Katharina Cavano | Palladium - Oct 05 2020
Librarian “Hero” in Indonesia Keeps Children Reading Despite COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners across the world. The UN reports that closures of schools and learning spaces have impacted up to 99 percent of the global student population in lower- and middle-income countries. And while much of the conversation has shifted to safety protocols and school reopening procedures, teachers and educators are still endeavouring to hold classes despite difficult and ever-changing circumstances.

Faced with inconsistent access to technology or basic internet connection, up to 500 million children around the world, often the poorest and most marginalised, have no access to distance learning or online classrooms. In some circumstances, even if students are able to access distance learning and materials, they may not have literate parents who can help them with the curriculum.

The crisis has only exacerbated disparities in learning opportunities and many of the most vulnerable learners and students may be marginalised, falling even further behind students with more support.

Globally, literacy has been linked to economic and social development, healthier populations, and improved quality of life; all factors that can help to transform cycles of poverty and create opportunities for individuals to better provide for themselves and their families.

But the fallout from COVID-19 for a generation of learners may be severe, especially those in low-income and vulnerable countries where many children already faced challenges accessing education. Save the Children reports that in a worst-case scenario, 10 million children may never return to school in a post-pandemic world. This staggering fact is just one of many, as the education sector seeks out solutions for what is proving to be a global education crisis on top of a health crisis.

A Literacy Hero

In Indonesia, in the West Sumba District, one woman has made it her mission to get books to the children in her school district despite the constrains of the pandemic. Heronima Lende – aptly nicknamed "Hero" by her friends and students – is a librarian at Kalelapa Catholic Elementary School.

Her domain – the school’s library – was recently renovated and updated as part of the Child-Friendly Library Program. The program is one of many education collaborations of the Palladium-managed Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) Program, which is focused on improving diverse primary schools and districts across Indonesia.

Before the renovations, the library building’s roof leaked, students rarely went inside, and teachers stored the school’s collection of books elsewhere to protect them from damage. After the renovations, the library became the child-friendly haven it was meant to be. With children’s drawings on the walls, and tables and pillows for students to use for reading, they now have a selection of over 1,000 storybooks from which to choose and a space in which to participate in weekly reading activities.

When the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) issued a Home-Based Learning policy in March 2020 in an effort to prevent the wider spread of COVID-19, effectively shutting down schools, the students at Kalelapa Catholic Elementary school suddenly lost their access to the library and reading activities with Lende.

Determined to continue their usual reading activities, Lende sought permission from the school’s headmistress to take the library on the road. By April, Lende was taking twice weekly trips to local hamlets for socially distanced reading activities and lessons. Armed with a bag of books, the librarian provides the students with an opportunity to build reading time into their days and acts as a personal lending library, allowing students to borrow books from the stash she brings to her visits.

“I’m happy when children read joyfully,” reports Lende on the experience. “Especially knowing that some of the students couldn’t yet read well, and now they do. It’s a blessing.”

INOVASI is implemented by Palladium, with funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture. For more information, visit www.inovasi.or.id/en.