One July morning in SDI Hawir elementary school in remote Ndari Hamlet, Nggilat Village in Manggarai Barat District, East Nusa Tenggara, the fifth graders were studying about Catholicism, but the material was beyond memorizing the Bible verses by heart.
The teacher, Quintus Kalis, began the class by asking the students whose responsibility it was to cook in their houses. The children replied in unison: “Mom!”
“What about cleaning the house? And other household chores?” he asked again, and was met with a similar response. “Mom! The girls!” the kids said.
“Boys don’t help at all? What if your mom is ill? You don’t eat?” he pressed. This time, the 45-year-old man was met with silence.
Smiling, he went on to tell the class that household chores are not necessarily the duty of girls as both girls and boys are equal and have the same ability.
During our chat outside the classroom, Quintus said that divisive gender roles have been his concern for a long time, even though he might not be aware of what the phrase means.
“I observed the communities and wondered how come men just sit around waiting for their coffee to be served. Boys are playing all day while girls have to help with house chores since early on. It made me uncomfortable,” he said. He then made a promise to himself to teach values of gender equality to students when he became a teacher.
Originally from Colol Village in Manggarai Timur District, Quintus graduated from teacher college STKIP Keuskupan in Ruteng, the capital of neighboring Manggarai District. He worked at a parish for five years after graduating before teaching religion at a junior high school in Pateng, Manggarai Timur. That was when he began to infuse gender equality in religion class.
“Teaching religion is not only about praying or faith, but also cleanliness, manner,” he said, adding that he even taught the students how to cook rice.
“More important thing is, we have to walk the talk and be a role model. We can teach them how to sweep the floor clean, but if we don’t set the example, they won’t do it.”
Those principles are implemented at his own home, where his two daughters as well as his son have to do chores. Quintus is not bothered by the fact that his wife, who is also a teacher, brings home bigger paycheck as she became a civil servant earlier than he did.
“My eldest daughter asked me ‘why is Mom’s salary higher than yours?’ I told her that we are actually paid the same, but I gave mine to her Mom,” he said, laughing.
After teaching junior high school for 17 years, he was transferred to SDI Hawir in 2013. He found the community in Ndari Hamlet more laid back compared to that in Pateng.
“In Pateng, if we passed people’s houses at the time where we’re supposedly at school, people would say, ‘Teacher, why so late? What about our kids in school?’. But here, they said, ‘Teacher, come drink coffee with us’,” he said.
The attitude has gradually shifted, he said, ever since KIAT Guru launched a pilot in Nggilat Village, Manggarai Barat to improve education service delivery in remote villages by empowering communities and tying payment of the remote area allowance with either teacher presence or teacher service quality.
The pilot is a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and Culture, the National Team for Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K) and governments of five districts with disadvantaged villages, including Manggarai Barat. It is implemented by Yayasan BaKTI, with technical support from the World Bank and funding from the Government of Australia and USAID.
Quintus said the program has ‘awakened’ the community and the teachers, mediating them to create better solutions to improve the students’ learning.
He said he was glad that KIAT Guru made children the core of the program, consulting with them first and foremost before the pilot started by asking children to assess learning support provided by their teachers and the community members. It was in line with his own understanding that adults should enter the children’s mind and their world instead of treating them like object.
“We have to think of them as our own children. Enter their world, get to know them as each of them is unique and have different levels of ability. If we bring them into our ideal mind, we would lose our temper,” he said.
“If we’re too hard on them, they would be too scared to learn. When the recess bell rings and they scream for joy, don’t be too happy, because that means our class is like a prison for them.”