many of its people have over the years migrated to more prosperous parts of the island and of late also to other islands.

There used to be one village school only, our neighbour, but the new drive for education made Candi Dasa one school richer. However, now there is already the problem of filling the first grades of these schools with enough pupils.

Apart from two or three carpenters and one blacksmith, no village industry can be discerned. These are only to be found in the adjacent village of Tenganan, which is famous because of its indigenous government and life-style that has remained intact for almost a hundred years. It has become one of the highlights of tourist interest. Although the tourist industry tries hard to sell this area it does not seem likely that hordes of tourist will come in the near future.


In Indonesia even private schools have to follow the syllabus set by the government, with some concessions so long as there is no clash with the country’s philosophy, Panchashila. In practice, thus, there is some leeway for teaching to depart from the government’s dictates. In fact a good deal depends on the creativity and inventiveness of the teacher, who should know how to interpret the spirit of directives creatively. The teachers should be resourceful in integrating and weaving their own outlook and approach towards education into the government guidelines.

The ultimate objective of our educational approach being the attainment of true freedom of the individual, the immediate goal is how to foster those qualities and potential in the child that would help to bring about a peaceful, non-violent human community where relationships are conducive to harmony and creativity.

The method of teaching emphasizes the self-activity of the child, in which the teacher participates and stimulates rather than teaches as understood generally. The main idea that a teacher should bear in mind is that whatever is done in class should be rooted in the children’s environment. Whatever is artificial should be avoided; in other words, there should be harmony between life at home and in school.

The poverty prevailing in this area means that parents should be saved school expenses. Therefore the only money parents spend is on the few things absolutely needed in class, such as two or three cheap copy-books and a pencil every other month, while no fees or other expenses are charged.

It goes without saying that in our system the principle of swadeshi is given prime importance. To make or produce whatever we need for our food or use is religiously practised in our school. This is possible because we grow our own food, have our own carpenter and tailor/dressmaker as well as musicians. The material we need also should be found in our environment.


Ashram Canti Dasa, which runs the TK ‘Gandhi’, is truly a self-supporting community and receives no aid or subsidy from the government or other sources. Therefore our financial means are very limited and only the utmost economy enables us to survive. In such a situation there is no question of hiring teachers. When we opened the TK ‘Gandhi’ qualified kindergarten teachers were scarce anyway, while those who had been trained in government institutions were cut according to government taste. Luckily a teacher was found who due to political stigma had been jobless for a number of years. She was more than willing to accept our offer, even on a truly ‘honorary’ basis, her salary being of ‘a basic need sufficiency’. The good luck was that she was a good singer and could teach the basics of Balinese dance as well.

After two years we drew the central government’s attention and were then given by way of support a woman teacher to help out in our TK. However, as is usually the case with government employed people, she proved more of a liability than a real help. In effect all Ashram members get turns in assisting in the TK whenever they are free from their own duties in the Ashram. For everyone of us knows something that could be put to good use in the TK class. One older woman is a master at making offerings and palm frond cuttings, so indispensable in Balinese ceremonies and decoration. Another knows how to play the flute and yet another girl teaches swimming. Thus our TK has quite a few different teachers in a week. This is how we make the most of our limitations.

Finding the children to people our newly opened TK also presented a slight problem at first. As is well-known, in farming families children have to help out at home or in the field at an early age. For girls, from the age of four daily task could be from collecting firewood, minding younger siblings or just watching the new paddy harvest drying in the sun. Little boys are made to mind grazing cows or the ducks that are let loose in fields that have just been harvested, or perhaps simply watch the house while their mothers are fetching water.

With the cooperation of the village chief some kids were rounded up and within a month we had a class of 27 children. We considered ourselves fortunate that someone, and a woman at that, could be found willing to mind the children. To disseminate the ideas we nurse about education through this TK, all the members of the Ashram eventually became some sort of teachers according to their skills.

Our children come from very poor backgrounds. Their parents struggle the whole day just to scrape a living. Therefore the principle of swadeshi, aside from being an ideal — one that we try to follow faithfully, is pure necessity.

