Rahmat Hidayat, coordinator of the Floating School in Indonesia, tells his experience of education by boat.
Why did you start the Floating School?
I come from Pangkep (Kabupaten Pangkajene dan Kepulauan), in South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia, which is made up of 117 tiny islands. Life on the islands can feel a bit isolated due to a lack of electricity and internet connectivity.
Although some of the islands have primary schools, most young people must travel to the larger islands or to the mainland to attend high school.
Schools on the islands follow the national curriculum. They don’t teach subjects such as maritime skills, swimming or local fishing traditions, and so the curriculum isn’t always relevant to students’ everyday life.
Some young people don’t continue their education because their families need them to earn money through fishing. They will usually fish during the night, come home in the morning and rest until the afternoon, making it difficult for them to attend school.
I grew up on the islands and was lucky enough to continue to higher education. I want other young people to feel proud to live on the islands and protect the traditions and environment there.
What is the Floating School and what does it do?
The Floating School is a wooden boat that can carry up to twenty people, with a diesel engine so it can go fast. We use it to transport books, educational materials such as laptops, cameras and tools, and facilitators to young people living on the islands.
Our facilitators are local young professionals – so far we have had journalists, photographers, computer engineers and musicians – and students who want to share their skills. They are all volunteers, but we give them a small allowance to cover their meals and transportation.
The school goes to the students, not the other way around. We have designed our own non-formal educational programme that fits with the context of life on the islands. For example, those working in fishing have a responsibility to preserve the marine life, so we teach environmental protection and discourage destructive fishing practices.
Most of our students are between 12 to 20 years old. Some still attend state school, but others work in fishing. More than 200 students from four different islands have joined our classes, mainly due to word of mouth.
Even if our students decide to move to the city, we don’t want them to lose their connection to the islands. If someone becomes a lawyer, for example, we hope they will be a lawyer who can help island communities deal with regulations. If they become a doctor, we hope they will understand the common diseases and traditional medicines on the islands.
Would you like to receive more articles like this? Sign up for our monthly newsletter.
How is the Floating School funded?
We founded the Floating School in 2016 after winning funding through a US State Department grant competition called Seeds for the Future, which funds young leaders from Southeast Asia to carry out projects for their communities.
The communities we work with give us electricity from their generators so we can run computer classes. They cook lunch for us after class, and even provide accommodation if we need to stay on the islands overnight.
We don’t receive funding from the local government, but they have given us permission to run our programme on the islands.
What do your students learn?
Before we started the Floating School, we spoke with young people, community leaders and teachers on the islands to find out the topics young people are most interested in. We also learned about the different priorities of students and young people who don’t go to school.
We do weekly workshops on literature, computer skills, drawing, crafts, dance, music and photography. Students can choose classes based on their own interests.
We encourage our students to take inspiration from what is around them. When making crafts they use things they can easily find, such as shells, old fishing nets and coconut leaves. In writing class, they describe what they observe on their island.
What makes the Floating School unique?
Classes can be held on the boat, at the beach, at the tree-house, under the trees or at the jetty. The students often decide the location. The schedule is flexible, and we adjust it based on when students have time off from fishing.
At first, many of the young people thought the Floating School would be the same as their schools on the islands. They imagined the teachers would be strict and they’d be given lots of assignments.
But our students learn through art, media and literature. They don’t have to wear uniforms or shoes, and facilitators treat the students as equals, without judging them. This means our students can be themselves.
I can see that the students have become more confident. Our students are also enthusiastic – sometimes they even try to persuade us to stay on their island, so that they can continue studying with us the next day.
My proudest moment was when I asked some students about their plans for the future and they said they didn't want to leave their island, but wanted to study at university and then return to do something good in their communities.
Rahmat was a delegate on this year’s Future Leaders Connect programme. Sign up for the related course Ideas for a Better World: Leading Change Through Policymaking.