Australia Awards in Indonesia

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16 Apr 2024

Kristo Pizaro Supports Youth in Papua with English Education and Creative Partnership

Australia Awards scholar Kristo Pizaro Michel Aronggear is using creative approaches to help young people in Papua improve their English language proficiency and unlock the educational and economic opportunities that follow.

The former Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)/ International English Language Testing System (IELTS) trainer has observed that many Indonesians find it difficult to speak English despite having a solid understanding of tense structure and grammatical rules.

The problem, he said, stemmed from a traditional approach to teaching, which emphasised memorising grammar rules rather than understanding their application.

"This presents a significant gap because they aim to express their thoughts in English, yet they think in Indonesian," explained Kristo, who is pursuing a Masters in Developing Studies at the University of Melbourne, funded by the Australian Government through an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Recognising the gaps in English teaching, Kristo was motivated to provide private lessons instead of working in an established language institution. This allowed him to personalise his lessons by understanding what his students wanted to use English for and then tailoring the lessons accordingly.

“My students included businessmen and businesswomen, as well as parents whose children attend international schools or study abroad,” said Kristo. “Their learning needs were often specific, focusing on particular jargon or grammar necessary for discussing relevant topics. They could not find what they needed in English courses because these courses followed a 'one-size-fits-all' curriculum.”

An Upbringing Immersed in Languages

Growing up in a household where his grandparents spoke fluent Dutch, and his parents and relatives conversed daily in English, in addition to Papuan and Malay languages, Kristo was naturally drawn to learning English from a very young age.

“When I was in primary school, my aunt returned home from studying in the United States. That's when I realised that I needed to master English if I wanted to study abroad. From that day on, I immersed myself in English books and songs,” he said.

His journey into English teaching began in 2009, when he was studying journalism in his hometown, Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua. Kristo's teacher, who was American, asked him to assist in English reading sessions for advanced students. This boosted Kristo’s confidence in offering private lessons outside his campus.

When he moved to study in Bandung, West Java, Kristo continued giving private English lessons. His classes grew, and he began teaching groups and corporate clients.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Linguistics from Maranatha Christian University, Kristo taught English at the SAGU Foundation in Jayapura from September 2021 to July 2023. The SAGU Foundation, named after sago, the staple food for Papuans, offers general English courses, IELTS preparation, and scholarship information.

“I believe that English is crucial for Papuan youth because proficiency in the language opens numerous opportunities,” Kristo said.

A Social Movement for Youth Empowerment

While working with the SAGU Foundation, Kristo began to notice that despite Papua's richness in natural resources, the province still lagged behind others in many development aspects. This was partly caused by low productivity among Papuan youth, he said.

According to the State Statistics (BPS) data, Papua Province had the lowest educational completion rate for all levels (secondary, senior secondary, and tertiary) in Indonesia in 2022 due to a lack of means and infrastructure. The high school completion rate in Papua only reached 39%, far below the national high school completion rate of 66% and the completion rate in the neighbouring province of West Papua was at 57%.

Concerned about the situation, Kristo founded a social movement to attract young Papuans to become involved in creative entrepreneurship. In the movement, called the Coffee Gig Tour, Kristo, who also has a passion for music, performed live with his band at local coffee shops and held discussions to address various issues affecting young Papuans, such as environmental concerns and mental health issues.

"The goal was to raise awareness that young people can do positive things. So, we encouraged them to try setting up a business or create something productive using all the resources we have in Papua," he explained.

From 2021 until September 2023, the Coffee Gig Tour hosted eight events at various coffee shops in Jayapura and Bandung. The number of participants grew from just 70 at the first event to more than 500 at its seventh stop in mid-2023 before Kristo left for Australia to begin his studies.

Participating in Development Studies

His experience working at the SAGU Foundation and organising the Coffee Gig Tour social movement inspired Kristo to pursue a Masters in Development Studies with the Australia Awards Scholarship.

Despite being in Australia for less than three months, Kristo has already noticed a difference in the approach to education. In Australia, students are encouraged to actively participate and contribute their ideas.

"In Indonesia, we often talk about 'pursuing studies,' but in Australia, we collaborate to create knowledge. We contribute to the field of study rather than merely receiving information. It's incredibly exciting and enjoyable because everyone's opinions are valued," remarked Kristo.

Furthermore, Kristo said he benefited from the diverse perspectives and experiences of his lecturers at the University of Melbourne, who come from developing countries such as Ghana, Vietnam, and Ecuador.

Plans for the Future in Papua

As part of his studies, Kristo plans to intern at a government agency or a non-government organisation that works with Australian Indigenous people.

Kristo still has one and a half years to complete his studies, but he has already planned how he will use the experience gained from studying in Australia. He wants to focus on establishing an institution to help Papuan youth become more productive and involve various stakeholders.

“I haven’t decided whether I would join a school or build a school or start a community to promote English. My colleagues at Coffee Gig Tour and another institution are still discussing options,” he said. “But whatever it is, it will focus on youth empowerment, with creative partnership as the backbone.”

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