Teaching aids that seem to be a common sight in city or town kindergartens are conspicuous by their absence here. Thus, in this regard, the recourse taken to environment is a must. A real blessing for TK ‘Gandhi’ is its paradisiacal environment. We are, as it were, drenched in the gifts of nature: water, air, both pure and clear, plants in all shades of green, and healthy-looking animals and pets, the expanse of the blue ocean take our children daily in their happy embrace, stimulating in them free spontaneous movements, laughter and song. That our place is a veritable paradise is apparent from the fact that most of the children are already on the TK premises long before school starts. We can see them on the swing or the see-saw, running back and forth on the sandy beach, the little girls walking hand-in-hand while collecting edible berries and fruit that has dropped to the ground; or intently watching a newborn calf drink milk from its mother.

With the hills right behind us, as well as a fresh-water lake, the Ashram’s site indeed fulfils the three requirements mentioned in the Vedas to make it a fit spot for meditation and other noble pursuits.

Where the hills meet the ocean

And there are springs nearby.

Verily, that is the place for meditation.

The surrounding coconut groves offer plenty of yellow palm fronds for the children to practise on when weaving little mats to sit on, or when cutting decorative streamers and a variety of geometrical forms so indispensable in our celebrations.

The beautiful beach at the doorstep of our school can at any time be used as a vast sandbox in which the children can model, build castles of sand or simply draw and scribble to their hearts’ content. Once the government supervisor of kindergartens came to inspect our school. His only remark was, ‘The only pity is that there is no sandbox here for the children’, to which our teacher replied: ‘Sir, the whole ocean and its beach is the best sandbox one can think of ’. What an apt remark to show how hidebound we often are, a result of our parrot-like education.

Twice a week the school goes for a walk in the nearby cluster of hamlets or in the hills, for the beach is their daily fare. This is the occasion to make them aware of the beauty of our surroundings and the industry of the villagers. For at any given time some activity is going on, be it feeding the pigs, pounding rice, weaving mats or a carpenter giving shape to the boat under his hands. Then all their senses can be stimulated, which is later reflected in the drawing class.

Swimming is almost a daily feature of our curriculum. Simple exercises and postures, derived from yoga and Balinese dance, are integrated in their physical exercise hour, while indigenous children’s games are promoted.

We do not follow the teaching of the three Rs too closely, for we believe that drawing, games and singing are more beneficial and anyway the primary school will offer enough opportunity for the three Rs. The managing of the garden’s fruits, leaves, shells, stones, etc., more readily captures the children’s attention. Singing and dancing are daily occurrences. The idea behind these two activities is to help preserve and promote the vernacular and local culture, since in the ethnic communities of Indonesia, of which there are many, vernaculars and their attending cultures run the danger of disappearing, the more so now, with the national language rapidly gaining ground and popularity due to its being identified with progress. Artistic Bali offers a wide range of local instruments which can be used in kindergartens and are inexpensive compared to instruments that are imported. In our TK we have a few wooden xylophones on which the kids can beat to their hearts’ content.

Hygiene and Clean Habits

Holistic or integrated health is a supreme consideration in our approach. Consequently health of body, mind, and soul should be promoted whenever and wherever possible. But the stimulation should take place in a natural way. For instance the singing of mantras before starting the morning and when leaving the premises as well as before partaking of lunch is our way of getting involved in religion and a reverent attitude. Mantras promoting love for parents, teachers and guests, or for instilling a feeling for God as being the essence of life as so well expressed in ‘tvameva mata, cha pita tvameva’, or for promoting friendship, fill the Ashram atmosphere at set times of the day.

Keeping the little hands busy at something useful and meaningful fosters healthy minds, whereas bodily health is taken care of by exercise, walks, swimming and games. In order to stimulate them in a natural way it is especially important that the teacher teaches by example and by personal participation in these activities.

An important feature of the hygiene and health concern is the free school lunch we offer our children. It is through the school lunch that many things are passed on, such as: (a) nutritious food for our lunches is so planned that the parents can make the most of whatever the environment offers in the way of greens, fats, protein, etc.; in fact their habit, dictated by poverty, of eating a variety of green leaves from hedges nearby proves to be most wholesome. It has been found that, for instance, the consumption of three different kinds of green leaves as mixed vegetables more than matches two carotene intake we get from carrots, which are alien to villagers anyway besides requiring ‘sophisticated’ methods for their cultivation; (b) fermented tapioca cake is an excellent way of taking in vitamins B-complex, while such cake is very cheap and thus considered a ‘poor people’s snack’; (c) tempe, a fermented soya bean item, contains the best and most easily digested vegetable protein. At first it was rejected by the children, as it originated in Java, where it is a ‘people’s food item. Persistent persuasion has now made tempe acceptable and popular.

