By Pranika Dian Dini
Grade 1 teacher at SDN 008 Binai, Bulungan District, North Kalimantan
Photo credit: The Office of Education and Culture of Bulungan District
This story is simple but very meaningful to me. Three months ago, one of my students, Mifta, could not yet read. As a new student, she started grade 1 without being able to recognise any of the 19 letters in the alphabet. I had doubts on whether the student activity sheet (LAS) that I made could help Mifta to learn to read. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school was closed, and teaching had to be carried out using the distance learning method. In order to support the family, Mifta’s father walks around the village selling “Bakso”, the Indonesian version of meatball soup, which leaves him with less time to support his daughter’s learning. Mifta’s mother is also unable to help her since she is illiterate. As her teacher, I was her only hope. I took the initiative to visit her house since I know could not leave her unassisted.
I had my doubts, but I was convinced that the situation will change. And it did. Two weeks ago, Mifta showed improvement in her skills. She has been able to read storybooks. With my own eyes I witnessed Mifta read a book entitled “How Many Spiders?” and “Horses Looking for Their Mothers”. She even answered some of the questions I asked from the story. This progress made me very excited. I am optimistic that even though our learning facilities are limited, our children can benefit from the learning from home (BDR) program.
I am a teacher who teaches at SDN 008 Binai. This school is located in Binai Village, East Tanjung Palas Sub-District, Bulungan District, North Kalimantan. It takes three hours by road from Tanjung Selor, the capital city of Bulungan, to reach Binai Village. The village is surrounded by palm oil plantations. Dirt roads, frequent electricity blackouts and difficulties in internet access are everyday challenges for those living in Binai Village.
The people of Binai Village are quite diverse. About 35 percent of the population in this village are of the Dayak tribe. In their daily lives, the Dayak people farm and hunt. Meanwhile, 55 percent of the other villagers are Bugis. Most of them work as laborers in oil palm plantations. I myself come from two tribes. My father is Dayak, and my mother is Javanese.
It has been a very difficult time for me to teach when the COVID-19 pandemic started. I remember very well that in March, schools had to be closed to prevent the transmission of the virus. The notification of school closings came suddenly and I was only given three days to prepare teaching materials before the children started to learn from home (BDR).
Frankly, I was confused at that time. I have no idea what the BDR should be like. I wondered about how best to do the learning process, including what materials to use. There was no way for me to only use the assignment method. Giving assignments and tests to students are different from teaching. I was really confused at the time and was trying my best to find a way.
At the beginning of BDR, I was still thinking about completing the study material according to the 2013 curriculum (K13). But after a long time, I realized that it was very difficult to complete K13. Not being able to meet students intensively was the biggest obstacle for me. We also cannot fully rely on teachers to assist their children at home. There are still many parents in Binai village with low levels of literacy skills, many are illiterate like Mifta’s mother. Therefore, it is difficult for them to help children study at home.
At that time, the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemendikbud) had not issued a policy regarding the Special Curriculum. The effort I made at that time was trying to simplify basic competencies (Kurikulum Dasar/KD). I then decided to focus on letter recognition, reading skills, recognising simple numbers, addition and subtraction.
The reason I chose the five topics above was because most of my students were still learning to read fluently. Therefore, my students needed the right form of practice to develop their reading skills. Such form of material or training is not found in K13 books, so I had to make my own modifications.
After the Education Ministry issued the ‘Emergency Curriculum’ under special circumstances last August, I was very happy. With the curriculum, it became easier for me to choose pre-requisite and essential basic competencies to be taught to students.
Student Activity Sheet
I made the Student Activity Sheet (Lembar Aktivitas Siswa/LAS) myself since March. I modified the LAS content from the K13 book by reducing some parts so that it is more concise. Even though the content is simple, I feel this is the best way in difficult times like now.
In April 2020, I started receiving various online trainings conducted by the Innovation Program for Indonesian School Children (INOVASI), the Ministry of Education and Culture, and other organisations. The trainings really gave me a better picture for BDR implementation.
