Fasli Jalal / Nina Sardjunani

Dr. Fasil Jalal and Nina Sardjunani provide a comprehensive overview of activities and measures to increase the literacy rate in Indonesia, with the aim of meeting the targets set in Dakar. Numerous charts with precise figures clearly demonstrate the situation. Dr. Fasli Jalal is currently Director-General of Non-Formal Education and Youth at the Ministry of National Education of Indonesia. He has represented Indonesia in numerous international conferences and has authored books and articles on education policy. Nina Sardjunani works in the Directorate of Education and Religious Affairs, National Development Planning Agency in Indonesia.

Increasing Literacy in Indonesia


Essentially, the Dakar Convention refers to "the attainment of a 50 percent increase in adult literacy, particularly in women, by the year 2015". Since Indonesia's literacy rate had reached about 89.51 percent in 2002, the target was modified to become "the attainment of a 50 percent decrease in adult illiteracy aged 15 and above by 2015".

That means the target in 2015 was a 5.0 percent illiteracy rate. However, the new Government insists this country speed up the decrease in the adult illiteracy rate from 10.12 percent in 2003 to become 5.0 percent in 2009. The Government believes that literacy plays an essential role in improving the lives of individuals by enabling economic security and good health and enriches societies by building human capital, fostering cultural identity and tolerance, and promoting civic participation.

Increasing the adult literacy rate is a way to increase the quality of Indonesia's human resources which internationally can be measured by the human development index (HDI). Even though the HDI of Indonesia increased from 0,619 in 1990 to 0,692 in 2002, it is still lower than what other neighbouring counties had achieved (Figure 1). By increasing the adult literacy rate to 95 percent in 2009, Indonesia's HDI will increase significantly. In 2002 Indonesia's adult literacy rate remained at 87.9 percent, which was lower than what had been achieved by Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Figure 1: Trend of HDI among countries, 1990-2002

Source : Human Development Report, 2004

To accelerate the country in achieving the target, the President of Indonesia launched the "Literacy Movement" on December 2, 2004 in order to promote the importance of literacy and to gain commitment from all stakeholders including local government, parliament at central, provincial and district levels, community organizations, community leaders, and religious leaders. Achieving 5 percent illiteracy in 2009 requires a significant decrease in the number of illiterate people from about 15.4 million in 2003 to 8.23 million in 2009. Therefore all stakeholders need to work together to make sure of the target.

Table 1: Human Development Index among countries, 2002

Life Expectancy (years)
Adult Literacy Rate
(15 years and above)


Enrollment Rate
from Primary to
Higher Education (%)
Purchasing Power Parity (US$)

Source: Human Development Report, 2004

Accordingly, the literacy program becomes one of the education development priorities and is clearly mentioned in the National Medium Term Development Plan (2004-2009). The Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan also considers the importance of literacy for reducing poverty. In the context of Indonesia, literacy is defined as the ability to read and write simple sentences of Indonesian language in Latin script.

To evaluate the implementation of literacy education, a literacy indicator is used. The indicator is the ratio of those aged 15 and over who are literate to the total adult population (aged 15 and over).

Literacy rate of
population aged 15
and above


Number of literates aged 15 and over

Total population aged 15 and over

x 100%

Another indicator used is the illiteracy rate, which refers to the ratio of illiterates among the total population falling into a certain age group. The Illiteracy rate can be calculated by subtracting the literacy rate (from 100 percent).

Illiteracy rate
of population aged
15 and above
Number of illiterates aged 15 and over
Total population aged 15 and over
x 100%

Before 1993 the achievement of literacy was evaluated every 10 years through the census. After 1993 literacy data is collected annually in the form of a National Social Economic Survey (SUSENAS). The survey is done by the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS), which is mandated to provide data on human resources, particularly that related to socio-economic characteristics. In 2003 the survey covered 229,120 households throughout the country. To investigate the respondents' ability to read and write, the survey interviewers asked the respondent to demonstrate his/her ability to read a simple paragraph and to write simple sentences in Indonesian language.

The survey provides not only national but also provincial data. For core data, the survey even provides data at district level. This survey is done regularly in January - March, so that data can be used to observe trends over years. The data can also be categorized by rural and urban, sex, age groups, and family expenditure. These make it possible for the country to observe any discrepancy in literacy level among groups.