Neat eating habits should be established and brushing teeth afterwards is to habituate the children to a clean feeling in the mouth. From remarks among the parents when they bring their kids to school we can conclude that our free lunch programme does not stop at lunchtime in our premises, as every newly introduced food item is heatedly discussed. The pros and cons are debated, but it is certain that there are always a few who adopt our novelties.

Our dispensary, which serves the schoolchildren’s health without excluding others from the village, has also helped in lessening the habit of smoking, for no smoker is served. Of late we have begun to offer acupuncture. The hardest fight was against the national habit of the Balinese of spitting. Luckily, this habit is dying out in our neighbour, the village school. A five-year campaign about plastic littering has yielded results, but not at the public level. That is, now people are careful about keeping their compounds plastic free, but this feeling of responsibility for public places is still very thinly spread.

The School’s Interaction with Others

Interaction forms the basis of social intercourse of human society. It may be said that perhaps interaction beyond the family circle starts for the child in kindergarten. For the TK ‘Gandhi’ interaction has an added dimension. Naturally the children’s interaction with Ashram members has its merits as well as a negative side. But an unusual opportunity is there due to our foreign guests’ presence. Not a few of them took an interest in our TK kids and more often than not joined in by teaching simple songs and games from their own cultures.

Guests with small children loved to have their own offsprings join the kindergarten while they were holidaying with us. In the first year of the kindergarten children were afraid of our foreign guests, a few even immediately started crying at seeing a foreigner, but now we have to take care that they do not bother the guests, because of few of them like to spoil the children with all kinds of little presents, which can easily develop into some form of bribery. This aspect of interaction is conducive to developing the sense of ‘one world’ and the beginning of appreciation of cultures other than our own.

Instilling a sense of community is done through the children’s participation in works of construction, repairs or building a new cottage. On such occasion the little kids can be seen joyfully carrying bricks or buckets on their heads and walking in single file to the site of construction. The weekly general cleaning-up of our premises always affords great hilarity as this gives them an occasion for running about everywhere, while not only collecting plastic rubbish but also firewood for the kitchen.

Interaction with nature at this tender age could be decisive for a child’s later development. Our Ashram grounds and situation offer such interaction in abundance. Natural vegetation, stretches of green lawn, the beach and blue sea only a few metres away, the fresh pond bordering the Ashram grounds on one side, animals such as cows, calves, dogs, cats and a chicken or two, provide another living aspect of nature which may easily awaken a sense of wonder in the young child. And what is life worth without this sense of wonder?

Before school starts children take turns in tending the school garden, watering plants, pulling up dead parts; thus early they are trained to take an interest in whatever they do. Especially in gardening it is always an uplifting experience to watch a bean forcing up its way through the soil in a day or two and see it daily growing to full maturity, followed by the excitement of picking it and having it served as lunch afterwards.

The Place of Nature and Culture in Our School

Nature is divine for the Balinese. The primordial, deeply inbuilt respect and reverence for nature of the Balinese was a ready substratum for the mahavakya or great utterance in Vedanta introduced by the Hindus to Java and later Bali, in around the fourteenth century. This utterance tat tvam asi has even more strengthened our deeply-felt awe and reverence for nature, as is manifested on Plant Day, Animal Day, Tool Day, culminating in the feast of Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and the arts, and Earth Cleansing Day, which comes on the eve of our new year. These ceremonies, except for Earth Cleansing Day, come around every seven months, making Bali an island of daily festivals if individual birthdays and temple anniversaries are included. As a school we especially make much of Plant Day, Animal Day, Tool Day and Ganapati Day. The most festive is Sarasvati Day, celebrated by all schools and institutions or organizations engaged in artistic and literary pursuits. On that day a priest is invited to lead the function of worship. Sweet and intimate is the celebration of Plant Day. On that occasion a good, fruit-bearing coconut tree in our garden is selected and decorated by the children. They come in their best dress to the school, each with a little offering of fruit and flowers. Sitting around the tree they sing devotional songs, glorifying and blessing the plants in the garden. After the prayer and mantras the kids and the decorated tree are sprinkled with holy water. This and the partaking of fruit and cakes in the offering is enjoyed by all.