The content for the LAS that I created continues to evolve over time. I integrated materials that I received from the trainings into LAS. I designed student activities to recognise letters and numbers through reading, writing, and drawing activities. Besides that, we also distributed children’s storybooks as reading material for children at home. Basically, I try my best to make learning activities at home more fun. In order to get the LAS and storybooks, students are able to come to school once a week to collect them.
Since September, the LAS that I created began to refer to the emergency curriculum and learning modules developed by the Education Ministry. With the provision of training for learning during the pandemic that was facilitated by INOVASI, I began to map the basic competencies that became our references. As the number of basic competencies decreases, I can teach the same topic over and over again to sharpen children’s abilities. I also adapted some important parts of the learning module of the Education Ministry, such as focusing on literacy and numeracy, creating a database for students’ parents, making students’ daily learning schedules, mapping children’s reading skills, mapping parents’ abilities and the social environment to assist children in learning, building communication relationships with parents, provide children’s reading, and periodic evaluation.
Mapping Students Reading Skills
Entering the new academic year 2020/2021, my understanding of BDR is getting better. Last semester I was still focused on completing K13, but I changed my strategy for the new school year. I started the new school year by mapping students’ reading skills using a formative assessment tool.
This new school year was very different from previous years. During the time of COVID-19, new students who have just entered grade 1 must study without having face-to-face meetings. These children began their formal learning experiences from home, without the opportunity to meet teachers and their peers. Many of these children were still unable to read. This is of course a big challenge for children, parents and teachers.
As a teacher I had to find a way to overcome this challenge. A mapping exercise to assess children’s reading proved to be a way out. Through this mapping, I can understand the level of ability of each child. From these results I was able to design different LASs according to their abilities.
The use of learning materials according to children’s abilities is very effective in improving students’ reading skills. I have seen four of my students, including Mifta, experiencing positive developments. When they entered school last June, their reading ability was still at the pre-reading stage. However, after a month of experiencing BDR, the three of them had entered the stage of reading words. Even one of them has now entered the reading comprehension stage and has started practicing writing his own ideas.
The results of reading skills mapping are not only useful to develop the LAS but it was also the basis for me to do study assistance. Parents and I agreed that once a week students can come to school to collect the LAS. I also guide parents and students to use the LAS so that students can utilise it under the guidance of their parents at home. Apart from using the LAS, our school also ask parents to read stories to their children. The stories are taken from children’s storybooks that the school distributes every week.
Apart from providing assistance once a week in school, we also provide additional study assistance at home. This learning assistance is intended for students who have learning difficulties and parents who have difficulty in assisting the learning process. The duration of the assistance depends on the child’s needs. For example, for three of my students including Mifta, we can meet three to four times a week. Through this assistance, I can help my students read fluently while also monitor their progress.
In my opinion, BDR does not only educate children, but also provides valuable lessons for parents. I noticed this when we distributed the storybooks. In the past, parents didn’t pay much attention to the content of storybooks. But now parents have started to know what kind of stories that their children like, and they even know the level of books that suit their children’s abilities.
This is the kind of impression I got when I met Ismail parents. At that time, Ismail and his mother came to school to collect the LAS and choose storybooks that Ismail will read during the week. Ismail’s mother chose a book entitled “On the Table”, a level A book published by Yayasan Literasi Anak Indonesia (YLAI).
I also asked the reason why Ismail’s mother chose the book.
Ismail’s mother explained, “Oh, this is good for Ismail because it contains short simple words.”
I see this as extraordinary because parents already understand the kind of book that is suitable for their children’s needs. We never received such response previously. However, because now we often meet and discuss their children’s learning materials, they can understand which materials are suitable for their children.
The COVID-19 pandemic is indeed a difficult time for all of us, including in the education sector. However, I believe we can face this difficult times together. The key is to create learning strategies that suit children’s abilities and to collaborate with the parents.