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Literacy as a Foundation for Improvement

What is Literacy? Some would say it’s the foundation to study and understand a lot of things, the foundation of every human to develop and be able to communicate effectively between people. For many parents, it is needed to help their children in their learning phase. For many children, it’s a basic skill needed to succeed at studying and to navigate their path. What I mean by navigate is as simple as to be able to read books, to know what is happening from news, to be able to read a price tag and medicine instruction. It also means to be able to understand what is stated in a letter, especially if it’s a notification from the government, and eventually for them to enter the working environment which in our globalized world would requires a skilled and educated workforce.

In a long term, lack of literacy could result in low quality of education, stalled economic development and the failure to understanding a global crisis such as climate change or local issues such as the importance to protect marine life for the next generation. On the other hand, literacy not only improve all those things I mentioned, it could also promote the idea of tolerance and how to appreciate differences when the children are supplied with the right information.

But, what is the definition of literacy? Most people would define it as the ability to read and write. This however, could also create a problem since it often brings dichotomy between those who are literate and those who are not, when actually being literate is only the first step from using it from understanding sentences. From UNESCO data from 2018 it shows that 99.7% of the Indonesian population aged between 15-24 years old are literate. But the proficiency levels of literacy to be able to read and write are actually different when we want to use it as a skill to navigate our daily life activities like I mention above. I don’t mean to undervalue the definition of literacy in an Indonesian dictionary or any other dictionaries, but there is a misconception of ‘the ability to read and write’ in many areas in Indonesia where it is often seen as only being able ‘to read and write’ and forgetting that the ‘ability’ part has to reach a certain level of proficiency. In many studies and surveys people would report their family as literate when they still fail to to comprehend sentences in a medicine instruction, for example. Perhaps that’s why the data shows there are 99.7% of literate people in Indonesia while I actually believe it’s less.

How about Sawinggrai and Kapisawar Villages? In my opinion, there are many factors that could be responsible for the low literacy level among children in this area. But, basically Sawinggrai and Kapisawar Villages reflect the overall picture of remote areas in Indonesia, particularly in Papua:

  1. School curriculum, educators, and sometimes school sizes usually do not matched with the needs at hand.

  2. Teacher incomes fluctuate substantially and are generally below the average income, which may affect motivation and their high absenteeism rate in schools.

  3. Teacher absence will affects the students’ learning outcomes. I see similar problems in other remote areas. (Studies in 2006 says remote areas have a 24% of teacher absenteeism rate).

  4. Besides the absence issue, the low learning outcomes is also a result of the low literacy rate. In other words, most students graduate without reaching a certain proficiency needed for entering the globalized Raja Ampat society where tourism has become an important aspect of their daily life. Probably because those who provide the literacy are the product of low literacy education culture too.

  5. There are differences concerns in literacy and education amongst parents. Some of them are disagree that these could enrich their children's future.

  6. Some parents also to forbid their children to attend school. This sometimes, affects other children who also decide not to attend school anymore.

  7. Educational access such as school is far from their home and the transportation cost are simply too high for the parents to afford.

  8. Access to reading materials and electricity. (This village only got a proper telecommunication access in 2015 and a proper electricity in December 2020. The telecommunication signal is still unstable at times).

  9. As for reading materials, there is a lack of it in many schools. Even though lots of community libraries are built in many remote areas, including this village to improve the literacy rate and provide reading and learning materials, the problem remains because the parents and adults are themselves the product of low literacy education culture. The children would still need guidance from adequate educators to understand what they read, but not many institutions are able to afford the cost of the educators.

All those factors are interdependent and sadly, the government doesn’t have much resource to get it done. We need as many hands as possible to help the children here. Because at the current rate of education, it will be incredibly hard for them to compete with people who come from outside Papua, while still struggling with unresolved local issues. Let us not forget the environmental issues that will not allow waiting another decade either. I believe this level of urgency needs to be answered with equal attention to break the chain of the low literacy rate in this area and at the same time, to strengthen their environmental sustainability.

Understanding the issues at stake, I find the foundation already set their foot in the right path for being adaptive with the children’s current needs and being close with the community. Even though it’s clear the foundation still has its limitation, such as not enough space facility for more children and the small number of the educators (which both issues will be solved when the new building is finished).

But set aside the limitation, the foundation already did match its education with the needs of the area such as having computer classes by which we can teach both literacy and digital literacy at the same time. Furthermore, environment classes for them to realize the importance of sustainable environment are actually a real breakthrough in this area. They also have administration classes to learn about the understanding of working environment, as well as economy and sociology classes to be able to comprehend what is happening around them. There are other extra classes, and last but not least, they also learn English so they can speak and understand the foreigners who will come to this island.

Although I understand it is too early to claim the improvement of literacy, I have observed that the enthusiasm for reading is already improving. With respect to general education, children who already improved their literacy are seen to have a better understanding for learning new things.

From the economic perspective, I see the foundation as a necessary ‘supply’ to meet the small scale of the demand, which is a very good start for the generation to come. It’s a small step for the whole of Raja Ampat, but a big step and improvement towards better literacy proficiency in Sawinggrai and Kapisawar Villages.

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