Growing Pains

JoyCare, a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing affordable childcare for low-income families in Jakarta, Indonesia, journeys through the challenges of expansion and refinement.

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Sandy Ooi (27), founder and director of JoyCare, has her hands full: not only does she recruit and train teachers, troubleshoot with teachers and parents, and spread word about the program, she also recently opened two more daycare centers in the greater Jakarta area.

When I asked about any new and exciting developments for JoyCare, Sandy enthusiastically described the curriculum she’s been working on.

After careful analysis of JoyCare’s clientele, Sandy noted a trend that most families who enroll their children in JoyCare later send them to government schools, which, in Indonesia, tend to emphasize academics at the expense of social and emotional learning. Previously, JoyCare used a curriculum that focused on building critical thinking skills, creativity, and empathy. Though fully supportive of the lessons, Sandy was concerned students might be in for a shock upon graduating from JoyCare and entering a less open-ended learning environment. While JoyCare is committed to providing play-based immersion and a safe space where kids are challenged to think outside the box, Sandy also believes what follows “best” practices in the West is not necessarily best for kids headed to government school classrooms in Jakarta. In order to build a learning environment responsive to the local context, Sandy decided to take the middle ground. But for this, she believes she needs a new curriculum, one that includes a few more worksheets without leaving play-based learning behind.

Two JoyCare students enjoy free play with magnetic blocks.

Though a rather piecemeal process at first – Sandy slowly gathered ideas over a period of about 8 months – JoyCare’s new one-year curriculum emerged after just one week of intense and focused work. Throughout, Sandy aimed to use the teacher’s perspective as her guide: “How are my teachers going to implement the curriculum? After all, it doesn’t matter how great the curriculum is if the teachers can’t execute it!”

As JoyCare has now expanded to three locations and caters to students aged 1-5 years old, Sandy wanted to develop a curriculum that would be flexible enough for all of JoyCare’s students and teachers. Toward this end, she created a schedule of topics as the curriculum’s skeletal frame and provided freedom within it for teachers to personalize their lesson plans. For example, imagine you are a teacher planning a lesson on the color red. How will you help your young students master that color? Will you make a collage out of red colored objects, use red food coloring to turn salt/sugar from white to red, or will you paint using ketchup on your artist palette? While there may be certain elements teachers at JoyCare must incorporate in each lesson to make them multi-sensory and memorable, the new curriculum allows plenty of freedom for choice.

When asked what advice she would give to new curriculum developers, Sandy emphasized the need for feedback from teachers. Sandy learned this lesson toward what she thought was the end of the curriculum development process. Upon showing the product to her teachers, they all asked for more activity examples. This meant another week of intensive work creating and inputting more examples, but Sandy is hopeful the final product will be more teacher-friendly.

A JoyCare student masters the tunnel maze!

As of mid-March, JoyCare is on target to roll out the new curriculum starting April 2018. An ambitious goal, but Sandy is confident the launch will move forward pending on a successful review by a professional early childhood curriculum developer. Locating a curriculum specialist proved to be another challenge, given the dearth of professional educators in Indonesia. And in the end, Sandy had to export this task. Fortunately, a high school friend who now works as a curriculum developer and 21st-century technology has facilitated the review with relative ease.

Given the shortage of educational opportunities for young children of low-income families, one might wonder why a non-profit would go through the hassle of building a new curriculum, something that arguably proffers no monetary or short-term developmental benefits. After all, in developing countries, something is better than the ubiquitous nothing. However, Sandy’s heart for the children at JoyCare pushes her to ceaselessly improve whatever she can, including the curriculum. 

When asked about her vision for the future, Sandy’s answer was unassuming: “I’m trying to assimilate and honor the culture, while also helping to bring positive change to education.”

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