The Importance of Literacy in Increasing Quality of Life

Cross-section data among provinces in 2002 indicates that the literacy level had a positive correlation with the economic status of the community measured by per capita expenditure (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Positive correlation between adult literacy rate and per capita expenditure among provinces, 2000

Source: data processed from National Human Development Report, 2003

Besides, an increase in the literacy rate among adults also has significant impact on life expectancy (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Positive correlation between adult literacy rate and life expectancy among provinces

The Rise in Literacy Rates over Time

To explain the improvement of literacy education implementation up to the year 2002, we can relate the literacy rates of the population aged 10 and over to the total population of that group. The data can be used to illustrate that the rise in literacy rates was also due to schooling programs, such as the implementation of the Presidential Assistance Program for Elementary School in 1974 and the Six-Year Compulsory Education Program in 1984.

The decrease in illiteracy rates among the population aged 10 and above can be seen in more detail in Figure 4. If we divide the time into three periods, namely 1971-1980, 1980-1990 and 1990-2003, we can see that literacy rates rose significantly in 1971-1980 and 1980-1990. The increase was presumably due to the implementation of the Presidential Assistance Program for Primary School (6 years), which started in 1973/74 - the time when the government provided educational facilities and infrastructure on a massive scale, which was then followed by the Six-Year Compulsory Education Program in 1984. In 1968, the participation rate of elementary schools was only 41.4 per cent. However, in 1973/74 (the end of the 1st Five Year Development Plan), it climbed to 66.6 percent, and in 1978/79 (the end of the 2nd Five Year Development Plan), along with the implementation of the Presidential Assistance Program for Elementary Schools, the rate had risen to 79.3 percent.

Figure 4: Illiteracy rates among population aged 10 and above, 1971-2003

Considering that reading and writing skills are largely acquired by children in elementary school, it is obvious that the increase in the participation rate of elementary education played an important role in enhancing literacy among people aged 10 and above. This fact is proven by the dramatic decrease in illiteracy rates among youth between 10-14 years of age (Figure 5). The Figure shows that illiteracy rates decreased significantly until the late 1980s, when the participation rate of elementary schools reached almost 100 percent. In addition, the difference in literacy rates between males and females continued to decrease, which among other reasons was due to the increasing number of females participating in the educational system, particularly in elementary schools.

Figure 5: Illiteracy rates among population aged 10-14 year old, 1961-1994

Based on the information above, it is assumed that the sluggish decline in the illiteracy rate since 1990 is due to the existence of hard core groups within the society. The hard core groups consist of the middle-aged and the 45 years old and above, the disabled, and people residing in remote areas. It is difficult to provide educational services to these people. The difficulty arises from both internal factors, such as lack of motivation and ability to learn, and external factors, such as the inefficiency of formal and non-formal education as well as limited literacy education services. It is difficult to provide literacy education, which is usually done in learning groups, to illiterates living in dispersed, remote areas. Another hard core group consists of people who are not yet aware of the importance of education as the doorway to basic competence to gain added value in daily life, including enhanced productivity. Until 2003 there were 14.7 million people aged 10 years and above who had never/not yet attended school. Even though this number was much lower than in 1990 (21.9 million), the number is still very high considering that these people are potentially illiterate. This group mostly does not properly speak Indonesian Language, which is the official language used at schools and in official communications.

Indonesia consists of 824 ethnic groups1 which mostly have different local languages. Therefore teaching literacy to those who do not speak Indonesian Language is a challenging task. Translation of teaching and learning materials and acquisition of local languages among teachers are required. What is more, up to now the provision of translated materials is still inadequate.

Table 2: Number and percentage of population aged 10 years and above who have never/not yet attended school

Population 10 years and above
Total population
Never/not yet attended school

Current Situation

The National Socio-Economic Survey (SUSENAS) data reveals an improvement in the literacy rate in Indonesia. The literacy rate at the national level for the population aged 15-24 years and above increased from 96.2 percent in 1990 to 98.7 percent in 2002. However the literacy rate of this group became stagnant in 1998 due to the already very high literacy rate of this age group. Those who remain illiterate are presumed to be disabled or residing in remote places where educational services are unavailable. The literacy rate of the young age group improved as their enrolment in basic education and proportion of students who completed grade V of public/Islamic primary schools improved. The proportion of grade I students who later on succeeded in completing grade V increased from 74.7 percent in 1991 to 82.2 percent in 2002.

