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Lake, Larry Miller 1989 Cultural Adaptation in Vernacular Literacy Programs of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, PhD Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
    © Larry Miller Lake, 1989. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.


The semi-nomadic cultures of Irian Jaya's lowland regions, where small bands live for several weeks in one home location and then move to a hunting camp for a few weeks before returning, present educators with difficult challenges. This study of educators' adaptations to local culture in vernacular literacy education programs is facilitated by field data from six months of observations in Irian Jaya, and uses classroom and village observation among the Iau, Sikaritai, Asmat, Momena, Berik, and Kwerba language groups, to investigate the nature of teachers' attempts at adapting to local uses of time, location, power, sex roles, and existing education systems, limited resources, and indigenous leadership enabling vernacular literacy education. Besides extending the literature on education in such societies, this study should also suggest some solutions to educational problems in such contexts. Knowing the strategies followed by educators under such conditions may enable the discernment of patterns among successful programs, and may suggest fruitful areas where further adaptation will be advisable for some programs. Special attention is given to the ways that students' and teachers' behavior seems to be prompted by considerations of cultural adaptation. On the surface, the key activities to be seen in these descriptions often have to do with teaching technique: board use, encouragement of invention (free writing), handling of breaks in schedule, distribution and use of textbooks, and classroom arrangement and furnishings. Yet, the handling of these mundane mechanical details reflects a far deeper adaptation to local concern for relationships and comaraderie, as seen in the ways teachers talk, their concern for observing in-class progress, their methods of fostering assignment completion, their interest in students' participation in class activities, and their encouragement of expression of local experience. Further, some important cultural adaptive issues emerge with examination of pervasive themes in Irian Jaya vernacular literacy programs: the necessary adjustments to the special geographical problems of Irian Jaya education systems, the surprising blurring of sacred/secular distinctions in programs essentially begun as supports to a religious outreach, and the development of local support and leadership for the continuation of programs which may not currently have long-range support by missionaries. Since most Irian Jaya vernacular literacy programs are sponsored by Protestant missionary groups, study of educational problems in these locations also necessitates consideration of the nature, motivation and stated goals of such groups, a historical perspective on their work among these cultures (and those in the highlands), and a comparison of their language and education programs with those of the Indonesian government's programs. Examination of some of the interrelationships between mission, vernacular, and Indonesian programs reveals a complex environment for educational adaptation and cultural change.


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