“We want to focus our efforts at the ground level, in schools and the surrounding communities.”

Creating a Practice and Passion

for Reading among Indonesia’s Rural Children

In This Edition:

In many rural areas of Indonesia, a culture of reading barely exists.  Reading materials are severely lacking in both schools and homes.  Many parents are illiterate and offer little or no support to their children. The means for creating a practice and passion for reading among children in poor communities are few.

A study conducted earlier this year assessed 61 countries in their overall “literate behaviors and supporting resources”. Indonesia ranked at second to last place in the study, revealing not only the country’s severe lack of literary resources, but also their limitations in confronting the wide-ranging issues of child and adult illiteracy. 


Research suggests that Indonesian children, particularly those in poorer rural areas and those whose parents have not completed secondary school, are learning too little. Most Indonesian teachers remain ascribed to rote learning and teacher-centered instructions as opposed to student-centered classroom learning. Many parents in these areas are also illiterate and feel that they are unable to support their children’s learning at home.

Douglas Bell and Howard Dalziel with teachers at The Salvation Army Dongi Dongi Primary School, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia

As a result, reading comprehension levels among Indonesia’s children are alarmingly low. One study found that among 673 Indonesian second graders, nearly half were unable to read any words from grade-level text.  Another study of 4,223 third graders found they understood only 65% of grade-level text and only about half of what they were hearing.

“The provision of effective literacy instruction for children in this part of the world remains a critical issue,” said Douglas Bell, Technical Advisor for Education with The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO). “We know that if children are below a certain level by the end of their first year of schooling, it is likely they will stay behind forever. We need to formulate educational strategies that reinforce child learning both inside and outside of school.” 

As the newest member of SAWSO’s team, Bell is also overseeing the organization’s newly launched education sector strategy which focuses on improving learning outcomes by building overall school capacity.

“We want to focus our efforts at the ground level, in schools and the surrounding communities,” Bell said.  “Teachers need opportunities for ongoing professional growth, to gain critical teaching skills and transform their practices in the classroom. Specialized skills for child literacy instruction is a major focus for us.  We also want to assist local communities to partner with schools and get involved in their children’s education.  And we’re beginning to develop after-school clubs at Corps. This will provide remedial support for children and youth and reinforce what they’re learning in school. These are the kind of efforts that have real impact on child learning.”

In addition to increasing access to quality education, Dalziel and Bell share a long-term goal of providing classroom technology in areas that don’t have access to the internet. Doing so would allow teachers to call upon rapid specialized guidance and more engaging teaching and learning content. It can also be used to support teacher professional development and school quality monitoring efforts.

In all of The Salvation Army’s learning programs and institutions, the primary goal remains for The Salvation Army to reach the “lost and the least” by demonstrating God’s love, appreciation, and provision for every member of society.

“The key to having the ability to learn and make a meaningful contribution is having a sense of self-respect and self-worth,” said Dalziel. “Children go to school to learn, but modern day education needs to focus on increasing that sense of self-confidence that enables them to use what they learned effectively.” 

For more information about The Salvation Army World Service Office or to give, please visit www.SAWSO.org. 

Howard Dalziel working with children in Darjeeling, India.

 The Salvation Army is continuing to break down barriers to education. This includes combatting issues such as sanitation, vital if girls are to attend secondary school and providing special needs education opportunities in marginalized communities – and seeking to provide for the educational needs of members of tribes or castes who would not otherwise be accepted into mainstream schools.

 “We are always looking at providing means to an education that would not otherwise get education,” Dalziel said. 

Bell and Dalziel will tell you that providing quality education requires thinking beyond immediate needs and programs. For example, The Salvation Army’s home for the hearing impaired in Darjeeling is the only such school in that part of northeast India, and boasts an impressive success rate of post-schooling employment for its students. The school was in need of a new dormitory, and in addition to providing the needed infrastructure, The Salvation Army launched an associated continuing education program for teachers to upgrade their qualifications.