Figure 6: Trend of the literacy rate of the population aged 15-24 years, 1990-2003

Furthermore, literacy data derived from the 1995,1998, and 2002 National Socio-Economic Surveys based on groups of family expenditure and residence, reveal that although the literacy rate of each group has increased, discrepancies are still apparent between urban and rural areas, between male and female, and between rich and poor.

a) Discrepancies between Urban and Rural

Figure 7 shows that literacy rates in urban areas are generally higher than those in rural areas. Nevertheless, literary rates of people in urban and rural areas increased simultaneously from 1995 until 2002. In 1995, the literacy rate of the population aged 15-24 years in urban areas reached 96.5 percent in the poorest group and 99.3 percent in the richest group, while in rural areas it reached 93.0 percent in the poorest group and 99.3 percent in the richest group. Through various endeavours, in 2002 the literacy rate of this age group in urban areas had increased to 97.9 percent in the poorest group and 99.6 percent in the richest group, while in rural areas it had increased to 96.3 percent in the poorest group and 98.8 percent in the richest group.

If the age range is widened to 15 years and above, it can be seen that the literacy rate becomes lower. This implies that the problem of illiteracy in Indonesia persists in the adult population group. The national level of the population aged 15 years and above increased from 84.2 percent in 1995 to 89.51 percent in 2002. Nevertheless discrepancies in literacy rates are still evident among population groups. The economic status of the population calculated on the basis of family expenditure, sex, and residence affect the literacy rate.

Figure 7: Literacy rate of the population aged 15-24 years based on residence, 1995-2002


Figure 8 reveals that the literacy rate of the urban population is generally higher than that of the rural population in all income groups. Nevertheless, the literacy rates of the urban and rural populations simultaneously increased during 1995 to 2002. While in 1995 the literacy rate of the poorest population group aged 15 years and above in urban areas was 78.8 percent and the richest group 95.0 percent, in 2002 the literacy rate increased to 83.7 percent for the poorest group and 97.2 percent for the richest group.

Figure 8: Literacy rate of the population aged 15 years and above based on residence, 1995-2002


b) Discrepancy between Male and Female

The literacy level of the female population has significantly increased across the years in all poverty quintiles. If we compare literacy rates of the male population between 15-24 years of age with those of females falling into the same age group, we can see that their literacy rates are not significantly different. However, measured according to their income, it is revealed that the literacy rates of the female population aged 15-24 are still much lower in comparison to those of the male population. In 1995, when the literacy rate of the poorest male population (quintile-1) was only 80 percent, the literacy rate of the richest male population (quintile-5) had reached 96.2 percent. Literacy rates of all groups increased consistently over time, so that by 2002, the poorest group reached 86.6 percent, while the wealthiest group rose to 97.9 percent. At the same time, literacy rates for the female population (of all groups) also increased remarkably. While the literacy rate of the poorest group increased from 64.2 percent to 75.7 percent,

Figure 9: Literacy rate of male and female 15-24 year olds by poverty quintile


the wealthiest rose from 90.4 percent to 93.5 percent. Women in the poorest group have the lowest literacy rate (Figure 9). If older population groups (15 years and above) are included, then the female-male gap in literacy widens, indicating greater female illiteracy among this older group at all levels of wealth (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Literacy rate of males and females 15 years and above by poverty quintile

c) Discrepancy among Provinces

In 2003, there was little discrepancy among provinces in the literacy rate for the population aged 15-24 years except in NTB, NTT, South Sulawesi (Sulsel) and Papua provinces (Figure 11). The literacy rate in urban areas for all provinces ranged between 97.4 percent (NTB) and almost 100 percent (North Sulawesi); meanwhile in rural areas the rate ranged between 79.3 percent (Papua) and 99.7 percent (North Maluku).

