It was 06:25 a.m. in the morning when Bergita Pawe Dede left her house. Amid cold weather, wearing the typical brown uniform of civil servants and flat-soled black shoes, she walked to SD Inpres Wudu, where she worked. Around 300 metres and seven minutes later, the 55-year-old woman from Kelewae Village, Boawae District, Nagekeo Regency, Nusa Tenggara Province, seemingly gasped for breath when she arrives at the school.

SD Inpres Wudu is located in Ende-Bajawa Trans Road, Rega Village, Boawae District, Nagakeo Regency. Built on January 1, 1974, the building faced South, as if directly facing the Ebulobo Volcano. Shady trees and various kinds of flowers bloom in the school garden.

“I always come to school early. Besides exemplifying disciplines, as Principal, I have to ensure that everything is well-prepared before the lesson starts,” said the mother of three.

Only a few people were at the school when Bergita arrived. In the field, some students loudly greet her in unison, sounding like a beautiful rhyme. “Good morning, Ma’am!”.  Bergita then replied to them warmly.

A female student with single-braided hair suddenly approached Bergita. She reached for her arm and stammered, “M-Ma’am, I cannot hear again. M-Maybe it is broken,” said the girl while touching the hearing aid in her left ear.

Bergita checked the aid immediately. “Maybe it runs out of battery. I will replace it later,” she said.

The girl then smiled and ran towards the school library.

SD Inpres Wudu’s classrooms equip with materials that aim to support students’ literacy skill. All rooms looked literacy-friendly, with walls full of subject matters, reading corners, and students’ works of art, such as paper flowers and decorative lamps made from used bottles. Even the library and computer room were decorated with paintings of animals and plants.

Grade one classroom’s wall looked festive; illustrated HVS papers were pasted without spaces. A question, “What can I do without reading?” was seen in one of the corners, while the ceiling was full of drapes made of paper cuts.

All pictures were the objects the students were familiar with, completed with explanations in two languages, Bahasa Indonesia and Boawae. For example, there was a picture of a rose apple near the window. Below, it read Goe Awa in the local language or jambu in Bahasa Indonesia.

“I have been a teacher for 33 years. One thing I learn for sure is that if teachers know their students well, they can determine the best and most proper teaching strategies and approaches for each student,” said Bergita.

When she was entrusted as the Principal of SD Inpres Wudu in January 2016, Bergita was determined to manage the school in the best way she could. “Since then, I have always paid attention to the student’s learning outcomes every semester. I then realise that the students’ literacy and numeracy skills are below their grades. For example, fourth-grade students should be able to read well; in reality, they still cannot read fluently. This makes me anxious,” she said.

The anxiety leads Bergita to create the Student Learning Profile. “I hope teachers can know our students, including their family backgrounds, language abilities, speaking skills, health, and other important matters,” she elaborated.

With the help of other teachers, Bergita started to collect the data by interviewing each student at the beginning of each new year since 2019. The data then became the basis for categorising students’ abilities. “We hope the learning materials can be delivered more effectively by categorising them. For example, for first grade, students are categorised based on the ability to recognise letters and numbers; thus, the lesson is more effective and efficient,” described Bergita.

When collecting the data, Bergita noted numerous things that grasped her attention: several students with special needs require assistance, and a student was severely ill. “Like the girl you met earlier in the field – she has hearing problems. After being recorded, her profile was reported to the Social Affairs Office, and she finally received hearing aids,” she added.

Another thing she discovered was that most of her students needed help to speak Bahasa Indonesia when administered in the school. From the 2022 students’ profiles regarding their mother tongue, it was noticed that, of 245 students, 200 of them used the local language, 10 students used Bahasa Indonesia, and the rest 35 students used mixed languages. Of first-grade students alone, from 39 students, 21 spoke Boawae languages as their mother tongue, 9 spoke Bahasa Indonesia, and 11 spoke mixed languages.

“Almost all students are natives; thus, they speak the Boawae language, and only a few speak Bahasa Indonesia. When they start school in first grade and the lesson is delivered in Bahasa Indonesia; they seem to be learning new things in a foreign language. Indeed, this doubles the difficulties. Thus, it is not surprising that their mastery in literacy is hampered,” Bergita further explained.