Days before a ceremony takes place one can feel the increased activity in the air, for everyone is up and doing something. So it is in our school, as the children have to make the decoration and offerings themselves while only for intricate designs do adults come in to assist. With frequent celebrations, hardly a week goes by in our Ashram without this joyous and busy atmosphere.

Thus reverence and identification with plants, animals, in short with the whole of creation, are fostered in the young child. Gradually through devotional songs, dignified language and a respectful attitude towards creation, culture is instilled in the young souls. Our school celebrations culminate in the commemoration of Gandhi Jayanti on 2 October each year. Then the whole day our place rings with laughter, chatter and the joyful shouts of some two hundred or so kindergarten kids coming from several schools of the region to celebrate with us. Competitions are held in drawing, singing local children’s songs and reciting mantras especially selected for young children, games and various skills such as cutting palm-leaf decorations, making little offerings, dancing and drawing. Viewing a whole year from this stance, indeed life for the Balinese is centred around celebrations. The whole of life in Bali is a celebration.

Daily Schedule of the School

The time children spend with us is from 7 in the morning till 11. During the four hours that they are under our care a general pattern as indicated by the time-table below is followed as much as possible:

07.00 - 07.30 arranging their tables and mats to sit on and sweeping the school garden
07.30 - 08.00 morning gathering with singing of mantras to start the day followed by local songs
08.00 - 08.30 outdoor physical activities such as games where bodily movements are emphasized.
08.30 - 09.00 swimming and bathing in the sea followed by rinsing in the fresh-water lake and going for a walk in the hills or watching the daily village activities.
09.00 - 09.30 drawing or practising manual skills such as cutting palm-leaf fronds, mat weaving, moulding sand in various shapes and sizes.
09.30 - 10.00 serving lunch and washing up food bowls.
10.00 - 10.30 tooth brushing, as we cannot rely on parents to have their offsprings do this daily.
10.30 - 11.00 story-telling by teacher and children alternately.

However, this time-table is quite flexible, for whenever something special takes place that event or occasion is given priority. The children are most of the day outdoors and only drawing is done inside the classroom. Although in the curriculum prescribed by the government the time devoted to the three Rs is prominent, more importance is given by us to free drawing with chalk on blackboards cut to size or on the sand of our beach. This has been adopted to save on materials for which we would have to spend more money. Learning to discern letters from the alphabet is done by way of drawing enlarged letters, the arrangement of which should teach them to spell their own names and those of the most conspicuous objects in their environment. In this context the weekly walks in the hills and the neighbourhood serve to stimulate their imagination and power of observation, which afterwards finds expression in the drawing class.

Interaction with village institutions happens largely through the village chief, and it goes without saying that our channel to the island’s government is the district supervisor. The parent-teacher association we formed at the beginning became inactive after a year due to the failure of parents to attend meetings. To make up for this, we have our teachers make home visits at least once a week in order to familiarize themselves with the home conditions of the children.

Most parents have such a struggling existence just to meet the family’s daily needs that they are unable to get involved in school concerns. It is well-known that poor parents delegate all the responsibility for their children to the teachers and find a happy excuse for this by saying that they are ignorant and backward people who cannot be expected to think beyond scraping a living.

After 15 years of running TK ‘Gandhi’ the following observations can be made:

1. Running a kindergarten in our area also means endeavouring to change the parents’ outlook on life.

2. How difficult it is and what a long time and patience it takes to break bad habits and establish new ones in their place.

3. How good and sensible eating habits, which includes some understanding of nutrition, ultimately trickle through to parents, be it at a snail’s pace.

4. If at first it took some cajoling and persuasion to draw children to our school, now there is no need to do that. The real problem is how to cope with so many children with only two teachers available.

5. How hard it is to stem the tide of consumerism and to correct the idea of ‘progress’. Especially the newly developing countries are dazzled by material progress as displayed by the West. Whereas our orientation is human progress, which is anchored in the spirit unanimously pronounced in all scriptures, such as the Bible’s admonition: ‘What profiteth it man to gain the world and thereby lose his soul?’

6. One particular phenomenon with poor people dies hard: as soon as they have a bit of money it is spent on status rather than on necessities. This has been driven home to us very clearly in the TK ‘Gandhi’.