Figure 11: Literacy rate of 15-24 years old by province and residency, 2003

Source: SUSENAS, 2003

The discrepancy in the literacy rates of the age group 15 years old and above among provinces was even higher, ranging between 80.3 percent and 99.4 percent in urban areas and between 66.8 percent and 98.7 percent in rural areas (Figure 12). Due to these diverse conditions, the attention given and the programs provided were, of course, different. Therefore, the effort to increase Indonesia's literacy rates should not only be based on formal education but also on non-formal education, particularly in addressing the adult population.

Figure 12: Literacy rate of 15 years and above by province and residency, 2003

Source: SUSENAS, 2003

Efforts to Reduce Literacy

Literacy Programs in Indonesia

Literacy programs in Indonesia had started before we got our independence in 1945, when only 3 percent of the population were enrolled in formal school. The program at that time was called "ABC Course". In 1951 the government formulated a "10 Year Community Education Plan" aimed at combating illiteracy within the next 10 years. However this target was not achieved, which was indicated by a 40 percent illiteracy rate in 1960. In that year, the President announced a "Presidential Decree" to eliminate illiteracy by 1964. On December 31,1964 it was announced to the international community that Indonesia excluding West Irian was free from illiteracy. The announcement stated that all the population aged 13-45 had the ability to write and read - to recognize letters, to read simple sentences, and to write his/her own name and address.

With minimum ability to read and to write, and worsened by limited efforts to maintain literacy, many of the new literate became again illiterate. Besides, the opportunity of children 6-11 years old to enrol in formal school was also limited. Therefore the number of illiterate people increased from time to time. Responding to the need to solve that problem, the Government created a more organized Literacy Program which covered the introduction to letters, improved ability to read, write and calculate, and maintenance literacy through provision of books and other reading materials.

In 1966-1979 Indonesia adopted "Traditional Literacy", a new method introduced by UNESCO. Through this method, the learners were not only taught literacy but also vocational skills. This method was finally called "The Functional Literacy Program". The aim of the program was not to create as many literates as possible but to increase the productivity of selected illiterate groups along with their literacy. To support the program, the government cooperated with companies that had illiterate workers and other institutions that were involved in the field of agriculture, veterinary medicine, shipping, and industry.

In 1970-1990 Indonesia implemented the "Package A Program". The program adopted the concept of "Lingkaran Spiral" or "spiral circle" in which teaching and learning started from personal daily life issues and broadened to family and community issues. It used a 100-book package and was supported by other printing materials such as posters, leaflets, and folders. The "Package A Program" decreased the illiteracy rate significantly, for which in 1994 the President of Indonesia received the "Avicenna Award" from UNESCO.

Since the "Package A Program" also adopted the "crazy wheel" concept in which one literate person had to teach 10 illiterates, it was expected that all the population would become literate very soon. However since there is a hard core, mentioned above, the number of illiterates in Indonesia is still high.

From 1990 to 2000 the Government focused on achieving Nine Years Compulsory Basic Education. Therefore funds and efforts were devoted to that program with the consequence that the literacy program was slightly neglected. In addition rationalization of the cost component of the literacy program caused a decrease in the number of learners to around to 20,000 to 50,000 annually. Within this period, that is, in 1995, the quality of the functional literacy program was improved and it was implemented as a pilot project in 9 provinces. This program focused on discussion strategy, reading, writing, calculating and problem solving skill.

The popular use of the Human Development Index in measuring the quality of human resources brought the literacy program new momentum. The number of program learners significantly increased to 200,000. Up to 2005, due to the increased capacity to implement the program in the prioritized areas, the total number of learners rose to 350,000 per year. In the next 5 years Central and Local Government are committed to increasing the number of learners to 500,000 per year. It is also expected that the community, including the private sectors, will contribute about 250,000 learners per year.

National Plan of Action

To attain a 95 percent literacy rate among the population aged 15 years old and above in 2009, clear strategic policy is necessary as the basis and direction for program implementation. This should cover not only non-formal education that provides a functional literacy program for adults but also formal education, particularly primary schooling, to ensure all students acquire literacy and are supported by promotion of reading behaviour.

1. Government Commitment

Highest political commitment to the literacy program is reflected in Education Act 20/2003 Article 26, which stipulates a literacy program as part of non-formal education. Furthermore, the Presidential platform puts literacy as one of the quantitative targets and perceives it as an important element in improving Indonesia HDI in 2009. The literacy target, i.e. to reduce the illiteracy rate to 5 percent by 2009, has also been accommodated in the National Medium Term Plan 2004-2009 issued by Presidential Decree No. 7/2005.

