The AIS School (pronounced ‘ice’) is a Muslim school operating in at least 2 campuses that I’m aware of. While discussing the visit, Ibu Mia explained a few of the rules that we would have to follow; wearing a head scarf & no singing or clapping. The headscarf rule was the easiest one to follow however the no singing or clapping eliminated our plans to sing either of the songs Marg had created resources for, so instead we planned to teach a game popular with our students.
In the car on our way to the middle school campus, Ibu Mia handed us the head scarves we borrowed for the day. She also pulled out her chador which is a black face covering that ties over the jilbab and covers her entire face except for the eyes. Ibu Mia wore this only briefly; to get from the car to the girls only school building and once inside the door, she untied it and put it back in her handbag. However many of the teachers and students, instead of removing the chador when inside, flipped it over their head once inside the building, where it can be repositioned quickly should a male appear. Occasionally male teachers from the boys school teach here too.
This campus is a boarding school where the genders are strictly segregated with only minimal & I’m guessing, fully supervised contact between the sexes. As we only visited the female student building, we can only assume the boys building operates in exactly the same way.
The female students’ building has 3 stories. On the bottom floor, one of the rooms was being used as a canteen and as this was the only room on this floor that we entered, I’ve no idea what the other rooms off the corridor are used for. The second floor was all dormitories for the boarding students and the top floor is currently being used as classrooms even though originally designed as dormitories. They are currently building more classrooms to meet growing enrolment numbers.
The game ‘heads down, thumbs up’ was enormously popular, even though volunteers had to be slightly coerced!! Ibu Mia offered a house, a bike and even shopping vouchers to whoever volunteered which had us all in fits of laughter. While it relaxed them all, we still had to resort to eenie meenie minne mo to nominate volunteers.
Due to time constraints, we only played this game with 2 classes. Other students were also keen for us to visit them, so in order to visit them all briefly in the remaining time, we didn’t play any more games, we simply invited questions however this too required coercion. After choosing a random student using eenie meenie minnie mo, if they didn’t have a question for us, we asked them a question instead. We asked about their favourite food, their hobbies, their families or their pets. Most of the questions we were asked centred around our impressions of Indonesia/ Batam (what do you like about Indonesia/ Batam?) and my ability to speak Indonesian (where did you study Indonesian?). Once we had finished talking, we were swamped with girls asking for our signature!! We felt like movie stars!!
From this campus, Ibu Mia drove us to another campus much closer to Batam Centre. This campus caters for students from playgroup to year 12. As we parked, we noticed that young kindergarten students were being collected by parents. This campus is for day students and it was interesting that only a few of the mothers collecting their children were wearing the chador; most wore just a head scarf or jilbab (hijab), which we also put on once we got out of the car.
As with the previous campus, just inside the door were shelves for shoes and this one also had room for motor bike helmets. It was lovely walking around on the cool tiles in bare feet. This campus was air conditioned which was gorgeous after the previous campus which purely relied on ventilation through open windows.
Ibu Mia had included this campus in our day to give us the opportunity to work with primary aged students. After a welcome cup of tea, we were accompanied to a year 4 class where the boys sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other. No matter what we did with the class, there was a clear division between the genders; they did not mix together. When playing heads down, thumbs up, the boys only selected boys and the girls only chose girls and when guessing who had touched their thumbs, the possibility that it was someone from the opposite gender was never considered.
We made 2 friends in this class who stuck to us like glue whenever possible and provided us with a steady stream of drawings, letters and finally a banana each, wrapped in pastry, which by the time we ate it was a little stale but still tasty.
The teachers at this school were incredibly welcoming and so grateful that we were happy to spend time with them. While teaching, we were filmed and observed by several teachers who stood at the back of the classroom watching us.
While teaching, my scarf kept falling down off my head into my shoulders. It was a large square, folded into a triangle which was possibly why it kept slipping backwards. Catching my reflection while wearing the scarf made me smile each time as it totally changed my appearance!! Thankfully, the teachers encouraged me not to worry about repositioning the scarf while working with women and children. Marg’s head scarf though, was a length of material which sat perfectly over her hair and did not once slip off!!
Meanwhile all the students also enjoyed a break from lessons. Some ate and some enjoyed the freedom to run up and down the staircase connecting the 2 floors. Also allowed in the staffroom were children belonging to staff. While we ate they either ran around or lay down together on the tiles playing on their mums phone.
Lunch time also gave the principal and a few of the English teachers time to chat with us in English about education. I really enjoy and appreciate opportunities such as this to chat candidly about a variety of topics.
Our day here finished with us talking in front of the entire school to enable everyone to have the opportunity to ask us questions. Once again the genders sat separately with the boys st the front and the girls towards the back.
The students were very noisy and Ibu Mia had to threaten several times that we would leave if they continued to be noisy and disrespectful. Thankfully, they quietened down well before Ibu Mia counted to 3!! As we listened to the staff introducing us, we noticed that each child had a sheet of paper and a pencil in their hand. My heart dropped. How on earth were we going to provide them all with our autograph? Ibu Mia came to the rescue with a clever suggestion – class photos!! We all trooped outside and stood under the school entrance to have our photo taken with the various year levels & genders!!
What a brilliant day. It was truly amazing having the opportunity to meet and work with the staff and students of this terrific Muslim school. We are incredibly grateful to Ibu Mia for connecting us with them and look forward to distributing the penpal letters given to us by the older students once we get back home.