The school is widely known to be a center of academic and sporting excellence thanks to the devotion of teachers, the nurturing environment of The Salvation Army, and of course, the determination of students.

 “In all of our work we ask, what can we add to the education experience?” Dalziel said. “It’s the soft options associated with building projects such as teacher training - this is where we’re adding value. We want quality education that enables them to develop skills that mean they can make a meaningful contribution to their community and society once they’ve left school,” he said. “We ensure they are as employable as possible. They have options for career support and getting in touch with local higher education institutes. They often go on to become physiotherapists, college lecturers or government workers.”

“In the villages that we’re working, we’re trying to help cultivate a culture of reading where young people can begin to develop and experience the joy of reading,” said Bell. “This is about creating access to level-appropriate books for children, developing instructional skills for tutors and teachers, and getting parents and community members involved.”

The initiative is a collaborative effort of The Salvation Army Indonesia Territory, SAWSO, and The Salvation Army International Headquarters, as part of a new comprehensive School Capacity Development Program.


For more information about our work in Education or for ways to support this work, please visit www.SAWSO.org

Children learning with the help of Salvation Army instructors at The Salvation Army Wulai Corps Community Center in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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Copyright © 2016 The Salvation Army World Service Office

In recognition of this apparent need, The Salvation Army Indonesia Territory will soon launch Rumah Baca, meaning “Reading Room,” an afterschool child learning initiative funded by SAWSO. The initiative will establish Reading Room learning centers and libraries at Salvation Army Corps community center buildings across the country.


Staff and community volunteers will receive training in child specialized reading instructional strategies and library management. Each library will be supplied with level-appropriate reading books and educational games for children and youth, as well as books for adults on locally-relevant topics such as farming techniques and health education. The focus will be children, but literacy activities will be available for visitors of all ages.

In the community of Trivandrum in the India South Western Territory, a number of children with learning disabilities – who would not be accepted in other schools – are attending school at The Salvation Army. Teachers are commissioned as classroom assistants to work with the special needs students - a collaboration of The Salvation Army and Trivandrum’s local government. If not for this arrangement, these students would otherwise be unreached. In the same community The Salvation Army is constructing a large science building for the school.  

“We know that if children are below a certain level by the end of their first year of schooling, it is likely they will stay behind forever.”

With more than 3,000 schools educating in excess of 600,000 children, Salvation Army schools are central to the mission objectives of many territories, each possessing a unique approach to education and differing in their relationships with the government, local community, and donors.

These schools each face unique challenges of the communities in which they reside. Often they are positioned in areas of severe economic disadvantage or neglect, and suffer from social, economic, and spiritual poverty. Such challenges require The Salvation Army to focus efforts on breaking down barriers to education and adding value in other ways.

Education is a powerful driver of sustainable development in local communities.  Research has shown it is a key factor for reducing poverty, improving health, and promoting gender equality, peace, and stability. 

More than 100 years before the development community made a promise to get every child into school by 2015 through the “Education for All” (EFA) movement, The Salvation Army was already making strides – establishing schools, providing access to education in vulnerable communities where there once was none, and leveraging the incredible mission opportunity of empowering the spiritual development and prospects of students.

The Salvation Army's Educational Institutions

The creation of an International  Schools Strategy in 2013 outlined a vision of developing “compassionate children of integrity and character with the relevant skills, knowledge and understanding to achieve their full God-given potential…achieved by developing high-quality, holistic, faith-based and family-focused education prioritizing vulnerable and marginalized children”.

The key word is “quality” and that’s where Howard Dalziel comes in. As the coordinator and strategist for The Salvation Army’s international network of schools, Dalziel’s provides guidance to a number of schools in countries around the world, while working closely with Douglas Bell, Technical Advisor for Education with The Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO). Bell’s expertise in education assessment is allowing SAWSO and International Headquarters (IHQ) to collaborate on measuring and analyzing quality and effectiveness of Salvation Army schools in a number of focus countries.