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Managing a Reading Culture Program in a School: How is It Done?

Managing a Reading Culture Program in a School: How is It Done?
Students show the books they will read in the morning.

By Ahmad Hanapiyah, Indonesian Language Teacher, MTsN 2 Tangerang
MTsN 2 Tangerang is a madrasah that is serious about developing an interest in reading among its students. In 2007, the madrasah started getting a collection of reading materials together to develop this interest. They also started a library promotion program and awarded prizes to the students who read the most books. Since 2014, when they began working with USAID PRIORITAS, the development of the reading culture program has been stepped up even more.

The reading habit has begun to grow among the students. A love of reading is evident in the number of students who spend their spare time at school, reading books in the reading corners in the classrooms, and the number of books on display in the school hallways and library.
Creating a reading culture and managing a reading culture program is not straightforward. It doesn't happen instantly or by itself. In our experience, a reading culture program must be well prepared, carefully implemented and continuously expanded.

The program was implemented step-by-step. The first step was to establish a team, and prepare programs, facilities, and books, involving everyone in the school community. The reading culture team consisted of the leader of the program (in this case, the head of the madrasah), a chairperson, secretary, and coordinators of facilities, activities, and books. Everyone, including students, teachers, the principal, parents, and other agencies and institutions, should get involved in the planning process. This team involves everyone, coordinating the activity, developing an activity plan, and ensuring that adequate funding is available in the school budget.

Once the team was formed, we immediately started learning lessons from other schools that already had a reading culture program. Our school learned so much from these other schools: among other things we learned about a program in SDN 04 Ciruas Serang Banten called Pak Kumis Membaca (literally, “Mister Moustache Reads”, a play on the Indonesian term, “Kamis” meaning Thursday, because Thursday morning is for reading).

We also learned about the reading corners set up in SMPN 3 Tigaraksa, and a small mobile library owned by Sri Hartati, a teacher at SMPN 1 Cisoka. We learned how to manage student writing, including portfolios, reviews, reading snakes, and reading curtains, which can be used to help students produce works based on their reading.

We discussed what we needed to do to prepare for the reading culture program, including requirements for setting up reading corners, ensuring the availability of books, and putting together a schedule for reading and other activities. The scheduling of activities was tailored to the academic calendar. Reading culture activities were to be implemented mainly over two semesters in each academic year.

Making a Start
The second stage was to commence the program. We began with the procurement of books for reading corners. Students worked with their homeroom teachers. We created thirty reading corners in eighteen classrooms - and on the school terrace. The routine of silent reading for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each school day was instituted immediately. All the teachers and the head of the madrasah take part in the reading routine along with the children. We also asked parents to get involved, to create a reading habit at home. To ensure success, we needed a system for coordinating and monitoring all the activities.

We added to the book collection with the cooperation of parents. Many donated books to the madrasah to be read by their own children. We received four-hundred books from new students, alumni, teachers, and parents. We also received a grant of one-hundred-and-fifty books from USAID PRIORITAS. To increase access to books, we also cooperated with the Regional Library (Perpusda). We asked for their mobile library service to regularly visit our madrasah and they agreed that they would come every fortnight. We also borrowed books from the regional library, which they let us use for one semester at a time. Each semester we swap the books over and get new titles.

Once the planning was complete, and the reading corners and books were ready, we officially launched the MTsN Tigaraksa Reading Movement on October 2, 2015. The event was held in a marquee in the school field from 7.00-9.00 am, after Dhuha prayers. Local officials expressed their support, and the movement was launched. The Ministry of Religious Affairs of Tangerang District took part, along with the Tangerang District Library, the USAID PRIORITAS Banten office, the Tangerang District Arts Council and Tangerang Reading Community. The Mobile Library Service from the Regional Library was also there. There was also an exhibition of the madrasah's collection of books from student and teacher donations, and from the USAID PRIORITAS grant. The presence of all these officials increased our enthusiasm for the reading culture program. 

Program Implementation and Development
After initiating the activities to create a reading habit, we started to fix up the library. We worked with the Religious Training Center at the Ministry of Religious Affairs to train our librarians. We also cooperated with Tangerang Regional Library to improve our library facilities.

Once the silent reading activity had been running for a month, we started asking the students to review the books they had read. We also asked some students to give routine book-review presentations on Fridays, after our shared Dhuha prayers. These reviews created by our students were collected and subsequently published.

To help the students maintain their reading habit, we formed reading clubs and literature galleries, held elections of reading ambassadors, and awarded prizes to the students who read the most. We also regularly conducted silent reading activities.

Keep learning
As a team, we constantly learned new ways to develop the reading culture program in our madrasah, new ways to keep it thriving. We attended seminars, like the one on studying literature and the school literacy movement held by HISKI Banten in March 2016 at the World House (Rumah Dunia).

We also took part in a formal declaration of the Indonesia Reading Movement in Rangkasbitung, an event which was attended by Education Minister, Anies Baswedan. And we joined the Second Tangerang District Library Jamboree in May 2016, which officially launched the school literacy movement.

There is more! We also attended a book fair at BPAD Banten Province in May 2016 to add to our book collection. We invited our students to the event too. And we learned lessons from World House in Serang, run by Gol A Gong, who has long been the inspiration and driving force behind literacy in Banten.

What we learned at the World House we then adapted to our madrasah environment.
In addition to learning directly, we also learned through social media. We learned about the successful experience of developing school and community literacy in Surabaya from Facebook posts by Satria Darma, a school literacy activist. And we learned about uploading book reviews to our Facebook page from Handoko Widagdo, a specialist from USAID PRIORITAS.

We learned many lessons. Based on the limited experience in our madrasah, along with the different kinds of literacy models in various schools and in other areas, there are some things worth reflecting on.

One of the main lessons we learned is that reading movements in schools and madrasah need to involve everyone, all the groups and literacy networks around, to foster the culture of reading. A literacy movement seeking to improve of the quality of reading, writing, and academic achievement is not limited to the classroom or the school environment, but must also take place at home and in the community.

Without everyone engaging in the movement and gradually developing the program together, the reading culture program will only feel exciting at the beginning. The commitment and role models provided by the teachers and the principal are the key to opening the door to literacy in the school. They must stand up front of everyone and show that they are reading and writing.

Finally, the movement is not restricted to meeting the demands of the Ministerial Regulation on the reading habits of students (Permendikbud No.23/2015); it is intended more as an investment in the education of students through the habituation of reading.

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