Meet Ibu Tita. She’s a teacher supported by Ecosphere+ clients through our partner Sumatra Merang Peatland Project (SMPP) which is restoring 22,934 hectares of peatland rainforest in the Merang biodiversity region of Indonesia’s South Sumatra. With education fundamental to transforming the relationship between local communities and the rainforest, Ibu Tita’s job is an important one. She knows that teaching children about the benefits of biodiversity creates generational support for forest conservation and restoration.
In recent years, improving education for adults and children has been a key focus for the Indonesian government, and the country has seen some important improvements in metrics. School data shows that between 2001 and 2017, student enrolment increased by 23 percent, or by more than 10 million students. However, Indonesia still falls behind its counterparts across southeast Asia and the rest of the globe. And as is often true, these dynamics are even more pronounced in remote areas, such as in Ibu Tita’s village and others surrounding this vulnerable area of South Sumatra.
One of the key aims of SMPP is to improve quality of and access to educational opportunities for both teachers and students. Most teachers in this region lack a university degree or vocational training and students at the high school level must travel up to 4 hours to continue their studies. To address these issues, the project has worked alongside community leaders and other stakeholders to create a community development plan focused on education. Among others, this includes a programme focused on teacher training.
Ibu Tita is one of 20 teachers enrolled in the project’s scholarship programme, a partnership between SMPP and Palembang’s Open University, and she is currently taking courses tailored to educators in rural areas. “I want to improve the quality of my life, and I think I can do this if I am better educated. I can also better educate the children of the school and improve their lives if I improve my own knowledge of teaching,” she commented.
She recently took her class on a field trip to the SMPP’s project site where the students learned about forest restoration as an alternative career to employment at palm oil, rubber and timber plantations. After planting trees in the seedling nursery, they were given an overview of the project’s fire protection programme and shown the equipment, including the firetrucks. “Planting trees at SMPP was good for the class. They learned that trees can protect us from flooding and the earth’s warming. We learned how to prevent fires and that it is important to protect our peat areas,” Ibu Tita said.
Education for teachers in the project area does not just benefit the students – it provides a livelihood. Teaching is a strong alternative to environmentally harmful ways of making a living and for Ibu Tita, the extra income has been very important for her family. “My husband works on a nearby palm oil plantation, but the salary often isn’t enough. Now that I earn a salary as a teacher from the programme, we can buy more rice and I just bought new shoes for my son,” she said.
Stories like Ibu Tita’s are inspiring. Education in rural South Sumatra is empowering a young generation, uplifting families and strengthening local commitment to conservation, which is critical to protecting this vital habitat in the long term.