We have tried very hard to stick to simplicity and truth. Thus we have never encouraged the wearing of shoes and socks, nor of a uniform. Instead a pair of thongs will do for the protection of the children’s feet, while on our premises the children are encouraged to wear as little clothing as possible. When a different group of people came to settle down in our area, that is when it opened itself to tourism, the children of this group of clerks and hotel employees entered our school. That happened in 1986 and shoes, stockings and town clothing made their entry into our TK. Uniforms copied from other kindergartens appeared. Not long after, even the poor fishermen and farmer parents insisted on their children’s wearing the same outfit, even though they had to borrow to meet the expense. We have not yet decided whether we should bar the wearing of uniforms in our school.

7. Another problem is the increase of ‘snacking’ in the Ashram grounds, and what annoys us most is the amount of fast food snacks the children bring with them from home. Naturally they are mainly the children connected with hotels, restaurants or shops. We are thinking of being more strict in this regard with the new school year by prohibiting the bringing of snacks into our premises.

8. A more optimistic note, luckily, can be sounded. When during the first three years we started school with giving the children baths, paring their nails and showing them how to use the toilets, etc., this can now be dropped. Spitting and littering have almost disappeared, while whatever food is served at lunch is neatly finished and food bowls properly washed.

9. We started the school with 27 children, painfully gathered over three months. For three years this number remained more or less constant, then dropped to ten kids in 1983-84. Most likely this was a reflection of the fact that by that time family planning had already taken effect and small children were indeed scarce.

In 1986 the number picked up, for the children of tourism-employed parents flocked to TK ‘Gandhi’. This changed the aspect of our school somewhat and the town image gained the upper hand. If the local children became somewhat naughtier after a year of school feeding, now their general behaviour became distinctly rougher, their language at times rude, while some among them have become downright cheeky. This year, with 40 kids to cope with, our two teachers have their hands full and two other Ashram members have had to be put on duty to maintain order and the general functioning of the school.

From the above it is clear that the reader should not be misled by the term ‘kindergarten’ evoking the picture of a well-furnished and well-equipped classroom with teaching aids and all the paraphernalia common in the West. All these we cannot afford. From that point of view perhaps our venture should be termed a ‘child-minding’ service. However, the spirit that moves our undertaking should be seen as part of an endeavour to free ourselves of foreign domination. It is the spirit to hold on to our true self and identity, to preserve our mother tongue, songs, dance, crafts: in short, all that is our own and has in course of time given birth to our particular identity. Yet we must do this without being deaf or closed to what comes from outside. I must quote here Gandhiji’s incisive remark: "I do not want my house to be walled in. Let the winds from all corners blow freely in my house, but I refuse to be blown off my feet." To enable us to stand firm on our own feet a start should be made in kindergartens when the mind is still tender and malleable and emotion still relatively free from self-interest and calculation. Pondering over this I realize what tremendous patience and devotion are required from kindergarten teachers. A kindergarten is, in my opinion, a place where ahimsa can be practised at its best. Again, as Gandhiji observed: ‘He who has not in him the quality of infinite patience cannot observe non-violence’.

For Gandhiji ahimsa and active, pure love were interchangeable terms. We are aware of the very tiny speck of progress all our fifteen years of existence have shown. Even to achieve this all our Ashram members — in all, some fifteen girls and women — and our many guests and student volunteers have been involved and have interacted with our TK kids. In view of the present global problems it is a most pressing need to provide sound and inexpensive education, at as little cost as possible, in order to remain within the reach of the masses. And another remark of Gandhiji’s will help us to search unceasingly for the application of swadeshi in establishing our own identity. He said lucidly and pithily: ‘What the average person cannot have I should refuse to have’.


Learning, a joy

Playing with the mud

Making a musical instrument

Creativity hance happiness

A World of innocence

The Smile of today... Hope of tomorrow

The Childhood innocence

Playing together

The self-activity of the child


Plans for the Future

We have nursed the hope some day to have our own primary school, a follow-up to our efforts in the TK to lay the base for clean, healthy, and creative living. It is said that whatever good habits we managed to establish among our children during a year most likely will suffer abrasion after years of attending other schools later. One year is too short a time to achieve anything solid. But circumstances and conditions make this hope a very distant dream. Apart from financial limitations, to start another primary school is also superfluous when the existing two now find it hard to fill their first grade classes. But we should and must continue improving and upgrading our present undertaking. Our present experience could be put to good use in what we plan to start next year. Our 1996 project is named ‘Holistic health to our countryside’. In this project the upgrading of kindergartens will also be covered.