The Education Delivery System in Indonesia and Its Organizational Structure

The national formal education system consists of three main levels of education; basic education, secondary education, and higher education. Pre-school education is also provided to a limited proportion of children (Figure 13). School-based education is provided both by governmental and non-governmental agencies as well as by the community.

Figure 13: School system in Indonesia

Basic education is a general education of nine years, i.e. six years of primary and three years of junior secondary school. Basic Education is compulsory education aimed at providing the learners with basic knowledge and skills. Junior secondary education consists of two different types of schools; general junior secondary schools and vocational junior secondary schools. The goal of basic education is to develop students as individuals and responsible members of society, as well as to prepare them to pursue studies at the secondary education level.

Secondary education is available to graduates of both primary schools and Mis. The paths of secondary education include general secondary school, vocational secondary school, religious secondary school, service-related secondary school, and special secondary school. Secondary education gives priority to expanding knowledge and developing students' skills and preparing them to continue their studies at the higher level of education or the preparation of students to enter the world of work and expand their vocational aptitude. The length of junior secondary education is three years. The senior secondary schools take another three years. In addition to the general secondary schools, there are also Islamic General Senior Secondary Schools called Madrasah Aliyah (MA), equivalent to general Secondary Schools.

Higher education is an extension of secondary education, mainly aimed at mastering arts, humanities, sciences, technology, and research work, whereas vocational education is mainly aimed at developing knowledge and practical skills for specific occupations. Institutions involved in higher education are of several types: academic, polytechnic, school of higher learning, institutes, and universities. The duration of higher education is three years for a diploma program (D3) and four years for an undergraduate program (S1). After completing an undergraduate program, students can continue to a master's program for two years (S2) and finally to a doctorate program for an additional three years (S3).

Pre-school education aims at stimulating physical and mental growth of children outside the family circle before entering primary education. It can be held in a formal school system or in out-of-school education. Among the types of preschool education available are kindergarten within a formal school setting and play groups and day-care centers outside of school. Kindergarten is provided for children aged 5 to 6 years for one to two years, while play groups and day-care centers are attended by children beginning at the age of 4 years.

Out-of-school education provides both general and religious education. Out-of-school general education services are provided through Learning Package A at the primary school level, Learning Package Bat the junior secondary school level, and Learning Package C at the senior secondary school level. Service-related education and vocational education include courses, group learning such as Packet A, B, Income Generating Program, or other options such as apprenticeships. Out-of-school religious education is provided through traditional pesantren (boarding religious education). There are also various levels of vocational training courses provided.

The new President has also launched the Literacy Movement in his first 100 days of the new cabinet program as the second most important target in education after nine years' compulsory basic education. It was followed by a national meeting with 9 priority provinces which have highest illiteracy rate to increase the commitment of local government to accelerating the eradication of illiteracy, especially the hard core. To achieve the goal, the Government is also involving NGOs that have had large programs to eradicate illiteracy and, more importantly, the Indonesian Teachers Association in enhancing the commitment of teachers to deliver literacy education.

2. Four Pronged Policy Strategy

Taking into account various population tendencies, a policy was made to meet the target set. There are four policy strategies to increase the literacy rate in the country, i.e.:

