Friday, 15 January 2016

Learning to Read, Write and Succeed: UNICEF’s Literacy Work in Papua.

By Nick Baker, Communication and Knowledge Management Officer 

Kristopher is improving his literacy. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker

“Please write down your name,” a group of primary students are asked in Poumako, Papua, in the far east of Indonesia. It seems like an easy task. Some in the remote village school take out their pen and slowly begin. But some find it almost impossible.

Second-grade student Kristopher is one child who struggles. He takes his time, has a number of attempts and then stops. “It’s hard,” he says.

Kristopher is like many young students across Tanah Papua which includes the provinces of Papua and West Papua. They belong to the group of about 87 percent of early grade students in rural and remote areas that are either non-readers or readers with limited comprehension.

And for children like Kristopher – not having this basic skill will severely impact the rest of their life.

Teacher Basilus Batmomolin is participating in a UNICEF programme. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker

Basilus Batmomolin has taught at Poumako’s elementary school for the past five years. It is a challenging role – working with young people in one of Indonesia’s poorest regions. Over this time, he has become well aware how important literacy is.

“Literacy is an enabler,” he says, “It allows children to continue to higher education. It broadens their professional opportunities. With literacy, children can be more confident and more social. Without literacy, children become isolated.”

Basilus says there are many reasons why literacy rates remain stubbornly low in this area. These range from uncooperative parents who don’t send their children to school because they don’t understand the value; to very minimal resources; to limited support for teachers; to teachers and principals who simply don't come to work.

The village of Poumako. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker

UNICEF has stepped in to help teachers like Basilus – through its Rural and Remote Education Initiative for Papuan Provinces in Poumako and 119 other schools across Tanah Papua. This programme, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is aimed to improve the kind of challenges that Basilus talks about. It will test effective and sustainable approaches for improving learning outcomes of literacy in early grades.

At these schools, UNICEF will provide training for teachers and principals, culturally-relevant teaching and learning materials, monitoring and evaluation systems, and education campaigns for parents, communities and authorities.

“Literacy is a fundamental right for all children,” says UNICEF Papua Education Specialist Monika Nielsen, “A child who can read and write is more likely to succeed in life. It is such an important tool to help pull themselves out of poverty. Improving child literacy can have a positive effect on a whole community.”

A key part of this programme is sending teacher mentors to visit rural and remote schools. These mentors train teachers in innovative literacy techniques. Pak Ferdi is one such mentor. “Literacy gives young people power,” he says, “They will be able to grow up understanding maths, understanding business. It’s so important for their future.”

Illiteracy is high among students in Poumako. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Nick Baker

There is a long road ahead. Illiteracy is endemic in Papua. Among the whole population, over 40 percent cannot read and write. This number spikes to a staggering 92 percent in some highland districts. And indicators show numbers are actually increasing.

The solution starts with children. Children like Kristopher. And since participating in the UNICEF programme, the signs are already positive.

After most people have finished the classroom exercise, Kristopher presents a piece of paper. It reads: Nama saya Kristopher, My name is Kristopher.

UNICEF is currently implementing the Rural and Remote Education Initiative in 120 schools across Tanah Papua (the provinces of Papua and West Papua) – including Poumako. The objective is to test effective and sustainable approaches for improving learning outcomes of literacy in early grades. It will help create improved learning environments where children stay in school and succeed in their studies. T
he Rural and Remote Education Initiative in Tanah Papua is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).