Having run our public reading room at Canti Dasa Ashram for three years we have found that it does not satisfactorily meet our expectations, i.e., to promote and stimulate healthy reading habits among village youth and avail of the opportunity to offer a reading place to the adjoining village school of Candi Dasa. Therefore we have decided to try a somewhat different approach with our new project.

The main idea behind this project is to promote holistic health in the countryside, particularly addressing ourselves to the youth and adolescents. Holistic health will concentrate on offering classes, free of charge, of the following nature:

(a) Teaching Hatha Yoga for the promotion of bodily health in a manner, which requires no expenses.

(b) Mantra chanting, promoting mental peace and a desire to know those mantras which strengthen will-power, solidarity, the shedding of fear, and in general promote a non-violent attitude and turn of mind.

(c) Promoting familiarity with and desire to live up to Gandhian thought and life-style.

(d) Nutrition in conjunction with rshi-kriti or non-violent farming and gardening.

(e) Revival of local nursery rhymes and children’s songs.

A sizeable van manned by Ashram members to teach the above classes, also carrying edifying literature for young people to widen their horizons without upsetting them, will move from village to village according to a schedule. For three consecutive months two villages will be alternately dealt with, in the hope that in the course of five years 40 villages will have been exposed to our classes. The morning hours should be devoted by the Ashram team to gaining information on eating habits, hygiene in general, existing local skills, crafts and customs, since our classes will be held in the afternoons. This information should serve us well in carrying out our project. Socializing with established and influential village members should be given prime importance.

Every weekend the team will discuss the information gained and the week’s experience in our Ashram, their base.

We believe that by faithfully carrying out this project for, say, five years, we will have reached enough young villagers to spread general knowledge regarding ‘holistic health’, which covers sustainable nutrition based on chemical-free food, nature cure supported by yoga, chanting and acupuncture and taking up handicrafts as the main cure for ‘woolly’ thinking and idleness.

All these activities should lead to greater self-esteem and self-reliance, because they are rooted in the sound faith of religion.

The first and indispensable requirements for our project are therefore a sturdy van and devoted, skilful teachers. To obtain these is now the focus of our effort and energy.

M.K. Gandhi (1869-1948) and Ki Hadjar Dewantoro (1889-1959)

If in India Gandhi was unanimously hailed as the Father of the Nation, in Indonesia Ki Hadjar Dewantoro is looked upon as the father of national education and culture. Gandhiji’s life could be said to have been devoted to the welding of all the ethnic communities in India into one nation that could be likened to a huge tapestry of brilliant colours, a reflection of the many customs and cultures of its components.

Indigenous education in Indonesia were the pesantren for the Moslems and the ashrams for the Hindus. Both were largely occupied with religious instruction. With the advent of the Dutch, who introduced their own system of education, the Moslems retreated even more into their pesantren, making of them a stronghold for the education of their youngsters. But in Java, where the indigenous orientation called ‘kebatinan’ was deeply rooted, pesantren became strongly coloured by this ancient belief, which is a kind of mysticism. Ki Hadjar Dewantoro, a prince from a court in central Java, underwent the same agony as Gandhiji when noticing the suffering of his people under the Dutch heel. After several years of political life and pamphleteering he arrived at the same wisdom as Mahatma Gandhi did: that the road to the real freedom of his country could only start with education. Without completely dropping his vocation as journalist and political activist, he translated his ideas on education into action and started his now well-known institution of education named Taman Siswa. It literally means ‘a garden for children’; but the clear connotation is ‘a place to learn how to live’.

Twenty years separated him from Gandhiji, but the same ideas, by and large, kept both men struggling and fighting foreign rule throughout their lives in a down-to-earth manner, through opening schools, starting cooperatives, encouraging all kinds of productive activities. Both suffered imprisonment. Ki Hadjar Dewantoro even was exiled to live in cold Holland far away from the ‘field’ which he wanted to cultivate. Living there in near penury with his wife and two small children, his fighting spirit or his political activities did not abate.

After six years of internment the Dutch, forced through circumstances, had to release him. With the financial help of friends he was able to return to his beloved Indonesia, where undauntedly he pursued his struggle and opposition to the Dutch colonial government. The Japanese occupation came, and according to the Japanese, now that the Dutch were gone there was no need any more to have ‘national schools’ side by side with government schools. However, in an unobtrusive way Taman Siswa education continued to be pursued, for Ki Hadjar Dewantoro, with his clear vision, saw that its spirit must be maintained and fostered in the teeth of the existing schools, which were fed on pseudo-nationalism while in fact preparing us for another yoke, this time the yellow yoke.