The data made Bergita consider the possibility of delivering the lesson in the mother tongue of the first-grade students. However, she did not dare to realise it. “I do not want to be hasty and ask the first-grade teachers to teach using the local language. I need a proper strategy, method, and material to become effective instead of creating new problems,” described the woman who loved to read, cook, and work out.

Transforming the process of teaching and learning

In 2020, Bergita participated in the School Principal Strengthening Training held by the Office of Education and Culture of Nagekeo District. The training motivated Bergita to continue innovating to increase the education quality of the school she led. “I believe that the principal’s duty does not only revolve around administration and financial management but also regarding learning strategies to apply,” she firmly stated.

After completing the training, one of the teachers in her school was accepted as a Regional Facilitator (Fasda) of the Basic Literacy Program held by the Office of Education and Culture of Nagekeo District. “A teacher from our school has become a Fasda of the Basic Literacy Program, which has meaningful impacts on the school. She shares new knowledge with her fellow teachers,” she continued.

Fasda’s assistance created possibilities to implement new teaching strategies utterly different from the previous ones. “It turns out that teaching students about letters do not always have to start with a-i-u-e-o or spelling syllables. Moreover, teachers can use the simplest media around them as props to teach counting. The instruments developed by Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children or INOVASI allowed lessons to be carried out through games and songs. The shared knowledge further motivated other teachers to continue creating fun activities. At the same time, students became more enthusiastic and started to love studying,” she added.

Another breakthrough she did was mapping the Student Learning Profile with more complete instruments and variables. One of them was using the mother tongue as the language of instruction in early grades before slowly transitioning to Bahasa Indonesia. “It excites me to perfect the Student Learning Profile. We create new categorisation to gather more complete and thorough data,” exclaimed Bergita.

SD Inpres Wudu is one of INOVASI’s partner schools for the Mother-tongue Basic Literacy Programme implemented by the Sulinama Foundation. “Since 2021, we have implemented learning with mother tongue in early grades, that is, first, second, and third grades under the materials obtained from the training with the Sulinama Foundation. In the first 30 minutes, the lesson is delivered in the mother tongue, then in mixed language, and finally in Bahasa Indonesia. It is also delivered through pictures, games, and songs,” she explained.

The learning process in the mother tongue in SD Inpres Wudu continues up to this day. Furthermore, the program focuses on mother tongue-based multilingual education to increase students’ learning abilities.

“A match made in heaven! The learning process has become more fun now than ever,” Bergita said happily.

The results, Bergita added, are marvellous. “The early-grade students’ literacy and numeracy mastery increased rapidly. As of now, of 39 students in the first grade, 35 of them can read fluently. Only 4 read in words. This result is completely different from that before we implemented the mother tongue-based multilingual education. At that time, even some fourth-grade students could not read fluently. The data also shows that early grades students’ literacy and numeracy mastery has increased to 80 percent.” stated Bergita excitedly.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students had to learn from home; thus, the mastered knowledge experienced learning loss. “I have to admit that there are numerous difficulties since learning from home was applied, but the students could catch up when they returned to school. Besides the use of mother tongue, other provided supporting instruments truly helped us back on track,” she added.

Currently, the mapping of the Student Learning Profile carried out by Bergita at SD Inpres Wudu will be adapted by all schools in Nagekeo District. On 4 April 2022, the Mayor of Nagekeo, dr. Johanes Don Bosco Do, M.Kes. stipulated the Mayor’s Instruction of Nagekeo Number 400/KESRA-NGK/89/04/2022 on the Recovery of Learning through Mapping, Improving, and Evaluation of Basic Literacy and Numeration Capabilities of Primary Education Level Students.

“It is rewarding. Small steps that we took led to good things. This is the school’s achievement because it would be impossible without support from fellow teachers, staff, committees, parents, and students. I am sure that the mapping of Student Learning Profile to be implemented in other schools will also be successful,” stated Bergita.

The magnificent Ebulobo Volcano can be seen from the school yard, whose peak was covered by thin clouds. The scenery was accompanied by laughter and joy in the background, indicating that school time was over for first-grade students. Then, a song was sung; the melody was taken from the theme song of a popular cartoon, and they uttered the lyrics in the Boawae language.

“A Meze A Coo,

 Ae Ae Ae.

Ae pu’u wunga, ne’e huruf A

A A A A A, belajar huruf A!”

More or less, the meaning was:

Big A, small A, air air air (water water water). Air starts with the letter A, A A A A A, learning letter A!

We smiled, never expecting the song to linger.