Sunday, July 29, 2007
  Kings Of The Castle?

It's worth noting that the recent floods in China and Central Sulawesi are the result of environmental degradation and that those in the UK could have been prevented if the vast sums allocated for flood prevention schemes had actually been spent. These were both major factors in the disastrous Jakarta flooding of this and every year and symptomatic of the vacuous stance of the city's politicians and bureaucracy.

Now, with the gubernatorial election upon us here in Jakarta, we are bombarded with such a barrage of hollow graffiti'd slogans that for all most of us care, the candidates themselves might just as well be holograms. It is no consolation to know that future elections could include independent candidates given that they too will be dependent on the wealth of their supporters and the political machinery, the workings of which are mysterious to all but the initiated.

This year we are being exhorted to vote for a cartoon character ~ Mr. Moustache ~ who is such a profound visionary that he was able to diminish the impact of this year's floods by commenting that other cities have them.

The other team asks if we are bored with traffic jams. Of course we bloody are, and yes we would all love to live in a clean and safe city where it is easy to find a nice rewarding job. Such as being the next Governor of Jakarta?

The electorate is treated like a kindergarten class, and this is very strange because children in kindergarten classes are treated like high school students.

Here in Indonesia global trends in schooling are being aped with minimal thought for the conditions and consequences. Schooling is becoming standardised and robotised with linear, multi-choice tests. Few, if any, allowances are made for different rates of physical and emotional development among children. Test this, test that, at this age and that.

Play is gradually disappearing from kindergartens in order to ensure that children can read, write and do complicated algebraic equations before they 'graduate'. From as young as two, when Indonesian kids can be enrolled in mathematics and English classes, they are taught that competition is better than co-operation. There is minimal incentive for children to be creative in case they 'fall behind'.

Behind what?

A report just released by the American Academy of Paediatrics says that what children really need is unstructured playtime, just like most of us had. Unstructured play helps children become creative, discover their own passions, develop problem-solving skills, relate to others and adjust to school settings, whereas a lack of spontaneous play can lead to obesity and depression.

That there are so few opportunities for Indonesian kids to be creative is not considered. After all, there is the great narcotic, the opium of the masses, TV; plonk kids in front of it, subject them to the endless BUY ME BUY ME adverts and their minds lose any incentive for independent thought. Their natural escape into the hidden and private worlds of play and literature is denied. It is these worlds which encourage creativity, a necessary tool for survival.

As a lad in London, as well as dressing up, making hand puppets out of toilet roll centres, playing marbles and riding my pre-BMX bike up and down the gravel pits on Blackheath, I played among the bomb sites over the road, a natural urban jungle for our own war games.

I also discovered the joys of reading for pleasure. My good friend David Jardine recently contributed an article to the Jakarta Post applauding the staggering achievement of raising the literacy rate from 10% to the current 90%+ in less than fifty years. However, as he rightly pointed out, these stats relate to what is termed functional literacy skill, the ability to read directions, advertisements and school text books. It does not relate to the magic world of story telling which, I agree, is a key to creativity.

By all means, let children read the Harry Potter books and watch the movies, but that is a once in a couple of years activity which, particularly in this country, does not encourage children to read. If you've ever wondered why there are so few renowned authors in Indonesia, then merely consider the very limited access to libraries and the paucity of bookshops in this megacity.

Apart from stores such as Gramedia, with their homogenous range of reading material, kids are generally stuck with their school books and glossy magazines featuring superfluous superstars. And because they have had permission from City Hall, these outlets are generally housed in shopping malls built where parks and playspaces used to be.

If you are a child and want to read fiction, then, as David pointed out, you may have to rely on the few noble ventures run by community volunteers.

There is an obvious conclusion to this: our emerging democracy is not yet mature enough to encourage the joy of play. Politics are seen to be serious business, with 'business' being the operative word.

Until such time as candidates for election prioritise the quality of life and opportunities for recreation and play, rather than making existing machinery efficient, then I have but one message: Get Down, You Naughty Rascals.

[First published in the Sunday Post 29th July]

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