This is not the place to elaborate on Ki Hadjar Dewantoro’s philosophy, which forms the basis of Taman Siswa education. Nevertheless a few outstanding ideas found in his philosophy should be mentioned to see how parallel Gandhiji’s and Dewantoro’s ideas run. This is not to be wondered at, because both selfless and patriotic men were passionate lovers of freedom, not only for themselves but for all the people they belonged to. Thus both were the embodiment of their peoples’ aspirations and suffering. If the motives are the same, the outcome and method of the struggle must be the same. The more so, because both had an unshakeable faith in the power of God.

Freedom-fighter and author of national education and culture, Ki Hadjar Dewantoro’s vision affected not only the world of education but also social life and society itself. The following points show clearly where both the great men, Ki Hadjar Dewantoro and Gandhiji, met:

(a) Cultural nationalism, a favourite term with Ki Hadjar Dewantoro, has been accorded a high place, which shows his ability to look to the future. For the many and varied ethnic communities of Indonesia must arrive at a kind of national culture to weld the country into one solid cultural region.

(b) He revived the phrase ‘Tut Wuri Handayani’, an ancient Javanese aphorism expressing an educational principle in teaching and bringing up children. It gives full freedom to the child’s initiatives, while parents follow from behind ready to correct it when things tend to go wrong or cause harm. In a wider sense it applies also to the relationship between government and governed, or state and people.

(c) The Taman Siswa philosophy believes in the right of self-determination.

(d) Taman Siswa adheres also to democracy, but one with firm moral leadership which keeps it from deteriorating into unbridled freedom and anarchy.

(e) It upholds self-reliance which, consequently, imposes voluntary simplicity, planning and healthy discipline on Taman Siswa people.

(f) The extended family approach — so natural among Asians — should be observed and applied in economic, social and political spheres as well.

(g) Principles of concentricity, convergence and continuity should be honoured. These three Cs require some explanation, for Ki Hadjar Dewantoro attached a special meaning to them. Concentricity in the Dewantoro sense fully agrees with Gandhiji’s idea of what he called ‘concentric circles’ as seen in the ocean. Thus a person, apart from being his personal self, is also part of the family and of mankind. The term ‘convergence’ as used by Ki Hadjar signifies the relationship that should exist between small, big and biggest communities. Finally, by continuity he referred to the unbroken nature of culture as it developed from the hoary past.

(h) Nature and her laws reign supreme in the Dewantoro world-view as they did for Gandhiji. We therefore go to nature and observe her, learn from her how to live in harmony with her and with ourselves.

These points require unceasing observance if we want to see their result. That Dewantoro’s view was prophetic is supported by the fact that the Taman Siswa schools have multiplied, not only in Java, but also in Sumatra and other islands in Indonesia.

The democratic character of Ki Hadjar Dewantoro is patent. Born of an ancient noble family, without hesitation he dropped his title of nobility — no mean thing in those days (1913) when nobility was much sought after by Indonesians — and changed his name from Raden Mas Soewardi Soerjodiningrat, in England the equivalent of Lord Such-and-Such, into plain Ki Hadjar Dewantoro in order to prove his belief in a classless society. Whereupon the whole Taman Siswa world followed suit, adopting the term Ki for men, Nyi for married women, and Ni for unmarried girls.

His view of nationalism should be made clear, now that here and there nationalism tends to narrow down to fanaticism and exclusivism. Nationalism to Ki Hadjar Dewantoro should not violate or go against the humanitarian universal values we find embedded in all world religions. Also, his rejection of idolizing human beings while they are still alive or putting them on pedestals is worth noting. He shared this belief with M.K. Gandhi, who was averse to any kind of human idols.

Ki Hadjar Dewantoro’s spirit of dedication to the child is preserved in the vow every Taman Siswa Teacher has to take:

Free from any form of attachment, in the purity of my heart, I will approach the child entrusted to me. Without demanding any right or privilege instead, in all fullness I will dedicate myself and serve it to the best of my capacity.

Is it to be wondered then that his birthday, 2 May, has been declared by law on 16 December 1959 as a national holiday under the name of National Education Day?


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