Indonesia: teacher learning circles, of great benefit to education union members

published 18 June 2019 updated 26 June 2019

Development cooperation has contributed to strengthening the education union Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia through the use of learning circles.

The Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia(PGRI) covers 34 provinces, 514 districts and 7,094 branches, plus sub-branches, spread over 13,316 islands in Indonesia. It records 1,966,282 members in its online database. The majority of PGRI members have public servant status.

The geographical challenge of coverage has become a major one in terms of managing the education union from national to branch levels: the infrastructure gap between areas in Indonesia leads to a lack of accesstoinformation and communication from national to local levels, especially in remote areas in Indonesia.The value of PGRI to members has not yet been fully perceived or appreciated.

Reaching the grassroots to strengthen and expand the trade union

PGRI currently tries, as a priority, to reach out and recruit more younger members and contract teachers,and broaden member diversity.

New members are recruited at grassroots levels, i.e. branches and sub-branches. They organise effective regular forums to discuss  their aspirations and get access to information on PGRI, as part of the union communications strategy. Involving educators at grassroots level by strengthening trade union branches and sub-branches is high on PGRI’s priority agenda.

A study of PGRI’s performance, conducted in 2016 by independent evaluators, and undertaken under the aegis of PGRI–Education International (EI)–consortium partners, i.e. Utdanningsforbundet(UEN)/Norway, Lärarförbundet/Sweden, the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the Japan Teachers' Union (JTU) concluded that PGRI has significantly contributed to the adoption of a state law on teachers’ rights and governmental regulations on teachers’ welfare and educational issues at national and local levels. These achievements have not been properly understood by many members at grassroots level. The difficult access to information for educators creates a knowledge gap among members, including on how their needs should be channeled. Independent evaluators therefore recommended to start equipping PGRI branches and sub-branches with regular member forums.

In 2017, the PGRI-EI-consortium partners introduced teacher learning circles (TLC) to tackle knowledge gaps at grassroots level. A consultative meeting held in Jakarta that year between PGRI’s national and district levels, EI, UEN and Lä ra r fö rbundet to introduce the concept and share knowledge from UEN and Lärarförbundet’s best TLC practices. Guidelines for implementing TLC at grassroots level were written jointly by PGRI, EI, UEN and Lärarförbundet.

TLC, a much needed and useful forum for grassroots education union members

A TLC is a forum for membersto discuss PGRI’s identity as a professional, advocacy, and trade union organisation. It also helps them to discuss local issues related to the organisation, the teaching profession and teacher welfare. It helps prepare branch and sub-branch union members to participate and make their voices hear throughout the union, from district, to province and to national levels. A TLC can enable members to make recommendations concerning their organisation, Government or Parliament. It can be used to better understand and serve member needs, solve problems, and foster communications.

The impact of TL C’s

An initial TLC training for five pilot branch leaders to implement TLCs in their areas was conducted in 2018, and a second training session was held in April 2019 with eight new pilot branches.

In 2018, TLCs were succesfully implemented in the five PGRI branches. TLCs were enthusiastically received by members, including leaders, who actively participated in the sessions.This was revealed in the study and during annual monitoring visits by EI staff and PGRI.

The impact of TLC implementation for branches and sub-branches has clearly been positive. A statement from branch leaders says that “a TLC can be used by the organisation to show commitment and accountability to its members, and to gain members’ trust for them to pay their dues”. It has also helped the organisation to reach out to members and listen to their problems. This approach will help PGRI build members’ trust to further develop programmes based on their basic needs and give weight to the organisation’s advocacy with the government using evidence-based arguments.

For example, a TLC forum in the South Leitimur branch in Ambon City identified the lack of teacher competency training and organised such a training for their members as part of a capacity building programme. Dues payment in South Leitimur later showed progress as a result of the organisation’scommitment through the TLC. In 2019, the Ambon district has foreseen to scale up TLC implementation in other branches with their own funding.

The success of a TLC in the Simpang Empat branch, Banjar district, influenced other branches to adopt a TLC in their areas, and resulted in more organisation forums being conducted for members, paving the way for a healthy environment for members to communicate inside their union while advocating their rights with the Government. TLC implementation earned the support of the Banjar government, which committed to follow up the TLC recommendation on the issue of teachers’ capacity-building programmes and education. In 2019, the Banjar district has committed to implement a TLC in all of its branches.

Taktakan in Serang City and Lembor in the Manggarai Barat district are among the pilot branches that successfully organised a forum for members through a TLC, where members met and discussed their problems and possible solutions with the local union board. Also, the fact that member recommendations are acknowledged by the organisation and are being followed up with an action plan favoured member trust of and commitment to their organisation. More forums are being conducted in Taktakan and Lembor branches. In Taktakan, as a result of a TLC, members are active in helping support contract teachers’ demands on standards, salaries, and status with the local government. In 2019, Serang City and the Manggarai Barat districts will replicate TLCs in other branches.

The implementation of a TSC in Medan Baru, with the majority of TLC participants being women, generated enthusiasm and contributing to a healthy environment for women members to assume their full roles within the organisation and should result in the development of more women leaders. A TLC method called “Dialogue sheet”, coming from UEN’sbest practices, has also been adapted by members for use as learning methode in their classrooms. In 2019,the Medan Baru district will scale up the TLC to other branches in the broader Medan Baru City.