Literacy in Development Discourse and Practice: The Case of Literacy Boost in Rural and Urban Indonesia
Jenny Zhang

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Research Development Award

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

This study discerns the complexities of the relationship between literacy and international development at three levels: 1) at the ideological level, by examining how childhood literacy is conceptualized as an absolutely integral component of international development agendas, 2) at the institutional level, by examining how schools, governmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations interpret and implement literacy-related policy and curricula, and 3) at the community and individual level, by considering how these interventions shape and in turn are shaped by schoolchildren, their families, and teachers through everyday practice. By comparing the practices, developmental processes, and outcomes of an influential childhood literacy campaign, Literacy Boost, in Belu Regency, a rural region bordering East Timor, and in North Jakarta, one of the five cities comprising the mega-metropolitan capital of Indonesia, I trace educational experiences and socioeconomic development trajectories across heterogeneous geographic and cultural contexts. Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic research, and discourse analysis and language socialization frameworks in my analytic procedure, I identify both intended and unintended outcomes of the intervention. Beyond the central goal of promoting literacy acquisition, Literacy Boost also had far reaching impact on how literacy was framed and assessed in classroom practice; on the power dynamics and democratic practices at participating schools; and on discipline and constructions of authority, both in classrooms and among adult stakeholders of the program. This project advances understandings of the relationship between literacy and international development processes, which can contribute to the better design, contextualization, and implementation of literacy initiatives globally.
About Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang is a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at the University of California, Berkeley, from which she received two M.A. degrees: one in Education (Program in Language, Literacy, and Culture) and the other in International and Area Studies. She also received a B.A. in Politics from Princeton University. Broadly interested in language and literacy studies, and the ideologies and practices of international development focused on education, Jenny uses ethnographic methods in her research in Indonesia. In addition to her dissertation research on a specific early childhood literacy intervention, she also conducts research on language ideologies in eastern Indonesia. Prior to her graduate studies, Jenny was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship fellow in Makassar, Indonesia and worked at a nonprofit media syndicate based in Prague, Czech Republic.

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