Australia Awards in Indonesia

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06 Jul 2023

Iwan Jazadi Builds a Community of Volunteers to Support Children's Early Literacy Education

Growing up in a farming family in Sumbawa, Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB), Iwan Jazadi has been working hard since childhood. Back then, his daily routine included looking for grass to feed his father's horses.

At that time, his father also worked as a coachman, driving a cidomo, a traditional horse-drawn mode of transport. With no stable income, sometimes Iwan and his family only ate rice seasoned with salt and water to keep their stomachs full.

It feels unreal to Iwan, whose family struggled so much to fulfil their most basic needs that he has successfully achieved his masters and PhD through Australia Awards Scholarships at the University of South Australia (UniSA).

In his autobiography titled "A Coachman's Son Gained a Doctorate", Iwan explained that his parents' teachings about integrity and religious values are the things that pushed him to do the best in life.

Iwan sees himself as a man full of flaws, which motivates him to study and pray all the time - even now, as the chairman of the College of Teacher Training and Education (Sekolah Tinggi Keguruan dan Ilmu Pendidikan or STKIP) Paracendekia NW Sumbawa.

With a PhD in hand, Iwan's educational journey was not over yet. His passion for learning led him to enrol in the Australia Awards Short Course program in 2019.

"As scientists or academics from the countryside, we must always keep updated with the latest developments," said Iwan.

Concern For the Future Generation

After going through the selection process, in 2020, Iwan took the short course 'Building Foundations to Equip Indonesians with 21st Century Skills' at Flinders University.

The former Sumbawa Regional People's Representative Council (DPRD) member explained that he felt this program related to his professional field as an academic and lecturer.

There was a little bit of disappointment when Iwan took the short course during the COVID-19 pandemic because he couldn't travel to Adelaide. But it never affected Iwan's resolve to study. He was awarded the most active of the 25 participants.

Four months after the short course, Iwan was awarded funding from the Australian Alumni Grant Scheme (AGS) to run his project called "Creating a Literacy Volunteer Community to Address the Learning Needs of Low Socio-economic Early Graders in Sumbawa Regency".

The project was born from Iwan's concern about low literacy levels in Indonesia. When proposing this project, Iwan quoted data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2019, which reported that Indonesia's reading score was ranked 72 out of 77 countries. Iwan also referred to data from the NTB Government showing that the level of interest in reading was ranked 31st out of 34 provinces in Indonesia.

The COVID-19 pandemic also became a crucial factor that pushed Iwan to run this project. He was afraid that children from low socio-economic backgrounds in the early years of school would lose serious learning time if they got no help during the pandemic.

"On the one hand, we couldn't meet (at school). On the other hand, we must make sure the education for those children goes on," said Iwan, who completed his doctorate study at 30 years of age.

To solve the risk of learning loss while taking the pandemic into consideration, Iwan decided to recruit locals who lived near the children and even their neighbours. Iwan then trained them to become literacy volunteers.

The five people who helped execute the project were masters graduates from Australia who were Iwan's students during their undergraduate studies. Now they work as lecturers with Iwan at STKIP Paracendekia NW Sumbawa.

The team of five helped Iwan train 50 literacy volunteers from varied backgrounds, such as college students, teachers, and housewives.

Because the project started during the short course, Iwan got support from the Senior Lecturer in the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University, Dr Michael Bell. Dr Bell advised Iwan to write scientific publications from the project.

Iwan also applied his knowledge from the short course on basic literacy, character building, and distance education.

Through the Literacy Volunteer Community, Iwan has improved the literacy competency of 150 early graders from families of farmers, workers, fishermen and migrant workers.

Looking back and connecting the dots, Iwan said three main factors significantly contributed to the project: the AGS, a short course, and INOVASI, a partnership program between Australia and Indonesia focused on education.

INOVASI supported the project by giving the volunteers modules and books. The program was recognised and supported by INOVASI Program Director Mark Heyward, who hoped for the continuation of this project.

This program was also inaugurated by the Regent of Sumbawa, Mahmud Abdullah. In the inauguration, Abdullah said the Sumbawa Literacy Community Volunteers were an essential program to help early graders from low socio-economic backgrounds. He hoped the program could aid the local government in solving problems related to literacy.

One Good Deed Leads to Another

Iwan has received two awards this year. The first was the Sumbawa Influential Figure in the Education Field in Sumbawa, from Sumbawa Technology University (UTS). Secondly, Iwan was recognised by INOVASI as one of 200 Indonesian Influential Figures in the Education Field, which will be published as a book this year.

The Sumbawa Literacy Community Volunteers have also helped Iwan on his quest to achieve a professor position. Iwan and his project team members wrote an international journal article based on the AGS project, scheduled to be published in mid-June 2023 in the Scopus-indexed journal, The International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education (IJERE). Iwan submitted the project report and this publication as a requirement to be promoted to a professorship.

In roughly one year since the program, Iwan has received many reports and stories from the volunteers on how they have become more aware and empathetic. Most volunteers said they had committed to voluntary work in their free time even after the project ended in October 2022.

Iwan himself sees how the volunteers are touched and satisfied when the children in need show a clear improvement in their literacy levels.

"It turns out at that point, the volunteers are no longer concerned about money anymore," said the man who's also part of the social organisation Nahdlatul Wathan Diniyah Islamiyah (NWDI).

A Commitment to Continuous Improvement

Iwan took the short course at Flinders University very seriously. He described it as a school where PhD graduates could gain new expertise.

Another benefit of the short course was networking. Iwan interacted with representatives from Indonesia's Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology (Kemendikbud-Ristek). Iwan sees that networking as a potential asset.

After contributing so much to his hometown through the Sumbawa Literacy Volunteer Community, Iwan is committed to updating his knowledge to support the next generation in and outside the college.

Although the AGS project is already long past its end date, Iwan and INOVASI still work to run the volunteer community as a school supplementary program.

Iwan's project is tangible proof that a voluntary community can be a great help in the education of children from low social-economic backgrounds.

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