  1. Increasing literacy rate and preventing illiteracy among the young population. This strategy is crucial so as to avoid the emergence of a new illiterate group. Therefore, the illiterate population will not keep increasing. The programs implemented include formal and non-formal education:
    • Increasing access to quality primary education particularly to effectively deal with unreachable community targets, i.e. the poor, those who live in remote and isolated areas and disabled children
    • Preventing children from dropping out particularly from primary education through provision of scholarships
    • Conducting retrieval efforts to bring back those who drop out of school
    • Providing an equivalency program, both academic and life skill training, for either elementary or junior secondary levels, particularly for children who can not enrol in formal education.
  2. Provision of equal access to elementary education for all adults through equivalent education services in the form of Package A equivalent to primary education and Package B equivalent to junior secondary education.
  3. Widening access to and quality of functional literacy education for people aged 15 years old and above by:
    • Formulating innovative and specific functional literacy programs with an emphasis on the functional aspect for each age group, hence giving them a significant added value. For productive age groups, functional literacy programs are related to productivity enhancement; therefore, illiterates will be more interested in joining the programs. An example of a relevant functional topic would be child-rearing, especially related to early childhood education programs.
    • For the elderly, literacy education services are given in accordance with their interests and needs. The learning process can be divided into several stages; for instance, at the first stage, writing lessons are taught using the local language (the language used in daily communication); the second stage is the introduction of Bahasa Indonesia related to functional education. With these stages, people are expected to learn more easily and to apply their knowledge in daily life.
  4. Retaining literacy competence
    To retain learners' literacy competence, it is intended for every village to have a community library (Taman Bacaan Masyarakaf) which has about 400-600 books and magazines. Up to now only 5 percent of about 70,000 villages in Indonesia have community libraries. In the next 5 years about 10,000 community libraries will be established in regions with high illiteracy rates, while in areas where reading corners are already available, the following should be done:
    • The provision of reading materials relevant to the learners' needs
      The provision of relevant reading materials is intended to improve the learners' literacy competence and functional skills. The provision and development of these reading materials should be the according to the topics to be learnt and further skills to be acquired.
      Updating reading materials, including exchanging books, articles and the like with other community libraries, is intended to complete and improve reading materials. Reading materials may be provided by donors. Hence, book collections in community libraries will always be up-to-date, which in turn, will motivate learners to use the centers.
      Community libraries should be managed professionally as their function is to educate the users. The community library is established as an educational institution which provides various educational and recreational activities.
    • Training community Library managers
      Since community library managers are responsible for managing and preserving community libraries and for fulfilling the public's reading demands, they should, therefore, receive training that will motivate them to improvise in managing the community library. They, in turn, are expected to be able to arouse people's interest in reading. Eventually, it is expected that a reading culture will be created.

Those four policies will be backed up by the following strategies:

  1. Providing Communication, Education, and Information
    The importance of literacy competence should be disseminated to all groups in society including those responsible for education itself. Apart from that, establishing continuous cooperation with various parties is necessary to improve the implementation of literacy education. The main activities included in this strategy are as follows:
    • Raising awareness of the importance of literary competence among the general public and all stakeholders involved.
    • Improvement of cooperation among sectors, societies, higher education and international institutions, including NGO's. Cross-sector cooperation is needed in designing functional literacy programs; hence, the services provided will be relevant to the betterment of manpower productivity in the related sector.
  2. Reforming information and management systems
    To ensure successful literacy education programs, information and management systems should be strengthened by enhancing monitoring and evaluation systems. The activities include:
    • recording various literacy education services provided by the public and government
    • locating literacy education services and mapping illiterate populations to facilitate the formulation of the program targets.
  3. Enhancing capacity
    The capacity of education organizers, especially those involved in the reduction of the illiterate population, (whether at the central, provincial or regency/district level) should be enhanced so that they have sufficient competence to plan and organize literacy education programs.
  4. Increasing community participation
    To involve the effective participation of all community members, such as parents, community leaders, NGOs, industrial sector, and entrepreneurs, in order to increase the literacy rate as a national movement.
  5. Monitoring and evaluating
    Functioning as control, monitoring and evaluation have been done continuously in the planning, implementation and follow-up stages. From time to time, monitoring and evaluation should also be carried out to discover learners' conditions, learning facilities, process and content. Monitoring and evaluation should be done regularly, hence facilitating problem-solving and improvement of the programs.


During 70's to 80's the age group for illiteracy was 10 years and above due to the lower enrolment rate at primary school as well as the high drop out rate in early grades at primary school. Since 2000 we regularly use the age group 15 years old and above.

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Kay Ringenberg

Lessons Learned from Partnership Between the Department of Non-formal Education and SIL International


A diversity of local languages is one of Indonesia's national treasures and an expression of the country's individuality. Recognizing the intrinsic value of local languages to their country, the Consultative Assembly of Indonesia has called for increased research and development of local languages and literature.1

Although more data is needed, there are an estimated 700 living Ian-gauges2 canvassing the Indonesian archipelago. SIL International has done linguistic research in over 100 of these languages and has active literacy programs with isolated communities in five provinces.

