Banjir Ambarita & Mary Anugrah Rasita
Jayapura. Education experts and officials have decried the poor state of schools in Papua in the wake of a revelation that half of all students at a state elementary school in Jayapura, the provincial capital, were illiterate.
Nella Manaku, headmaster of Holtekamp Elementary School, said on Monday that 50 percent of the students there could neither read nor write.
“Most of the students in grades one through three can’t read or write, they can barely just spell [the alphabet],” he said. “In grades four and five, there are also students who can’t read or write.”
The Jakarta Globe also observed fifth- and sixth-grade students still being taught how to write.
Nella blamed the high illiteracy rate on a lack of teachers at the state-run school. He said there were just five instructors for the more than 100 students.
“Three of them are permanent and the others are contract teachers, but they rarely show up for work,” he said.
He added that he had repeatedly applied to the Jayapura Education Agency for more teachers, but to no avail.
“For several years now we’ve been asking for help, but there’s never been a response from the authorities,” he said.
Kayus Bahabol, a provincial legislator, said he would push Jayapura officials to do something about conditions at the school.
“It’s an emergency situation. This is a state school, not a private school, so the government needs to seriously address the problems here,” he said.
He added that the high illiteracy rate was not the only issue the school was dealing with.
“Educational facilities here are badly lacking. There’s also livestock wandering all over the place and leaving their droppings everywhere,” he said.
Kenius Kogoya, another provincial legislator, said the Holtekamp case was just the tip of the iceberg.
“If things can get this bad at a school in Jayapura, a major city, imagine what it’s like at schools in rural areas,” he said.
“The government always likes to claim that regional autonomy has been a blessing for development in Papua, but this is highly questionable.”
Arief Rachman, an education expert who chairs the National Commission for Unesco, agreed that the low level of development in the province was the main culprit for the high illiteracy rate.
“When even the adults in Papua are largely illiterate, how can you expect their children to read and write?” he asked.
Darmaningtyas, an education expert from the Taman Siswa school network, said the problem of teacher shortages was a long-standing one in Papua.
“A single school in Jayapura can have as few as two or three teachers, so how can a good education system possibly be built based on this?” he asked.
“This is Papua we’re talking about. Very few people are willing to go teach there, because of the distance and the poor infrastructure, so this results in a poor education system there.”
He urged the government to prioritize infrastructure development to improve the distribution of books and other school supplies across Papua, “because right now we lack the channels to get the appropriate reading materials to the students there.”
Papua’s illiteracy rate among those aged 15 years and under was 32 percent, the highest in the nation, according to data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2010.
That figure has increased steadily since 2007, when it was 25 percent, going up to 28 percent in 2008 and 30 in 2009.