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EDUCATION-INDONESIA: Students Learn Science the Novel Way

JAKARTA, Dec 22 2009 (IPS) - Students in Indonesia are learning science the fun way via a monthly comic magazine that also prepares them for the highly debated national examination.

Named after the smallest particle of matter, ‘Kuark’ science magazine is becoming popular among Indonesian children, including those studying in English-speaking schools in the country.

“By introducing Kuark, we want students to enjoy learning science,” said Sanny Djohan, the brains behind the publication. “Science should be introduced to children at an early age as it helps them to think critically and logically.”

It all started in 2004 after Djohan got frustrated when her son, who at that time was enrolled in one of Jakarta’s elite schools, did not perform well in a science competition.

In October, Kuark launched its English edition based on the demand of its young readers from private schools who wanted to learn more about science. It is exported to the Middle East while the Indonesian version is sold nationwide.

The magazine is published with the guidance of the country’s prominent physicist Yohanes Surya, who wanted to help improve the quality of education in Indonesia.

Surya has been training students for the International Physics Olympiad, an annual competition for high school students, and is hoping that someday an Indonesian will become a Nobel laureate. He laments that Indonesia lags behind other countries in science because, he said, teachers do not know how to make the subject interesting.

Djohan, however, emphasised that it is not that simple to make science fun as it involves the study of fixed concepts. ‘Kuark’ is also finding it difficult to look for journalists who are knowledgeable about science and scientists who can write well.

“Producing the magazine is not easy as we want to maintain high quality,” said the management graduate and mother of two. “Being a scientist and a writer (at the same time) is hard.”

Initially, the plan was to produce science textbooks, but according to Surya, science textbooks are “hard and heavy” for children.

With stories written in narrative form by scientists and teachers, ‘Kuark’s’ main characters are depicted as studying botany, zoology, ecology, physics, astronomy, to name a few. The characters usually ask science-related questions and the answers are explained by their teachers as well as by the magazine’s mascot, a firefly named after the magazine.

Aside from stories, the magazine contains practical experiments and sample exercises for the Kuark Science Olympiad.

“I like to read ‘Kuark’ because it contains fun science experiments and other informative stories,” said nine-year-old Gracia Nadaputri, a member of the Science Club at her school, who is aiming to join the Kuark Science Olympiad next year.

“I enjoy reading ‘Kuark’ because it helps me understand what my teachers are teaching in the class,” said Grade 4 student Amanda Latisha Oesef. “Sometimes, I already know the science topics that my teachers are discussing because I have already read them in ‘Kuark'”.

The Jakarta-based magazine is published in three levels. Level 1 is for Grades 1 to 2 students. Level 2 is for Grades 3 to 4 and Level 3, for Grades 5 to 6. While the Indonesian edition is available to all three levels, its English version is currently only available for Level 3.

Indonesian students also use ‘Kuark’ as reference in passing the much-debated national examination for high school students. A number of controversies such as rampant cheating by students, allegedly facilitated by teachers at times, surround the national exams.

Some educators have urged the Indonesian government to scrap the exams as students who fail the tests are not able to advance to college. Poorly trained teachers and the lack of basic educational facilities also put students at a disadvantage in the national exams. The national exams, they argued, are an assumption that all students across the country have access to the same opportunities and information.

The government requires Grades 6, 9 and 12 Indonesian students to take the exams, where one of the three subjects covered is Science. Mathematics and Bahasa Indonesia are the two others.

“The magazine is helpful to our students,” said Elsie Bait, the vice principal for student development at Binus International School Simprug in South Jakarta, whose elementary students subscribe to the magazine and participate in the Science Olympiad, an annual event organised by ‘Kuark’ since 2007.

A total of 11,000 elementary students across the country participated in the Kuark Science Olympiad in 2007. In 2008, there were 30,000 participants. This year, 58,500 students from 33 provinces joined the competition.

According to Wahono Sumaryono, deputy head of the state-run Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, the Kuark Science Olympiad can motivate more students to become scientists. “These students have the potential to become the country’s next scientists and researchers,” said Sumaryono during the awarding of the 2009 Olympiad winners in June.

The test consists of multiple-choice questions taken from issues previously discussed in the magazine. Students also answer essay questions based on science experiments published in the paper.

Based on test results, most of the winners came from outside Jakarta and Java. This year’s winner for the level 1 category came all the way from Pontianak in West Kalimantan. For level 2, the student who won first place in the Kuark Science Olympiad is from Surabaya, East Java. For level 3, the gold medallist is enrolled in a school in Bekasi, West Java.

“The results show that children outside Jakarta are as intelligent as their counterparts in the capital if they are given equal opportunities,” Sanny said, adding that “‘Kuark’ can be our tool to educate the world”.

*Asia Media Forum (

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