Fri, 15 Sep 2000

People urged to join fight against illiteracy

JAKARTA (JP): A noted sociologist called on Thursday for the people's active participation in helping the government deal with the illiteracy problem.

Paulus Wirutomo, a sociologist from the University of Indonesia, said the government could not solve the problem of illiteracy alone as there were other prime factors outside the education system that led to such a large number of illiterate Indonesians.

"We cannot merely blame the education officials for failing to reduce the number of illiterate people.

"The government must be assisted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in setting up flexible systems for the teaching of reading and writing for those children who face problems with regular schooling," Paulus told The Jakarta Post by telephone.

"Illiteracy is a symbol of ignorance and poverty. And poverty, in turn, makes it difficult for the people, especially the children, to get a proper education," he said.

He cited protracted social unrest in certain regions as another factor contributing to the illiteracy problem.

"A large number of street children are busy earning a living and have abandoned their education," he said.

He explained that NGOs are perceived as being keener and more patient in dealing with children.

"Coercive action, such as forcing children to attend school, will not work because most street children are happy earning money and they no longer feel at home in school or are willing to go there," Paulus said.

Data from the Ministry of National Education shows that there are some 6.9 million illiterate Indonesians, with around 55,000 more children of school age having the potential to be classified as illiterate this year.

"Over the longer-term, if those 55,000 children -- school dropouts or children who lack access to proper education -- stop learning to read and write, they will end up classified as being illiterate," Director General of Informal Education, Youth and Sport Makmuri Muchlas said.

Muchlas was speaking in connection with the commemoration of Literacy Day which officially fell on Sept. 8.

"Most of the parents of these children are facing economic problems. The ministry, however, continues to persevere with programs such as education for child laborers, and intensive language courses for children as well as older people," he said.

Despite an earlier target to eradicate illiteracy in the country by 2003, the illiteracy figures are expected to increase because of the crisis.

The ministry's data also shows that about 6 percent of school- age children are currently unable to attend school while 18 percent have dropped out.

The crisis has led to a higher percentage of both six and seven-year-old children who have dropped out of primary school, from around 4 percent to 12 percent.

"Illiteracy is not merely a technical problem in one's life, it also touches the deepest aspects of life, as it is a symbol of ignorance, poverty and backwardness. We cannot lie about it or try to conceal the figures because they are listed in the country's human development index," Paulus added. (edt)