Diversity is a Source of Learning: The Story of Atika

Under the 1in11 partnership, madrasas in Central Java are making inclusive education a reality for students with disabilities

Atika, her mother and her teacher
21 August 2020

SEMARANG, Indonesia – The building was vibrant with laughter as 12-year-old Atika and her closest friends Nayla, Keysha and Farah played in their school’s resource room, as they love to do, supervised by their teachers Ika, Nila and Mintarsih.

Atika usually plays in the resource room three times a week. She particularly likes to play with balls, which improve her fine motor skills. Ika and her team developed games and activities for Atika, based on consultations with a child psychologist. Sometimes, they develop something based on their own experiences with the children.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, Madrasah Ibtidaiyah (MI) Keji, like many other schools in the district of Semarang, Central Java Province, has had to shift their teaching from the classroom to distance learning. Atika is now learning at home, with support from her mother Endrasti and father Azis.

Atika is one of the 25 students with disabilities benefitting from the inclusive education services provided by MI Keji. In 2017, this madrasah (Islamic school) became one of the pilot madrasahs in Central Java that championed inclusive education under the 1in11 partnership. The collaboration between the Government of Indonesia, UNICEF and Lembaga Pendidikan Maarif Nahdlatul Ulama (LP Maarif NU) is supported by Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

In MI Keji, 17 out of 18 teachers have been trained in LP Maarif NU’s inclusive madrasah development module, which includes an adaptation of FutbolNET[1], an inclusive sports-based module developed by the FC Barcelona Foundation. The programme has also provided opportunities for the teachers to join various trainings and workshops related to inclusive education.

The inclusive education programme has changed the way Atika and her friends are treated in school. “I don’t know how to express my gratitude,” confessed Azis, Atika’s father. “All the teachers and students have been supportive and kind to my daughter.”

For example, he pointed out that when Atika needs to manage her bladder during school breaks, students now know to inform the teacher or an adult who can help, some guide her to the toilet and help her clean, while some bring her a clean change of clothes from her schoolbag.

Atika’s teachers Ika, Nila and Mintarsih
Atika’s teachers Ika, Nila and Mintarsih demonstrate one of the activities they use.

It was not easy for Atika and her parents to find schools and neighbourhoods that are supportive of children with disabilities. Atika was once studying in a state primary school that had been appointed by the Government to provide inclusive education services to its students. However, Atika was not considered able to participate in learning, and was deemed disruptive to the learning process. She was often left alone in her class.

“[The school] called me and persuaded me to transfer Atika to another school,” recalled Azis, adding that she also experienced bullying. “They refused to play with her, and when Atika approached them, some would hurt her physically.”

But Atika has never kept ill thoughts, a quality that not only her friends but also her teachers have learned from her. Once, a boy hit her and Atika ran home crying. But by the next day, Atika was already willingly sharing her snacks with him.

Ika, one of the teachers who is also the appointed manager for inclusive education in the school, said that her own motivation comes from seeing the progress made by children like Atika.

“Atika used to run to the sewer outside of our school whenever something made her upset,” recalled Ika.

But gradually, she has been able to face uncomfortable circumstances and interact in a positive manner with her peers. Nayla, Keysha and Farah said that they like Atika because she is funny, nice, smart and likes to share her favourite snacks with them.

Azis wishes more children like Atika could benefit from inclusive learning, especially amid the pandemic. “I hope that this kind of inclusive programme can be adopted by other schools. I believe there are more children like Atika out there who still struggle with their education,” said Azis. “I hope there will be more schools with trained teachers such as MI Keji. We should pay attention to their welfare.”

“It’s hard with the current situation,” admitted Ika and her team, referring to the pandemic. “We have to rely on our collaboration with parents. Sometimes we give assignments to the children but then the parents do it for them. It’s even harder when some of the parents themselves are illiterate.”

But Ika, Nila and Mintarsih are not about to give up, something that they have learned from students like Atika.

“She wants to be an excellent chef,” they said with a smile and pride in their eyes.


Atika with her favourite bicycle
Atika with her favourite bicycle

[1] The FutbolNET module was developed by the Futbol Club Barcelona Foundation and uses sports as a vehicle to transmit positive values and to promote social and educational development. It explores five values through sports: humility, effort, ambition, respect and teamwork. For its implementation in Indonesia, the module is specifically designed for an Inclusive Education setting. For more information on FutbolNET, please see the following link: https://foundation.fcbarcelona.com/programes/fair-football