Tomoe Gakuen, Totto-chan Inclusion School, Little Girl in the Window

27 Mar

Book title: Totto-Chan, Little Girl in the Window
Author: Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
ISBN: 978-979-2-3655-2
Publisher: PT. Gramedia Main Library, twenty-second print, January 2017
Number of pages: 272 pages. 

After being released from his first school, which actually started, Totto-chan moved to SD Tomoe Gakuen. This new school is very unique. Instead of using permanent brick-walled classes, six unused train cars are transformed into classes. There is also no wall surrounding the courtyard. Tomoe uses plants as a fence and decorates the yard with flower beds. Another thing that drew Totto-chan’s attention when he first arrived was the school gate from a complete living tree from roots to leaves. He said the gate would continue to grow until it was higher than the telephone pole (p. 19).Totto-chan was very happy with his new school, but until he grew up he never knew why he had to change schools. Her mother never told the story until she passed her twentieth birthday. Totto-chan feels very lucky. If only his mother said he was expelled for screwing up the class and helped corner him, he would definitely feel like he was a useless child (the story of the writer on the epilogue page)..

Long story short, Totto-chan was released because his teacher was unable to follow the behavior of this little girl. Totto-chan is not evil, nor is she naughty. He was just annoying to his teacher who felt his class had been confused. His old school had a desk with a drawer that could be opened up, Totto-chan opened and closed it up to hundreds of times in one hour. The teacher cannot be angry because he did it for the right reasons. Totto-chan also likes to sit in front of the window. From there he called the street musicians and asked to play music so that all the children ran to the window. Other times he sat at the window and shouted loudly – also repeatedly – on the swallow who was making a nest. Because the reason Totto-chan interferes with the teaching process in the class even interferes with other classes,

This new school was found by Mama after searching everywhere. He wants a school that can understand and teach his little girl to adjust to others. Since first entering Tomoe, Totto-chan immediately felt right with his school. Especially to Mr. Kobayashi, Principal of Tomoe Gakuen. When he first met and expressed his intention to attend school in Tomoe, Mr. Kobayasi asked Mama to leave them alone. Immediately after that he asked Totto-chan to tell him anything about him. The man was always interested in what Totto-chan said. He is not bored or yawning for four full hours. When Totto-chan had run out of chat material, just then Mr. Kobayasi stood up, put his hand on Totto-chan’s head and said “Well, now you’re a student of this school” (p.26). Since then Mr.

Tomoe School has a few students, from grade one to six only about fifty children. But this number is actually ideal for building close relationships between teachers and each student. In Tomoe children are free to choose chairs to sit, they are also free to sort lessons according to their interests. And another important thing is that children with special needs are treated the same and blend into one another.

One of Totto-chan’s friends, Yasuaki-chan, has had polio since childhood. He has crooked and walking fingers dragging his feet. As a child who has physical deficiencies, it is common if he feels ashamed of his body. But Mr. Kobayasi smartly makes swimming activities that allow children to be naked. The child is thin, fat, male, female, all happy. He wanted to teach all the bodies to be beautiful, including Yasuaki-chan whose body was small due to disability. Principals argue that if they are naked and play together, shame will disappear and that will help them eliminate their inferiority complex (p. 72).

Long before the model of inclusive schools developed in Indonesia, through his book Tetsuko Kuroyanagi had described the actual inclusion school. The most recent education system that includes all children including children with special needs in the learning process has been carried out by Tomoe Gakuen since 1937. Tomoe Gakuen is located in southeast Tokyo, founded by Sosaku Kobayasi in 1937 and burned down in 1945 when the Pacific war raged.

Inclusive education itself has been regulated by the Indonesian government since 2009. The regulation requires all schools in the district or city to provide inclusive education from elementary to high school. In the past (even now) we know special schools (SLB) for children with special needs. The term SLB later developed into mockery in the community and resulted in children who attended school feeling inferior. Inclusion schools are present to fulfill equal children’s education rights for all children including children with special needs. The same learning process between normal children and special needs aims to erode the “awkwardness” between them. The confidence of children with special needs will grow well and a sense of empathy for a normal child will develop well.

Totto-chan, Little Girl in Window was first published in 1981 after becoming an article series for Young Woman magazine . Totto-chan is a childhood story of the author, all the stories and characters in his book are real. He felt very fortunate to go to school at Tomoe Gakuen and meet Mr. Kobayasi so that he grows up as a child who is confident. On page 235, Tetsuko recounts the promise he made with the headmaster “I want to teach in this school when I grow up”. He still can’t keep his promise, but his story about Tomoe Gakuen has successfully influenced the education system in Japan. His work became a bestseller and recorded the history of the world of Japanese publishing with the sale of 4,500,000 books a year. Totto-chan has become a mandatory book for educators in Japan since the 1990s.

I first read Totto-chan about ten years ago. At that time after finishing it quickly because the storyline was flowing and readable, I felt like Tomoe’s dropout. And like Totto-chan I made a promise, wanted to make or teach at a school like Tomoe. Years passed, I could teach children victims of eruption as volunteers and taught in kindergartens for several months. But my promise hasn’t really been fulfilled.

This time I re  read Totto-chan for my child who is a year old. I read it as a bedtime story. Then I made an appointment to send him to school at a school like Tomoe. In Yogyakarta, my current residence – inclusive schools are scattered. Among them is the Growing School which was founded in 2005 and has elementary, middle and high school levels. The results of the study and discussion with parents who have sent their children to the Growing School convinced me that this is Tomoe Gakuan today. Besides there is also the Kanisius Mangunan School. Romo Mangunwijaya’s pilot school promotes social closeness with the community around the school as well as nature as a learning tool. This school has levels from kindergarten to elementary school.

The same thing from the two schools that I like is that students don’t need to wear uniforms. As in Tomoe, children do not need uniforms. They simply come with the most worn out clothes. Because the essence of education is to unite diversity rather than make it uniform.

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