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A photo of Novi Poespita Candra, an Australian alumna

22 Nov 2022

Novi Poespita Candra Brings Back Joy of Learning through Fun School Movement

No one disputes the value of education, yet formal schooling remains a stress factor for students. The amount of in-class assignment and homework leave little room for leisure or sports, causing many to be distressed because of the academic pressure.

Psychologist and Australian alumna Novi Poespita Candra said some Indonesian students are dozing off in class and that indicates a stressful learning environment that focuses solely on academic achievements.

“They are under so much pressure to meet high academic expectations from parents and society. It’s not uncommon to find students suffer from chronic fatigue and anxiety, leading to sleep disorder,” said Novi, a lecturer and researcher at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta's Faculty of Psychology.

In response to the alarming trend in the Indonesian education system, Novi and her husband Muhammad Nur Rizal founded Gerakan Sekolah Menyenangkan (GSM) or Fun School Movement in 2013. This grassroots initiative collaborates with Australian primary school teachers to develop an enjoyable, sustainable, safe, and engaging learning atmosphere through teaching assistance and school interventions, such as seminars, workshops, and research.

"We want to change people's minds. Education should produce more than just a workforce or human resources who excel academically. Education should produce mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially healthy human beings," said Novi, who graduated with a PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2018.

From Standardised, Uniform Schooling System to Fun Learning

The Fun School Movement focuses on improving the learning system in state schools in suburbs to narrow, if not close, the gap in access to quality education between suburban and urban areas.  State schools typically adhere to the traditional and standardised national curriculum, and the teachers lack the skills that encourage creativity and capacity building in students.

"Schools in Indonesia are highly competitive. There are favourite schools, and not-so-favourite schools. We want to change that. Every school has the right to become a fun school through transformation, sharing, and collaboration," Novi explained.

Novi and GSM propose an enjoyable and positive learning environment through four concepts. First, promoting an ethical and positive relationship between students and teachers by creating a code of ethics and classroom agreement.

Second, learning should be put in a context that is relevant to everyday life and to develop reasoning. Third, students are encouraged to build a connection with their parents, family, and community. And last but not least, introducing activities that help students to develop empathy, kindness, and self-esteem.

"Students do not learn solely by memorizing textbooks, taking exams, and completing assignments. They can learn science from nature, for example by going to the sea. They should also develop positive character traits that last into adulthood," Novi asserted.

Fun School in Australia

Novi and her husband started GSM after witnessing her children's school experiences in Australia. The couple moved from Yogyakarta to Australia with their three young children in 2013 to pursue their doctorate degrees on a scholarship from Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia. Two of their eldest children attended Clayton North Primary School, a state school in Australia’s state of Victoria.

Novi observed how the children were always excited to go to school even during weekends, unlike when they were still in Indonesia.

“School was just a happy place. The children were surprisingly still full of energy after they spent the whole day at school. They were always keen to tell us about their activities at school,” she reminisced.

The education system made the children independent and capable of performing basic tasks such as making breakfast or cleaning up the house, she added.

“They prepared their breakfast and helped me fix dinner in the evening. On weekends, they helped clean up the house or washed their clothes. It’s a huge help for us as parents because we had to juggle between work and school,” said Novi.

Seeing such a positive outcome, the couple took a turn in observing the state school to learn how the teachers were able to create an enjoyable learning experience. And this led to a collaboration that started the Fun School Movement.

When GSM launched its first teacher training program in 2014, the Australian school sent five teachers to Yogyakarta, to share their teaching strategies with roughly 30 primary school teachers.  

In 2018, GSM received the Australian Alumni Grant Scheme Awards that enabled it to hold workshops for Indonesian school teachers and principals, with the support of Clayton North Primary School's teachers and alumni. They held a public seminar to disseminate information about GSM to the wider public, including parents, researchers, and policymakers. The project also set up a mentoring program using social media and school visits.

The project under the AGS scheme may have ended, but the collaboration with Australian teachers is still ongoing. They provide four sessions of training a year for Indonesian teachers, who travel to Australia

Transformation, Sharing, and Collaboration

All of the GSM workshops, trainings sessions, and seminars are funded by participants and volunteers. Teachers who have completed the training and implemented the concept of the movement share their innovative learning practices with other teachers in a regular sharing forum. Those who have made further progress in fostering the four GSM concepts at their schools become mentors for their peers or new teachers.

Schools that apply GSM concepts actively involve students, parents, and the community to seek ideas for a fun learning environment. The schools also allow students to celebrate their unique characteristics.

“We designed GSM as a grassroots movement because we want to raise awareness that education is a responsibility of all. It also fosters changes from bottom-up, instead of the usual hierarchy,” Novi said.

From 30 teachers at the beginning of the program, there are now over 1,500 educators at kindergarten to university levels that have joined the GSM network.

“We believe in collective intelligence. Once schools transform, they share their practice and collaborate to spread their good practices. We want the fun learning concepts to be implemented in all schools in Indonesia,” said Novi.

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