Literacy and Farmer Generation

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By FAIZ MANSHUR. Chairman of Odesa Indonesia Foundation.

If you want to know the benefits of life changing reading material, I will tell you a story based on facts. In the beginning of 2016, I stayed in a village, 7 kilometres from my previous place in Arcamanik, Bandung.

In relation with the problem of village farmers, literacy pushed us to facilitate village children, especially my new neighbours who are very backward in terms of education. I have the standards that make me brave enough to say so. It really contrasted to the children in big cities, also to my nieces and nephews in Jakarta or Tangerang.

The world of this village that is only 5 Km away from Sukamiskin prison was very uncommon for a standard living in a modern time. I have no doubt to sum up that the education backwardness was up to 40 years in comparison with Bandung.

The small actions began. I tried to make the children have interaction with each other in my house. I opened my door for anyone, anytime. English course was an option for them, and it’s still going on well until now without any problem. It didn’t need specific research methods to detect their backwardness. It was obvious that many teachers were lack in upgrading their ways of teaching the school subjects because many students were very weak in every subject. It was also obvious that character building in formal schools was not going well because there was weakness of mentality in the children in terms of discipline or insight. This English course was just a platform to tutor them with the spirit of informal school and character building as a target.

Therefore, in informal school, reading material is vital. Every child interested with reading materials, except for the “wrong” reading materials. Village children and teenagers like to read, but they choose those that peak their interest and fun. It is normal. Since my literature collection wasn’t something that interest neither villagers nor teenagers, we put effort to meet different literature needs.

To put it simple, all donated books were very exciting. But popular fiction or guide books from my friend, Yuliani Liputo (Mizan Publishing House), was an effective weapon to change their ways of thinking. I understand their world before there was any activity and also before there was any literature “nutrition” from those fiction books of Mizan Publishing House.

I supervised the students’ development routinely, at least once a week, to see any change of thought or attitude. Good books from Mizan(nia) contributed a lot in stopping narrow thinking. For examples, there were three kids who were very curious about the broadcasting world because of a book about presenter. A discussion about broadcasting world then happened. The children who only knew about the television presenter but didn’t know the other side of the presenter’s life outside the screen suddenly became known of it. They said that to work on television, one must be able to write, to go to higher education and to read a lot (that’s their view on it, not mine). Another example, there are a lot of farmer’s children who could be writers since they got biodata of village children who can write (Kecil-kecil Punya Karya).

Before this, they never knew what a writer looks like. What they knew from a writer was a name with a line of degrees behind it and a face with glasses in the biography part of their school subject book. The presence of books written by children/teenagers and also celebrities changed their view.

The important part of their conclusion is that teenagers can also write books. They saw it differently than before. This is change. This is enrichment. This is transformation of common sense. What is more important is how these children and teenagers thought that getting married at school age is not good, that they needed study and get higher education (I didn’t know what they read that during one of our discussion, this opinion was given) seeing that in villages in Cimenyan there are still a lot of girls who get married at the age of 15, 16 or 17 years old and boys who get married at the age of 21, 22 or 23 years old.

Why is this important to mention? We were once surprised by their opinion on cool people. These village children’s opinion on cool people was not far from the context that was close to their life, such as convenience store cashier, police officer, market merchant, truck driver, bus driver, etc. This is not about high or low social status, but the category of imagination that most of these children had. We were curious on why none of them wanted to be a doctor, a college professor, a mayor, a governor, a president or a sailor. We didn’t even hear anyone wanted to be a teacher. We heard the whispers of their reason: teachers are strict  Of course, everything has changed now.

Interaction changed everything. The right books will easily change the situation. Reading because it fits their thought realms can radically change way of thinking; from limited to limitless, from not knowing to knowing, and so on.

For me, literacy is not just helping the protester-like shouting of “Let’s read” movement. That’s a false. What to read? That’s important. Even more important, accompany when reading.
Literacy is a series of text based reasoning “production process” and on further step, the ability to produce text; all of that has the purpose to change the nature of thought, then to change fate. Literacy is comprehension with the destination of realization. After realizing, it must become a tool to understand the world then to make changes.

Thoughts can be changed with that literature activity. It has been proved that literature based practice of finding comprehension is different with comprehension from watching television. Television is complete and anyone, including illiterate people can understand information/message that they watch with visual and verbal communication help. But television is fragile in forming thoughts. It has a prime ability to encourage action, but unfortunately, most of the material in it is to encourage consumption and lifestyle and less to encourage creative production. It is uncommon that many people, affected by television, do things without thinking. On the other hand, books could strengthen pillars of thought and even change imagination, of course with appreciation companion.

Throughout historical record, literacy became the pillar of civilization right after food cultivation and livestock/animals/transportation. Other than that, if human’s life wants to be more civilized, then it has to have a strong sense of literacy or what we call science.

With literacy, human’s action can jump further forward because the subject is thoughts. It is impossible to develop Indonesia without this activity. The inequality in reading material distribution, mostly only to big cities’ citizens, causes a weak development in the nation because literacy is not well implemented since young age. The education backwardness of modern generation could also be cause by the learning practices in formal schools. Thing will go into slump, if the schools only perform teachers’ “economy” activity and put the students into a routine and the parents cannot guide their children’s education well. Informal schools become mandatory because formal schools have these fragilities and the parents with weak education background cannot help this generation from this catastrophe.

Books with rich imagination could awaken children/teenagers to live in a more civilized way. There are many of them now and the quality is getting better compared to the 1990s. The problem is, is there are organization/community that plays a role as a platform to connect with those village children?

Children literature books, like those that Mizan donated to village children through Odesa Indonesia, are valuable things for this change. Unfortunately, they are only accessible for citizens of big cities like Bandung, Jakarta and Surabaya. The publisher also knows that from the millions of urban class citizens, the sale of all enrichment children books won’t make up over 2% of the total children who are supposed to get those good books.

Sometimes, we have to be brave enough to think that change is not a hard thing to do. This writing has a short message, bring the right thing to the right place. Bring literacy to villages with high quality books and big changes will happen.

Literature producers (writer/journalist/publisher) need to make a lot of books on cool things about being a farmer. The purpose is to make Indonesian children dream about becoming a farmer in the future. A cool farmer, not the one who gets married at young age, never read and lives an unprosperous life.

What is this cool farmer look like? Do a field study to find the answer. What we can say for sure is fictional or non-fictional writings about a farmer’s life will only be successful if the writer is not too lazy to jump into a farmer’s life. (Translated by Gita, Portalkata Indonesia)

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