Translated from “Tujuan Literasi, Ujian Ekosistem Pendidikan Negeri Ini“, Semua Murid Semua Guru 3 by Najelaa Shihab.
One of the most difficult, and at the same time the easiest, part of carrying out educational activities is setting goals. I feel it in the smallest context as a student in a school, as a parent to three children each at different levels, as a founder of preschool up to teacher college, community activist, and policy researcher.
It is the hardest part because as a believer of education as a bridge for the future, we need to predict what competencies will be needed by children in the next decades. I believe that setting goals is difficult because it requires time-cross understanding. It is the easiest because the ecosystem is actually very conformist to what happens in the environment that is long lasting. I believe setting goals is easy because there are many good practices we must scale up and errors in approach that need to be put to an end.
Literacy as an educational goal, as implemented in the field, is a clear example of continuous battle between tradition and innovation in this ecosystem.
Literacy in the sense of learning to read has been an educational goal for a long time. Today’s literacy needs to be preceded by a multidimensional thinking process and real action. However, decades of practice in hundreds of thousands of schools, which are still ongoing every day, have only stopped at simplification.
Learning to read is equated with learning to spell, reading to learn is defined as the ability to merely answer questions regarding reading material. There are many examples where teachers and schools are trying a new cycle fighting against literacy misconceptions, only to encounter administrative obstacles or suffer numerous consequences. The demands from different parties who do not understand the sense of literacy are causing highly literate children to be considered as underachievers since the assessment system does not provide space for higher-order thinking skills.
Literacy is a bridge for adaptation; bringing insightful information into various situations. It’s no surprise that this ability is always agreed upon as the key success factor of various professions. But, again, when we talk about how to cultivate literacy for our children, most of the stakeholders use strategies that’s proven to have insignificant impact.
Increasing the number of books in libraries will be useless without more diversity in genres and authors’ backgrounds. Recruiting librarians and volunteers will not guarantee sustainable competence if the task is merely storytelling or reading stories with a low level of difficulty (especially when only organizing books based on “rules”). Children need to interact, to appreciate as well as to criticize, to interpret, and also to re-create – whatever media they read, listen to, or watch. Requiring reading time a few minutes a day, holding various poetry competitions or literacy activities will be of no value if the goal is only to comply with instructions or to check administrative to-do lists. Children need relevance to develop their motivation. Children need daily proof showing that literacy is a solution for themselves, as well as provision to contribute. Reading and comparing data to understand historical perspectives, visualizing and completing mathematical operations for student council activities budget, presenting ideas from road user point of view at village meetings, or putting together open letters for government representatives candidates– those are examples of learning experiences that can be applied across levels according to developmental stages. Teachers in Komunitas Guru Belajar are vigorously sharing their literacy activities that have been deemed qualified for early childhood to teenagers who are preparing for vocational education or preparation for college entrance.
Literacy is not only about reading in language classes, it is not about the same activities over and over again. The practice of literacy is about the steadiness of vision and agreed upon ways from all members of the school community that are manifested in every opportunity. Code of conduct that is agreed upon and reviewed together familiarizes literacy for all. Openness to ideas, involvement, and even two-ways debate on a subject, improves students and teachers’ literacy skills.
Voluntary empowerment –such as families donating their book collections, citizens using the school library as activity center for children and parents of various ages, children’s work utilizing natural resources from the surrounding environment– proves that literacy as culture is not just a jargon.
Literacy is not just about individual achievement. It is not only about the number of libraries or social media users, nor is it just about our educational system that scores low on tests or world ranking.
Literacy starts from an ecosystem that realizes this competence is influenced by the social behavior of its people; children who are not blamed for their low interest in reading, but instead experiencing an example from their parents, teachers who are not heavily burdened throughout the school year, but instead are given the autonomy to design cross-subject materials and activities.
Knowledge gaps and distorted information are still a part of our classrooms and living rooms today. However, with a commitment to literacy, we have the opportunity to develop the skills of all and every child, mother-to-be as well as academic candidates, future entrepreneurs and future leaders who will lead this country. There is a lot of good news in Surat Kabar Guru Belajar this time as well as a lot of unfinished homework. The real test is not how fast or how much our children read, but whether we choose literacy among so many educational “priorities” such as a mere subject in school or other non essential distractions. While we continue to reflect and share inspiration, let’s continue collaborating for literacy!