Fighting Illiteracy in Indonesia’s Papua region


some children from the coastal village of Sarmi, Papua

Seated in a circle, some children from the coastal village of Sarmi, Papua, throw betel nuts to its centre.  Others weave colored ropes into shapes as they learn simple math from their teacher.  

These children are enrolled in an early education programme that blends the national curriculum with more traditional subjects.  The initiative is part of community efforts to combat low literacy levels in Sarmi, some 120 kilometres from the provincial capital of Jayapura.  

Highlight

  • Even though Indonesia is on-track to achieve universal primary education by 2015, 32% of Papuan children under 15 years of age were illiterate in 2010.
  • UNDP’s People-Centred Development Programme (PCDP) is working to increase access to basic education & health services, particularly to communities in rural and remote areas.
  • PCDP is preparing to provide financial resources and support services to micro entrepreneurs through partnerships.

“Students who attended the pre-school more actively participated in primary school classes compared to their peers,” said Absalom Abuere, a primary school teacher in Sarmi.

The pre-school, which is supported by UNDP’s People-Centred Development Programme (PCDP), is run by the Institute of Community Development and Empowerment (IPPM).  In 2011, the school received a Millennium Development Goal runner-up award, a national recognition organized by the Government of Indonesia.

Even though Indonesia is on-track to achieve universal primary education by 2015 (MDG 2), progress has been uneven. According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), 32 percent of Papuan children under 15 years of age were illiterate in 2010.  This is the highest illiteracy rate in the country.

PCDP, with funding from the governments of the Netherlands and New Zealand, is working with civil society organizations (CDOs) like IPPM to increase access to basic education and health services, particularly to communities in rural and remote areas.   Many local governments are now replicating this initiative with funds sourced from the local government budget (APBD).

PCDP is also working in partnerships with the local governments to develop pro-poor policies with use of MDGs and human development data. Among other things, the project is supporting the development of provincial Human Development Reports, as well as training district government authorities in pro-poor planning and budgeting (P3BM). In other provinces where the P3BM methodology has been adopted, APBD allocations grew by 17-20 percent overall for services targeting the poor.

Indonesia’s most eastern province, faces a unique and complex set of challenges. Impoverished and underdeveloped, the Sarmi district in many ways reflects the overall picture of Papua, a vast and scarcely-populated province where 31.98 percent of the population live below the national poverty line.

Sarmi is a traditional community of subsistence farmers.  “Not in the modern sense as in they have fields hat they harvest and take to market,” said the Head of IPPM, John Rahail.  “They’re farmers in that they go the forests and collect fruit, food.  Sometimes they receive money from the government, sometimes they don’t.  But mostly they live off the land and the sea.”

The community has limited access to financial institutions that will lend them money to start up micro-enterprises.

PCDP is gearing up to provide financial resources and support services to micro entrepreneurs. This will be delivered through a joint UNDPInternational Labour Organization (ILO) initiative in partnership with local governments, CSOs, and commercial banks.

Parts of this story originally appeared in an article from Tempo English Magazine, May 2012