Zainal Abidin, The Teacher who Sails the Kapuas River to Teach His Students

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“Unsung Hero” is a term we often use to describe a teacher. Teachers bear a noble responsibility to teach and educate the children of our nation’s children. However, their task doesn’t stop there. Some teachers also have to teach and educate their fellow teachers by reaching out to the most remote, isolated areas in Indonesia.

This is the story of Zainal Abidin, a Mathematics teacher from SMPN (State Junior High School) 5 Teluk Pakedai, a school located in a remote are in Kabupaten Kubu Raya.

For Zainal, going to his school to teach is never an easy journey. As he lives in Kecamatan Kubu, Zainal has to go through oil palm plantations with potholes and muddy roads to reach the school. When the weather isn’t friendly, his journey to school will be even more challenging.

The journey doesn’t only consist of a single land trip. Zainal must also cross the Kapuas River, the longest river in Indonesia, with a water motorbike or small boat. On the whole, his journey to school takes about four hours. Moreover, besides the tough journey, all the items Zainal brings with him, including his teaching equipment and change of clothes, must be covered in plastic so they don’t get wet.

“I go on a very long journey. It’s tiring, but I’m always motivated by my students at school who wait for me so we can study together,” said Zainal.

Zainal often has to stay at school because of a bad weather or busy school activities. When he stays overnight at the school, he usually uses the principal’s room to sleep in. “I stay overnight because I’m worried that I’ll be late for teaching. Thankfully, the school allows teachers to stay overnight at the school,” he added.

Having been teaching for eight years, Zainal knows that he has to continuously develop his teaching skills. The limited access to and the high cost for self-development used to discourage Zainal from participating in various training programs. However, understanding teachers’ role as the key factor of education in Indonesia motivated him to look for ways todevelop himself.

“It used to be hard for me to take part in training programs, so instead, I had discussions with my friends and explored the rest myself. I want to continue to be an active teacher at my school,” he said.

Today, access to quality training is no longer a challenge for Zainal. It all started with news from the Kabupaten Kubu Raya Education Office that they had established the Kubu Raya Teacher Learning Center as a community for all educators in Kabupaten Kubu Raya. The community would receive intensive training from the Putera Sampoerna Foundation, so he was interested in joining.

At the beginning of the training and mentoring program at the Kubu Raya Teacher Learning Center, Zainal wasn’t keen. He felt that there were too many independent assignments he had to complete during the training. However, when he tried to directly implement the training materials in his classroom, his students were very enthusiastic about the new learning method.

“I had thought that the training program that I was participating in was boring, but seeing my students’ enthusiasm made me realize that it was actually what I needed. It would be my loss if I didn’t take the training seriously, ” Zainal explained.

With his eagerness and persistence in participating in the training, Zainal was trusted to carry out the dissemination process in the Kubu Raya area. Not only that, Zainal also actively disseminates his knowledge and good practices to the teachers at the school where he teaches.

Zainal stated that distance shouldn’t an obstacle for us to continue spreading good things, especially in the education sector. The most important thing is that students can get their right to proper learning.

“I’m now readier than ever to paint a new color in the education in Kubu Raya with my fellow teachers at the Kubu Raya Teacher Learning Center,” he concluded.