Theo Kelen, Keerom – For Bertho, David, and Yunitha, going to school takes a lot of struggle, literally. They live in Sawanawa Village, Arso District, 15 kilometers from the city center of Arso. And they study at the YPPK St. Petrus Ubiyau Elementary School, which is located in the Ubiyau Village, five kilometers from Sawanawa.
It doesn't matter if Bertho is a grade 5 student and David is a grade 2 student, all of the St. Petrus Ubiyau students who live in Sawanawa have to walk five kilometers to go to school.
Sawanawa can be reached within two hours from the nearest city by two-wheeled or four-wheeled vehicles. The long trip is due to the damaged road conditions, especially if it rains.
There are about 60 families in the village and the residents' livelihoods are gardening tubers, such as cassava, petatas, and taro, as well as hunting animals such as pigs, cassowaries, and deer in the forest. They would later sell these animals and gardening products at the Arso 2 market. With such modest life, not all residents are able to own a vehicle, forcing their children to walk to school.
"We usually gather at 6 in the morning and then when we walk together to school," Bertho told Jubi.
Apart from Bertho, David, and Yunitha, there are 47 other students from Sawanawa Village who study at the St. Petrus Ubiyau school. There are also nine junior high school students and three high school students in Sawanawa.
"Company's timber truck sometimes pass us by and they would give us a ride. But most of the time, we walk," said Bertho.
When entering junior high, the children have to travel another ten kilometers to attend the YPPK Teruna Tegasa Junior High School or Arso 1 Junior High School in Arso.
Given the long distances to school and no vehicles, some children end up dropping out of school. They spend a lot of time helping their parents in the garden and playing in the river.
Some parents, such as Babra Tet, has asked the village chief to use the village fund to buy a car to drop off and pick up students.
"The children want to go to school but we don't have a vehicle. I have told the village chief but [the car] hasn't been bought yet," said Babra Tet.
St. Petrus Ubiyau principal Piter Randongkir said that the school had students from three villages, namely the Old Ubiyau Village, the New Ubiyau Village, and the Sawanawa.
When learning activities in many parts of the world are shifted to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Petrus Ubiyau students continue to study at school while adhering to the health protocols.
"This is because most of the students don't have cellphones and the internet network is poor, so the parents agree that the learning process during the COVID-19 period remains at school," Randongkir said.
Keerom Education and Culture Agency's head of the Basic Education Development, Muchsin Wibowo, admitted that online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic had not been optimal in Keerom. There are 79 elementary schools, 20 junior high schools, and 15 high schools in the region, with a total of 14,704 students.
According to Wibowo, the few schools able to conduct learning from home are located in the districts of Arso, West Arso, Skanto, and Mannem. Meanwhile, the schools in East Arso, Waris, Senggi, Web, Yaffi, dan Towe cannot do online learning.
"Because schools in these areas do not yet have internet services, few students have cellphones, and the quality of the teachers is still inadequate [to do online learning]," he said.