Ditulis oleh Sofie Dewayani

When it comes to literacy, there seems to be nothing that we, as a nation, can be proud of. Despite having 93 % of its population claimed to be able to read and write, this nation has never made it out of the bottom five of the world’s literacy surveys. The recent ones include the 2011 PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) test, assessing fourth graders’ reading literacy achievement, which ranks Indonesia at the 45th out of the 48 participating countries, and the 2012 PISA (The Programme of International Student Assessment) survey evaluating the literacy skills of 15-year-old students, which puts this nation at the number 64 out of 65 countries in students’ reading scores.

The most recent one published by the Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) lists Indonesia as the second least literate country out of the 61 countries profiled. Referring to its criteria, this survey has marked Indonesia as a country publishing only a few number of printed and online newspapers per capita (ranked number 55), having a limited number of libraries per capita (listed as number 36.5), and limited households’s access to online information, indicated by the ratio of households with computers (second to bottom place). Even though this nation is ranked fairly in the years of the minimum compulsory schooling and the proportion of the government’s expenditure of the GDP (number 54 in the list), these efforts cannot boost our students’ performances in PIRLS and PISA surveys. Meanwhile, the Nordic countries (Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden) dominated the top five spots in the ranking due to their well-established reading habits.

Again, the good news is the fact that our adult literacy rate is deemed to be well performing. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) claimed that in 2011, 93 % of Indonesian adults (the population older than 15 years old) can read or write, far outreaching the global average of 84 %. The literacy rate in Indonesia even outnumbers that of India (69 %) and of Pakistan (55 %). When the ability to read or write cannot nurture the literate behaviour, what seems to be the problem?

We clearly need to expand our understanding towards literacy. More than three decades ago Harvey Graff (1979) suggested the idea of the ‘literacy myth,’ that the ability to read or write does not automatically translate to economic and social mobility. Further, his research finds that there is no correlation between the years of formal schooling and the social success. If literacy is defined as the mere ability to decode written texts and practice writing mechanically – the way it is enacted in conventional methods of teaching in most public schools nowadays – then, this literacy skills contribute very little to social transformation and societal empowerment.

In this modern world literacy is defined as a set of skills that enable one to fully function in all areas in his/her social, economic, and political life. Paulo Freire (1972) has long advocated literacy for liberating humanities. Through ‘reading the words and the world,’ he proposes that literacy should allow people to become active participant in learning processes. When reading, students are not passive recipents of knowledge. In nurturing students’ active participations, school literacy should enable them to reflect critically upon their readings and make use of them to transform their lives. This requires school curriculum to redefine and reform the ways reading are taught in classrooms. Literacy-based curricula needs to engage more literature and children storybooks in promoting reading enjoyment and involve more discussions in order to nourish dialogues over readings.

In the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) era, literacy learning should transform reading from decoding written texts into a stage that enables students to navigate texts with multiple formats, level of expressions, and rhetorical styles. This is important because students now are now living in the era of information abundance. Being literate in the information era is entitled with the ablity to make meaning of information and to use it in making decisions and further, to participate in social and economic actions. These competences constitute the basis for the literacy behaviours in the modern life. As CCSU points out, ‘societies that do not practice literate behavior are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal, and harsh.’

This framework explains why the supporting sources – newspapers, libraries, computers, years of compulsory schooling – are valued as indicators for developing a nation’s literate behaviors. For example, when finding a solution to a problem, a literate person would develop knowledge based on his or her search on written sources made available by newspapers, libraries, and internet, rather than the oral ones. The competence known as information literacy skill was declared by UNESCO in Prague in 2003. However, its enactment in Indonesian classrooms is outweighed by efforts to raise students’ standardized scores.

This nation may have paid too much attention on students’ success on the National Exam. In fact, it is not students’ performance on this standardized test that prepare them to be inquisitive, lifelong learners. We need to nurture students’ literate behaviours  by developing students’ agency over the written sources. This can be conducted by nurturing their passion for reading, as well as promoting reflective and critical thoughts over reading.

Sofie Dewayani is the Head of Litara Foundation and the member of School Literacy Movement.

Artikel ini telah diterbitkan di https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/05/02/national-education-dismantling-literacy-myth.html