Sister Emilia’s dedication to literacy and education

UNICEF’s Early Grade Literacy programme supports educators in Papua to safely reopen schools and teach students foundational skills.

Sister Emilia and a student in an early grade classroom at St. Fransiskus Xaverius II Merauke Primary School go through a basic literacy worksheet.
14 March 2022

Outside of St. Fransiskus Xaverius II Merauke Primary School, there’s a new brightly coloured reading retreat, complete with interesting books and spacious tables. The teachers at the school are excited and ready to try out some new skills as they prepare to welcome students back for face-to-face learning again.

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected children’s learning across Indonesia, worsened by limited internet access, inadequate devices, and the digital divide. In Papua Province, where literacy rates are lower the national average, school closures have had a significant impact.

This has not only affected students and parents, but also staff, including Sister Emiliana Rumsory, the principal of St. Fransiskus Xaverius II Merauke. Sister Emilia moved to Papua in 2019, buoyed by the chance to improve the literacy skills of elementary students. But school closures and online learning difficulties complicated many of her initiatives.

At the end of 2021, the government issued a regulation permitting limited face-to-face learning, which Sister Emilia was particularly enthusiastic about. But she was also aware of the challenges of reopening her school, with the varying abilities of students within the same grade level due to their different learning situations at home and the constantly changing COVID-19 situation in the area.

“Our students lost a lot of learning time. Their reading and writing abilities declined. We had to start all over again,” said Sister Emilia.

In preparation for the school’s reopening, Sister Emilia and her fellow teachers decided to map out their priority needs. These included increasing the capacity of teachers to teach foundational skills, providing adequate handwashing facilities, and ensuring students and staff follow public health protocols such as washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distance. However, they soon realized there would be significant hurdles to meeting these requirements.

When Sister Emilia learned of the Early Grade Literacy training organized by NGO Yayasan Berkat Lestari delivered with UNICEF support, she did not hesitate to send more than half of the teachers at her school to participate in the training using the school’s operational funds.

Sister Emilia speaks with teachers at St. Fransiskus Xaverius II Merauke Primary School.
UNICEF Indonesia/2022
Sister Emilia speaks with teachers at St. Fransiskus Xaverius II Merauke Primary School.

To support the education of early grade students during the pandemic and beyond, UNICEF, with funding support from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is working with partners to assess emerging needs, particularly around learning and training teachers to develop adequate and safe learning environments.

The training provided by UNICEF through is partnership with Yayasan Berkat Lestari is not only limited to teacher trainings at the classroom level, but also includes supervision and mentoring by school facilitators. These supervisors encourage conducive and child-friendly teaching practices while ensuring that the teachers follow relevant health protocols. Slowly but surely, it has changed the ways that teachers at St. Fransiskus Xaverius II Merauke teach, and its impact is already starting to be felt in class.

“In the past, teachers used to lecture more, so classes felt more monotonous. Now, teachers combine teaching with songs, movement and sounds to help make reading and literacy classes more enjoyably for the children,” said Sister Emilia with a smile as school began in January 2022.

The school has welcomed the new teaching approach introduced by the Early Grade Literacy training and intends to continue it beyond the pandemic. As part of the programme, the school will also provide each classroom with a reading corner filled with storybooks for its students.

“We do not want this programme to be temporary, Sister Emilia added emphatically. “We want to continue it and embed it in our school’s culture.”

As a woman who is known to be a wise figure in the community, Sister Emilia is increasingly confident in her abilities to improve education in Papua and ensure that children build lifelong reading skills.

“In the future, I want to see the improvement of our teachers and how it impacts our student’s literacy,” she said in her closing statement on the school’s plans for improving early grade literacy.

Sister Emilia at her desk as she plans the school's activities for the year.
UNICEF Indonesia/2022
Sister Emilia at her desk as she plans the school's activities for the year.

“All of this we do for our students.”

Sister Emilia

How You Can Help

The above story is just one example of how UNICEF works with partners across Indonesia to help improve the reading and comprehension skills of early grade students.

But the challenge is far from over, and a long-term, coordinated effort will be needed to assist these teachers and schools. For this we need your support.  

If you want to support our work to keep schools safe and students learning in Indonesia during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, please consider donating to UNICEF. We very much appreciate your contribution.