Follow Us:

Overcoming illiteracy in Indonesia: Interview

UNESCO recently awarded Indonesia for its fight against illiteracy on the occasion of International Literacy Day in September. The country’s directorate general for community education development was among the winners for the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize this year.


Ms. Ella Yulaelawati Rumindasari, Director of Community Education of Ministry of Education and Culture talks to about the awarded  programme, literacy rates in Indonesia and challenges. 

Please give us a brief overview on the awarded community education development program

“The awarded program is entitled ‘Improving Quality of Literacy Education through Entrepreneurship Literacy, Reading Culture and Tutor Training’. It has been initiated by the Directorate of Community Education Development to achieve Goal 4 of Education for All (EFA) in reducing illiteracy by half by 2015.  The programme shows comprehensive unity in policy and diversity in practice depending on contexts, potentials and problems.

Ms. Ella Yulaelawati Rumindasari, Director of Community Education of Ministry of Education and Culture

The programme aims at realizing a literate, skilled, cultured-to-read and gender-aware society. Since its inception in 2008, it has reached over 4 million people throughout the country; more than 3 million people have obtained a government literacy certificate (SUKMA) and 3,500 tutors and managers have received capacity building.”

How did this program start and why did you put it in place?

“The programme started in 2008. It originated from the fact that literacy is a doorway for knowledge based economy. Literacy education for knowledge-based economy and democratic society includes building new skills and attitudes needed for work and social life. Therefore, literacy education programmes have to contribute to the foundations for skilled, confident and competent workforce to survive in a global world. The literacy programmes would demonstrate an effective intervention to sustain reading skills of new readers while developing entrepreneurship literacy as a breakthrough for poverty alleviation. This programme is very efficient since it reduces trends of relapsing. It does not simply introduce texts, but it stimulates all individuals to be productive and self reliant in generating income and being a part of national development. We can extend this perspective by seeing the fact that there have been a number of fundamental efforts carried out under the umbrella of Literacy Initiative For Empowerment (LIFE) which is re-contextualized into AkRAB! (Aksara Agar Berdaya or literacy creates power).

As an effort to prevent relapsing, this programme also operates community reading centres in public spaces such as markets and worship areas. In order to create and sustain a learning society, the programme provides basic and digital literacy, entrepreneurship literacy, reading improvement programmes, tutor training and has invested in adult literacy. Through its integrated components including functional literacy in the mother tongues, it enhances the literate environment of communities and particularly endeavours to empower women through a combination of life skills and basic literacy and through capacity-building for gender mainstreaming in education at provincial, district and municipal levels.

How was the illiteracy situation in Indonesia before the programme started, and what have you achieved?

“Literacy improvement had long been a national movement since the issuance of Presidential Instruction No. 5, 2005 on the National Movement to hasten Compulsory Nine-Year Basic Education and the Fight against Illiteracy (NMHFAI). In its implementation as a national-scope movement, literacy had successfully been perceived as a fundamental part of national development and followed with further policy frameworks from all levels for acceleration. As a result, the target of national adult literacy rate was achieved despite of disparity among provincial level, resulting illiteracy targets in far flung areas.

Literacy as a national movement along with its achievement became an overwhelming situation for Indonesia. It was felt that it was all enough and satisfying. However, the national movement, to some extent, turned to be vulnerable to relapsing when literacy was simply regarded and implemented as a national movement. Furthermore, today enough becomes not good enough when there is better.

Today, since the inception of the programme, the commitment for literacy improvement programme has no longer become a national movement; now it becomes a community movement to eliminate gaps in comprehending economic, cultural and digital literacy in order to build and realize peaceful, fair and prosperous Indonesia. 

“At present, our efforts in literacy movement will be concentrated to 6.73 million or 4.43 % of the remaining illiterate population.”

The commitment has been proved by the fact that Indonesia has reached an achievement beyond the target of Education for All (EFA) in Dakar for halving illiterate population of 15.4 million (10.20%) by 2004, and 95.57% of Indonesian population have become literates since 2011. At present, our efforts in literacy movement will be concentrated to 6.73 million or 4.43 % of the remaining illiterate population.”

What were the biggest obstacles when you launched the program and how did you tackle these obstacles?

“Indonesia’s significant achievement in improving literacy obviously comes from great efforts for many years. The biggest obstacles since we lauched the programme mainly relate to the following:

a) Commitment: Since the issuance of Presidential Instruction No. 5, 2005, almost all parties feel that illiteracy is a solved problem. Many peope think that literacy is no longer a problem. In contrast, disparity among provinces remain high.

b) Learners: Most learners of literacy education are difficult to reach, relatively old in terms of age and strong in holding their old tradition and culture. They are also commonly marginalized groups, those living below the poverty line, who are illiterate, low-skilled, unemployed, and having other disadvantages due to not experiencing education in the first attempt at childhood

c) Geographical condition: Indonesia has regions that are geographically hard to reach because of infrastructure problem. There are mountaineous, archipelagic, border and remote areas such as Papua, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, and West Sulawesi.

In order to tackle the obstacles mentioned above, we carried out persuasive and non confrontative approaches in order to renegotiate the meaning of literacy by improving the quality of literacy which is started from family.

Reinforcement and breakthrough strategies are also taken in order to cope with today’s rapid development and increasing demands. The breakthrough efforts that have been carried out are summarized under the label “5 Rs” as follows.

First, redesigning literacy competencies in order to cope with today’s increasing demands. Second, reliability and validity of data to verify existing and sex-disaggregated illiterate adult population at all administrative levels.  Third, resource sharing between national and provincial government based on a reliable and valid data of adult illiteracy in order to get the budget for literacy programme doubled  as a consequence of an  acceleration in the literacy improvement. Fourth, refocus on the outreached to have sharing responsibilites for the literacy improvement; national government focusing  on national, generic and inovative issues while provincial government focusing  on specific areas in their respective provinces that have a  high illiterate adult population. Fifth, research, evaluation and monitoring to develop, deliver and document a comprehensive information about literacy practices and improvement in culturally and contextually different areas.”

What are your future plans in eradicating illiteracy in Indonesia?  

“Our future plan is to reduce disparity among provinces to create free from illiteracy Indonesia.”

“Our future plan is to reduce disparity among provinces to create free from illiteracy Indonesia. This is important so that Indonesia could avoid conflicts and hence, it will bring fair, peaceful and prosperous life as well as ability to face climate change. My point is that, in reducing disparity among provinces, we will directly focus on areas with high adult illiteracy rate by administering Local Movement of Literacy Improvement. In addition, we will integrate literacy education with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).”

In your opinion, how could UNESCO help raising the levels of literacy?

“In my opinions, there are several important stages that UNESCO could do in order to support countries with high level of adult illiteracy raising their level of literacy.

a) UNESCO should create accurate data collection system. It is due to the fact that there is a possibility in which the data that UNESCO have do not show existing conditions in each country. UNESCO could do this by fully understanding conditions and situations of data collection in each country as well as synchronizing clusters of literacy age groups; elderly literacy (60 years and above) is not perceived as adult literacy, only viewed as literacy for the fulfillment of human rights. Therefore, some relatively developing countries will not be burdened to much by the statistics point of view.

b) UNESCO should make the mapping of areas with low literacy level and advance the framework of Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) which is more integrated with entrepreneurship; resulting modules.

c) UNESCO should write books, textbooks, modules and best practices of literacy based on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) model.


By UNESCO Jakarta and UNESCO Bangkok