The Sulawesi Sea is the foundation of life for the fishing community on Sakuala Island, where Saluala State Elementary School is located in Mattiro Bombang village. Sakuala Island is one of an archipelago of islands in South Sulawesi province. Most of the 100 families on Sakuala are supported by poor fishermen household heads, most of whom left school after finishing elementary school.
“For many people living on these islands, earning a living by fishing is more important than going to school," explains Rukmini, the head teacher of the Teacher and Educator Division, Pangkajene dan Kepulauan (Pangkep) District Education and Culture Office. According to the Education Office’s records, dropout rates, especially at primary and junior secondary levels in Liukang Tuppabiring Utara sub-district, are among the highest in Pangkep. Samsuar, one of Sakuala's residents, confirms this, “The children help us to go to sea. They get home too tired or are often too late to go to school,” he says. “Instead of being late or missing lessons, we ask our children not to go to school at all, to avoid upsetting the teachers,” Samsuar adds.
Saluala State Elementary School has 75 students, but not all of them attend regular lessons. The School Principal Syukri Darmawan says that all of his students are responsible for helping their parents to make a living. “Most of them return to school at some point, but exactly when we do not know,” he says. According to the principal, who has served for four years at the school, children choose not to go to school because they are embarrassed about being left behind by their classmates. This is the reason behind such a high dropout rate on the islands.
The Education and Culture Office of Pangkep District notes that in the 2016/17 academic year, there were 179 elementary and middle school students who went to work on the sea. As many as 29% of them, or 52 students, were forced to drop out of school. This has motivated the Education and Culture Office to produce an innovative program called the “Boat Class”. The Boat Class is basically an independent learning model, where students use student worksheets as learning materials while going to sea. “We prepare worksheets for children who will go to sea. These worksheets are adjusted to the Learning Implementation Plan,” explains Amalia, one of the honorary teachers at the school. The teacher gives homework to students while they are out fishing and then collects when they return. “When the children come back, we discuss the homework together, so that children who have to go to sea do not miss lessons and fall behind,” Amalia adds.
On Sakuala Island alone, at least 15 students take part in the boat class program. Yusuf and Riska, both aged thirteen, are among them. “I’m glad there’s Boat Class, as I can still help my parents while studying,” says Yusuf. Yusuf works on the homework while fishing with his father. “I usually set the crab traps first, and then I start to study, before going back later to check the traps” he explains. Riska, who has helped her father go to sea since before school age, says that she was helped by the special guidance given to boat class students. This makes it possible for her to continue to attend lessons. “Since there’s Boat Class, I hope I can continue on to secondary school. I want to continue my schooling up to university,” she says.
At present, the boat class is being implemented in nineteen elementary schools and seven junior high schools and has helped to reduce school dropout rates for students who go to sea. In the 2017/18 school year only 27 children, or just 15%, dropped out.
“The Boat Class already exists on all the islands in Liukang Tuppabiring Utara,” explains Rukmini. According to her, the success of the boat class is largely thanks to the collaboration between several parties, including the government and the community, as well as those who care about education. “One of these parties is KOMPAK. KOMPAK has been our partner in developing the boat class approach,” says Rukmini.
"I strongly support the boat class. The problem previously was that it was better to keep my child out of school, as there was no time for him to go to school,” says Antok, one of the parents. According to him, the Boat Class is proof of the government's seriousness to improve the lives of poor people in the island communities of Pangkep district. “Education is the right of all Indonesian children, including the children of fishermen,” adds Antok.