SIL International and the Department of Education's cooperative non-formal education programs empower minority communities to overcome language barriers to functional literacy. Through this partnership, communities gain capacity to produce literature and multilingual teaching aids that are contextually relevant and accessible through village libraries as well as schools. Locally-authored literature records legends, history, and other aspects of culture, ensuring that indigenous knowledge is not lost for future generations.

Best Practices

SIL International has three approaches to improving literacy levels:

  1. Transference of technology - equipping those literate in the national language with the skills to teach their people to read and write in both the national and local languages. Three workshops held in 2004 are an example of this approach, providing training in advanced writing, desktop publishing, and bilingual education for speakers of four out of 15 languages found in the Aru district of Southeast Maluku Province. Drawing on critical thinking skills developed during the workshops, nine participants can author their own literature, three participants can now operate desktop publishing software to produce their own local language literature, three participants operate village reading rooms, and 29 educators can now administer bilingual education programs (Mulok).
  2. Multilingual functional literature - preformatted materials called shellbooks allow for quick replication of basic reading materials across several languages with the help of desktop publishing. These materials are essential in reinforcing an emerging culture of literacy. Local communities are able to choose topics most relevant to them from over a hundred titles on health education, income generation or agricultural development. This information is translated and reproduced in diglot form, with the national and local languages side-by-side, enabling multilingual literacy.
  3. Educational materials production - contextually appropriate educational materials are developed for those groups preliterate in any language.

A three-year preschool for children from the Una language group in Jayawijaya, Papua, reinforces literacy skills through community reading rooms and educational games. In year three, teachers transition from the local language to Indonesian as the language of instruction. The future success of the Una program is made certain through equipping local people as literacy tutors and trainers. Two supervisors and eight tutor trainers have been trained thus far to develop functional literacy groups in 14 villages.

Case Study - Functional Literacy in Papua

The dense jungles and steep mountain ranges of Papua are home to over two million inhabitants and 265 languages.3 Many villages are only accessible by airplane, canoe, or on foot. According to official estimates4 the literacy rate is approximately 80% based on the ability to recognize letters and read a simple sentence.5 Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests the rate of functional literacy, defined as the ability to engage in activities requiring literacy, is much lower.

In those Papuan communities which are bilingual, teachers and learners are often fluent in their local language as well as a regional language such as Papuan Malay.6 Standard Indonesian, which may seem foreign to the Papuan learner, is the language of classroom instruction, though the local language may be taught as a subject four to eight hours a week.

In semi-bilingual and monolingual communities, fluency is only in the local language, a result of infrequent contact with outsiders. Because many people in these areas only have an elementary school education, the local language is a strategic tool in acquiring basic literacy. Distance that children must travel to attend school, along with high dropout rates by adolescents returning to their home area to find work, represent two significant challenges facing these communities.

In 2002, the Indonesian government began supplying funds for tutor honorariums, uniforms, classroom supplies, ongoing tutor training, program evaluation as well as printing of basic primers, shellbooks, and bigbooks.7

Three hundred twenty-eight functional literacy tutors reach 6,244 students in the language communities of Ambai, Bauzi, Edopi, Irarutu, Isirawa, Kemtuik, Ketengban, Orya, Una, and Walak. Five of these communities are bilingual in Indonesian and the local language; three are semi-bilingual, and two only understand the local language. Roman scripts for all ten local languages have been created only within the last 20 years.


1 Decree of The Consultative Assembly of The Republic of Indonesia, 1988, p.69-70.

2 Grimes, Barbara, The Ethnologue, SIL International, Dallas 2000, pages 469-527.

3 Grimes, Barbara, The Ethnologue, SIL International, Dallas 2000, pages 469-527.

4 Jumlah dan Persentase Pendudk Buta HurufperKecamatan, Badan PusatStatistikdan DitJen Pendidikan LuarSekolah dan Pemuda - Departmen Pendidikan Nasional, Indonesia, 2004.

5 Survei Sosial Ekonomi Nasional (SUS dan Pusat Statistik.

6 Papuan Malay is a regionalized language of Indonesian.

7 Bigbooks: Highly illustrated larger print books with only one or two concepts per page to reinforce and enhance reading skills through reading in small groups or classrooms.

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