Does overpopulation cause poverty or is it the other way around? This proverbial ‘chicken or egg’ question emerged once again in a discussion commemorating World Population Day on July 11. Overpopulation is a crisis that potentially stands alongside climate change as one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today.
Indonesia claims to maintain a single-digit poverty rate of 9.66 percent as of September 2018 according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), which translates into 25.67 million people officially classified as poor, out of its population of 260 million. According to the World Bank, the country’s population growth rate stood at 1.12 percent in 2017, the same as India and slightly below Malaysia.
As an emerging middle-income country, Indonesia has made significant gains in poverty reduction, cutting the poverty rate by more than half since 1999. We are well aware that poverty is the number one enemy of education; students from poor homes not only receive the worst level of education, but they often fall victim to lifestyle and health issues that hinder their learning ability.
Yet, poverty and learning are often discussed in tandem because education is arguably the way out of debilitating poverty and into a world of potentials and possibilities. This is especially the case for girls in societies where they are relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Furthermore, education can improve food security, health standards and gender equality, all factors that can lead to a higher level of socio-economic environment.
More than just increasing the number of students, however, is the urgent need to raise the quality of education and to level the playing field so that children from lower socio-economic groups are not disadvantaged.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data shows Indonesian students performing poorly in educational tests, compared with those of neighboring Malaysia and Thailand. Children from under-privileged areas are much less likely to reach upper secondary levels of schooling than those from higher economic backgrounds. Vast differences can also be observed in different parts of Indonesia, where there are many pockets of grinding poverty.
Given the government’s overstretched resources in dealing with this key sector of development, we salute such movements as Indonesia Mengajar (Teaching Indonesia) and Komunitas Seribu Guru (A Thousand Teachers), which have dispatched volunteer teachers to remote areas beyond the reach of government educators.
This month, the Education & Culture Ministry is holding a week-long Festival Literasi Sekolah (School Literacy Festival) aimed at elementary and secondary school students, with the theme of promoting self-reliance and innovation through digital, financial, scientific and cultural literacy.
At Lontar, we continue with our own campaign to promote reading habits by hosting various events in partnership with like-minded organizations. Through our writing workshops, we hope to instill in young people the passion to write stories about the rich and diverse lives of Indonesians. So please, keep on supporting us and our activities.
We select for your reading, the book Javanese Gentry, a classic by the late author Umar Kayam, which depicts in a compelling way one man’s effort to escape the crushing poverty he was born into and obtain an education that opened the way to a better life.