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Promoting Literacy Skills in Indonesia: Executive Summary

Artikel ini merupakan ringkasan eksekutif berbahasa Inggris dari riset berjudul sama yang dilaksanakan pada Maret-Juli 2017. Riset ini beranggotakan Asep Darmini (University of Warwick), Restu Febrianto (Institute of Education), Dewi Elmiana (Queen’s University Belfast), Dorothy Ferary (Institute of Education), Evanna Audrey (Institute of Education), Kristian Patrasio (London School of Economics), Mahfudzah Ulfa (Institute of Education), Mahmud Albar (University of Glasgow), Rinda Kurnia (Institute of Education), Suci Fadhilah (Institute of Education), Tracey Harjatanaya (University of Oxford) dan Winda Anggraini (University of Birmingham).

When we look at the trend of literacy in young people in Indonesia, one of the prominent international tests on literacy, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2015 reported that Indonesia ranked 63rd out of 69 participated countries (OECD, 2015). One of the identified factors contributing to this low performance is the relatively low reading interests. As found in the World’s Most Literate Nations study, conducted by John W. Miller from Central Connecticut State University in the US, Indonesia ranked 60th from 61 participated countries in terms of reading interest, placing Indonesia below Malaysia in 53rd and Thailand in 59th and only above Botswana in 61st (Miller, 2016; Miller & McKenna, 2016). The study also reveals an interesting finding, that years of compulsory schooling and expenditures do not have meaningful correlation with test scores. It is argued that the Nordic countries such as Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden top the table because of their reading culture, suggesting that increasing reading interests should be one of the top strategies in raising literacy skills.

In line with Miller’s finding, this report intends to note that ensuring the completion of schooling years and improving the quality of formal education should not be considered the sole solution to raise literacy standards. In other words, it should not be assumed that schooling itself can directly tackle literacy issues. If we consider the literacy rate and the percentage of young people not completing formal education in Jakarta, for instance, the success in eradicating adult illiteracy and out-of-school children do not automatically lead to proficiency in literacy. The number of illiteracy in Jakarta is one of the lowest in Indonesia (below 1.5% for people aged above 15) and the percentage of young people (aged 15 and below) that are not in school is about 1% (BKKBN, 2011), but a report by OECD (2016) examining adult skills shows that adults in Jakarta demonstrate low levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy compared to adults in the other countries and economies that participated in the Survey. Almost 70% and 60% of adults in Jakarta score at or below Level 1 in literacy and numeracy respectively – a much larger share than observed in any other participating country/economy. Even though the study only looked at Jakarta as a representative of Indonesia and we are aware Jakarta itself has a high level of inequalities, Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia which supposedly is the centre of policy making. It is also known as a city with one of the lowest young and adult illiteracy rate when compared with other cities in Indonesia, so best practices are to be expected.

Apart from the reported low performances in ‘conventional’ literacy, it is of the team’s concern that the current learning at many schools often adopt a narrower definition of literacy whereby literacy is defined in terms of ability to read and write. With the rapid development in technology and the supposedly greater use of IT and internet for learning under the new K-13 curriculum, it is brought to our attention that digital media and critical literacy skills are paramount to the successful literacy learning. Hoggart (1998, p. 56) argues that having the conventional (what are now called) ‘basic literacies’ of reading, writing, and numeracy is not enough, one should have “critical literacy” to avoid being “conned by mass persuaders”. When critical literacy is conceptualised, it can be embedded in the discourses of the sciences, the arts and literature, and other fields, bringing in various experiences not just in school but also the wider world. Thus, critical literacy skills are an essential element in successful adolescent literacy learning (McDonald & Thornley, 2009). Meek (1991, p. 10) argues that until children are empowered by critical literacy, we are failing to educate the next generation.

In light of the aforementioned literacy challenges that Indonesia is facing, this report aims to explore the ways in which top performing countries such as Finland and South Korea, as well as developing countries with large population parallel to Indonesia like Brazil and India increase the reading interests, raise literacy standards, address adult illiteracy and close the ‘illiteracy’ gaps – in which literacy is defined as more than ability to read, write and interpret conventional texts. Although this study only utilises literature review as its main data due to the limited timeframe and resources, it is hoped that the report can contribute to the discussion of the development of literacy in Indonesia and offer the relevant educational stakeholders an insight into some potential ways of boosting literacy level as part of preparing the Indonesia’s centennial by 2045. We understand that any study that has comparative perspectives is prone to contextual challenges. Thus, we strongly encourage the readers to consider the implementation of policies and practices in other countries and to treat our take on ‘lessons learnt’ with great caution and to adopt them, if and when deemed appropriate, to fit Indonesian context. Before turning to the literacy-related policies and practices implemented in other countries, the report provides a brief summary about how literacy and its scope are interpreted and defined by diverse stakeholders, including the Indonesian government. It then attempts to scrutinise how such definition fits into the current 2013 curriculum and how it is implemented, as well as discusses the government’s literacy program, called Gerakan Literasi Sekolah (School Literacy Program) (Kemendikbud, 2016).

Indonesia has shown some attempts in raising its literacy standard, mainly through the 2013 character-based curriculum and the School Literacy movement. However, some challenges remain, including the issues of unequal access and quality of resources to support the learning to take place. It is also noted that inconsistent definitions, goals as well as scope of what being literate means in the governmental documents can hinder the achievement of literacy goals.

To better understand how we could tackle these issues, we seek to open up our perspectives by learning at how four selected countries, such as India, Brazil, Finland and South Korea respond to their literacy-related problems. Having shared similar demographic characteristics and economics potential, Brazil and India show how the joint efforts of creating literacy- specific programs, implementing effective decentralisation policy, and having collaboration with non-state actors can yield greater impacts in addressing literacy issues – which in their case centre around access to quality education and adult illiteracy. Meanwhile, looking at the better performing countries in reaching higher standard of literacy, Finland and South Korea have demonstrated the importance to move away from the promotion of conventional literacy in this highly technological era, and to strive for the attainment of literacy that is beyond reading and writing. While it is often tempted to imitate the successful policies and practices in other countries, it is crucial to treat them with caution and to contextualise strategies to fit not only Indonesia’s situation at the national level, but also that at local level.


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