BANDA ACEH: Burnt-down schools can be rebuilt but how does one go about repairing the psychological damage the burning of schools have on children?
While much has been done to reconstruct the 400 schools torched in the latest Aceh conflict, an academic pointed out that very little was being done for the mental and emotional “recovery” of the children traumatised by the incident.
“The children have no words to express their trauma and what they are feeling inside. But we can tell from their body language the impact it has on their young minds.
“They are confused and wondering what is so wrong with the school buildings they were studying in for someone to burn them down?” Universitas Syiah Kuala vice-rector for academic affairs Dr Darni M. Daud said.
He believed even children whose schools had not been torched were suffering from trauma.
“They have seen the pictures on TV and in the newspapers of schools burning. And they think it is only a matter of time before theirs too is burnt down,” he said.
“When students suffer trauma early in their lives and they feel afraid, they are unable to study at an optimal level. Their academic performance is bound to suffer. So schools should never be made targets,” he said.
On May 19, the Indonesia military (TNI) started a major operation in Aceh to crush the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels who are seeking independence for the province.
Over 13 days, more than 400 schools in rural areas have been “mysteriously” set ablaze.
The military accuses GAM of targeting schools while GAM blames the military for the action.
Dr Darni said it was puzzling why schools became a target because neither the military nor GAM would gain from such an action.
And because it was the rural schools that were torched, he added, there would now be a “new gap” between the urban and rural schools.
“Even before the conflict and the burning of schools, the gap was already there. Rural schools were lagging behind urban ones in terms of quality of education, teachers and facilities. Now this is only going to make it worse. It is very bad and serious,” he said.
As it is, he pointed out, Aceh had one of the lowest quality of education compared to other provinces in Indonesia.
Citing an example, he said that at his university, which is the oldest and biggest in Aceh, it was noted that at the recent graduation the students who obtained top scores all came from high schools outside Aceh.
“So even at high school level, our quality of education is down. And with the conflict now in high intensity, the impact on quality will be even more severe,” he said.
The conflict has also resulted in farmers giving up their farms to move to the city to take up odd jobs here because it was safer, and this too had an impact on their schoolgoing children.
Dr Darni said these children found it difficult to “catch up” and cope with the education in the urban schools and this was an added burden for them.
The fight for an independent Aceh has gone on for 27 years with varying degrees of intensity from time to time.
During this time, Dr Darni said, people only tried to address the short-term effects but often neglected the long-term impact on education.
Dr Darni said it was good that things were on the move to rebuild the schools in Aceh, “but it is just not enough. We need to do more to recover the long-term effects.”
“Education is like planting a mango or durian tree. You need 10 or 20 years before you see results. It is not like planting corn or vegetables where you harvest the produce after only a short time,” he said.
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