Being a teacher is not just an occupation, but a life’s call. A teacher is not only in charge of teaching, but also helping students prepare for their future. One way is to provide reading skills, one of the most important and most basic abilities in the world of education. And a teacher in Southwest Sumba District is one of the unsung heroes, who is fighting for his students.
Mr. Yosef Adi Ama, a 29-year-old early grade teacher (grades 1-3 of Elementary School) is currently the homeroom teacher for grade 2 at Marokota Elementary School, Southwest Sumba. Pak Yosef has only been teaching for about a year. Being a teacher is a calling for him. Even though he has only recently pursued the teaching profession, Pak Yosef realizes that being a teacher in Southwest Sumba is not easy, especially in improving the quality of literacy of his students. The school has limited books for children to read, so Pak Yosef must teach using only 2013 curriculum books. The school where he teaches already has a library, but the book collection is general, and does not match the level of education or ability of his students.
As a teacher, Pak Yosef feels that his ability and creativity in teaching is not optimal. He has yet to find the right method or strategy to create a learning atmosphere that is conducive, fun, and easy for his early grade students. This also causes a lack of interest in learning and reading among students. Not only that, according to Pak Yosef, the classrooms used are still very traditional, with minimal props or displays that can support students’ enthusiasm and reading activity in class.
The situation would be different when in 2022 SDN Marokota became one of the schools partnering with the Indonesian Children’s Literacy Foundation (YLAI) through the Basic Literacy Development Program. The Basic Literacy Development Program seeks to improve the reading skills of early grade students (grades 1-3) in Southwest Sumba through the Balanced Reading Program. Balanced Reading has an innovative reading methodology to provide specific support in implementing robust reading programs in the early grades. Balanced Reading consists of 6 components. The first three components focus on developing a reading culture in the classroom, so that students are motivated to read, through a classroom environment supported by interesting books and reading corners, and regular reading of picture books by the teacher in Interactive Reading activities. While the second three components relate to skill development through listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
“Previous class conditions were traditional and rigid. There was not much that could be done, the number of books was still very limited. Currently, my class is a cheerful, there are lots of useful books, posters, and writings to support the students’ learning process. My students are now always enthusiastic when reading activities begin because there are books that are interesting and suitable to their reading abilities,” said Pak Yosef with a smile on his face.
During the two years of program implementation, Pak Yosef slowly began to practice the method in Balanced Reading that he had learned. For teaching phonics, Pak Yosef learned how to teach letter sounds and how to combine letter sounds to form words. He now has a phonics teaching schedule, teaches letters one at a time three times a week, follows the steps outlined in the lesson plan, and begins evaluating his students’ work. Not only that, but Pak Yosef is also committed to reading one interactive reading book title three times a week in front of the class. He was even able to map the abilities of his students and group them for reading activities in groups according to the abilities of the students. Pak Yosef’s classroom also has a reading corner that students can use during and outside class hours. The reading corner is also filled with student handicrafts, vocabulary posters, and other reading materials. Pak Yosef even has a special journal that he uses to monitor the progress of his students’ reading skills every day.
The Basic Literacy Development Program also provides assistance to teachers in assisted schools, and facilitates Teacher Working Group (KKG) activities, acting as a forum for teachers to share knowledge and information related to literacy. Training was also conducted for Regional Facilitators (Fasda) so they could supervise and assist teachers. Even further, the assisted schools receive facilities in the form of reading books appropriate to the student’s educational level and reading corners in the classrooms. Pak Yosef and other assisted teachers also feel the support and benefits of the assistance provided by the Regional Facilitator (Fasda). Facilitators consistently assist teachers directly both in schools and KKG forums, which are routinely conducted to strengthen materials on Balanced Reading. This effort helps teachers implement a fun learning process, apply appropriate teaching strategies, can create comfortable and enjoyable learning spaces for students.
“Right now we are experiencing various changes in teaching and especially interesting methods. This makes me more enthusiastic and creative in teaching students. The teaching and learning process is not monotonous, reading is an activity that my students look forward to. I hope that this program will continue to be implemented in the future to improve the quality of teachers and at the same time help children to be more active in reading. Hopefully this program can also be felt by fellow early grade teachers at other schools in Southwest Sumba. The existence of the KKG and the assistance of Fasda also makes us relieved because we feel that we have a community that supports each other and enriches our abilities as educators. I will continue to apply these methods that I have learned to my students as these have had a significant impact over the past 2 years. Of course, this also helps with the learning process and preparation for children when they go on to the higher grades (grades 4-6), because so far there are still many higher-grade students who cannot read fluently,” explains Pak Yosef.
Southwest Sumba is one of the districts in East Nusa Tenggara which is still experiencing problems in the education sector such as low literacy and numeracy levels of students at the primary education level. The literacy level of the NTT Province is the fourth lowest province based on the results of the Reading Literacy Rate Index survey after Papua, West Papua, and West Kalimantan (Alibaca Kemdikbud, 2019). Based on the Baseline Study conducted by WLF in collaboration with YLAI and Ninos in 2021, half of the students or 58.2% of the early grades of 10 schools in Southwest Sumba cannot read or are non-readers. As many as 35.7% can read, but only 5.7% of these students are readers with comprehension. This condition is included in the “Extreme Risk” category in the School-Based Test About Reading (STAR), a reading test designed to measure students’ skills and comprehension abilities in reading in grades 1 to grade 12.
The low literacy level of elementary school students in Southwest Sumba can certainly have a negative impact on their future. Literacy ability is not only a capability that is demanded by the world of global education but is also an essential skill to access opportunities in the future. To answer this challenge, WLF took the initiative to develop the Basic Literacy Development Program in collaboration with the ADARO Foundation and YLAI. This program was carried out for two years from June 2021 to May 2023 in Southwest Sumba using three approaches, namely; improving the ability of teachers in target schools to be able to implement the Balanced Reading Program, increasing school principals’ support for literacy development in early grades, and encouraging the Southwest Sumba District Government (Pemkab) in particular the Office of Education and Culture to provide support for the continuation of the Balanced Reading Program. This program is one of WLF’s commitments in seeking to improve access to and quality of literacy and numeracy at the basic education level in Indonesia, especially for people in eastern Indonesia. WLF realizes that literacy and numeracy skills are one of the most important provisions for children to be able to compete and optimize their potential in the world of education.
Written by: Marfi (YLAI)
Edited by: Mariska (WLF)