Mahmud* was counting his hard-earned gold-covered coins at a toy booth at “Roshan Market,” a makeshift flea market that our teachers created for primary students. He saw a flashy toy he wanted to purchase with those coins. At another booth, three girls were competing to get the one and only Barbie doll available at the market.

As the term’s end approaches, the level of activity and excitement in our community heightens. Our students are anxiously waiting for their progress reports. The end of term party is just around the corner. But this term’s end, our primary students are euphoric about having just participated in the Roshan Market.

Primary teachers Nova Budhiarti and Yulinar Hanum want to teach students how to interact with local Indonesians in public and to learn classroom behaviors while learning Bahasa Indonesia language. They reward their students with a star sticker when they follow instructions, behave in class, and respect others. For every three star stickers they have, they get a coin made out of chocolate. At the end of the term, they can exchange the coins with anything that is for sale at Roshan Market.

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When we first introduced the concept of Roshan Market, the students immediately thought about a real market outside and how they would need real money, not chocolate coins, to shop. However, students learned quickly that the chocolate coins have value here. They became enthusiastic about attending Bahasa Indonesia classes with the goal of earning stickers and, consequently, coins. Not only did this system teach them about coins, spending, and saving; but also and perhaps more importantly, students learned about responsible behavior towards their teachers, friends, and assignments.

Hameda*, an 11-year-old girl, was very anxious about getting a star sticker each class; she ended up learning how to listen to instructions and follow them. One time she forgot to do her homework. When she asked for a star sticker, Nova declined to give it to her. She asked why. Nova explained patiently that she would be rewarded a sticker star only if she finished her homework. She nodded her head, understanding what it took to earn a star sticker. She then improved her homework diligence and has been earning more coins ever since.

The younger ones were initially less attracted to the idea. Their reactions were, “I don’t need the coins,” “I don’t want them” or “I don’t want to buy anything.” But when they saw what Roshan Market was all about, they changed their minds.

Like shoppers that hold out for serious bargains, all primary students lined up at the entrance the day Roshan Market was open. As they walked in and took stock, their faces registered shock at the sight of LEGO toys, Barbie dolls, car toys, robots—all of which were graciously donated to us—as items for sale at Roshan Market. They raised their thumbs and put on grins. They hadn’t expected to find a selection of fancy toys from which to choose.

Available at Roshan Market was a big robot that cost 35 coins—one of the priciest items for sale. Mahmud wanted to purchase that toy but he only had 15 coins.

“Teacher, I want to buy the robot toy next term,” said Mahmud, once he realized he needed to collect more coins.

“So what do you have to do?” asked Nova.

“I have to be better at following instructions next term.”

Mahmud is not the only one who is now thinking ahead. The girls had also asked the teacher if they would be able to purchase the Barbie doll the following term. “We’ll see,” said Nova with a satisfied smile.


*All names changed to maintain confidentiality.