The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has rewarded Indonesia for its fight against illiteracy, the UN agency said on Wednesday.
The country’s directorate general for community education development was the top winner for the Unesco King Sejong Literacy Prize this year.
“This program [in Indonesia] is aimed at enhancing quality education and eradicating illiteracy through entrepreneurship, reading, culture and training. It is involving more than 3 million people and specifically prioritizing illiterate women,” Unesco stated.
According to Unesco data, Indonesia managed to boost its total literacy rate to more than 93 percent in 2009.
The rate for its young adults aged 15 to 24 is far higher, reaching almost 100 percent in 2009. Indonesia has managed to steadily reduce its illiteracy rate since the 1980s. In 1980, the country’s literacy rate stood at a mere 67.31 percent. Ten years later, it had jumped to 81.5 percent.
In 2004, the rate passed 90 percent, and four years ago it hit 92.19 percent “The ability to gain knowledge through reading is a key to competing at the global level,” Darmaningtyas said.
Regionally, Indonesia is on par with its more advanced neighbors, such as Malaysia and Singapore, which had literacy rates of 93 and 95 percent, respectively, in 2009.It is ahead of other Asean countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia.
Education experts praised Indonesia’s achievement, saying that the continued increase in the literacy rate showed that the country had the potential to compete at the regional and global levels.
Arief Rahman, an education advocate, said that in the last 10 years Indonesia managed to drastically cut the illiteracy rate, enabling many of its citizens to expose themselves to knowledge. He praised the government for its continued fight against illiteracy, and for aiming to achieve education for all targets by this year.
That might be difficult because many children lack the birth certificates needed to get into schools.
Arief pointed to difficulties in getting women older than 30 to become literate.
“Most illiterate persons are women above 30,” he said. “It’s very difficult to reach them. For young adults, we can teach them in formal schools. That’s why we have a near-universal literacy rate at the young adult level.”
According to Arief, who is the head of the Indonesian Commission for Unesco, the country still faced cultural problems as many people, especially at the village level, did not believe reading and writing skills were important.
“What is important to them is to earn a living by farming or selling something,” he said. “It’s time to get them to realize that illiteracy causes poverty, while literacy opens the door to prosperity because they have the ability to get more information.”
Darmaningtyas, an education observer from Taman Siswa, urged the government to continue providing books to those who have just learned to read.
“They need to practice reading and writing,” he said. “Books are very important in this regard, so that they will not forget their skills several years later.”
Darmaningtyas and Arief agreed that the country’s rising literacy would strengthen its ability to achieve its educational goals in mastering science and technology, a prerequisite to becoming an advanced country. The mastery of the sciences and technology could also boost Indonesia’s ability to achieve its development goals of economic prosperity and compete with other countries.
Unesco also awarded prizes to Bhutan, Colombia and Rwanda for their efforts to improve literacy.
The winners will receive their awards during a ceremony on Sept. 6 at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, as part of International Literacy Day.
Rwanda received the second King Sejong Prize for an adult national literacy program by the Pentecostal church. The program, which focuses on women and teenage dropouts, has reached 100,000 people through 3,500 education centers.
Bhutan earned the Confucius Prize for Literacy by providing community education through 950 education centers.
In Columbia, the Transformemos Foundation took second place in the Confucius Prize for its interactive programs which fight illiteracy in conflict areas. The program has reached 300,000 people since 2006. the jakarta globe