Picture books for Kupang

Blog post by Sonja Arndt, University of Melbourne

Early childhood settings (PAUD) in the Kupang region, in Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia, have never had picture books from their local culture. Mostly they have been using picture books that tell stories from other more dominant Indonesian islands like Java, or imported stories in picture books donated by international donors or NGOs. These books are often wonderful – but they do not tell the local Kupang stories. Nor do they use local languages. They tell stories about far-away places, sometimes in foreign languages, and they show images of children, animals or landscapes that the teachers and the children in Kupang do not experience or sometimes even know.

In 2018 and 2019 Donella Cobb and I, then both senior lecturers in the Faculty of Education at the University of Waikato, worked with UNICEF, supported by the New Zealand Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFaT), on an early childhood teacher education programme in Kupang. Our aim was to strengthen the model of teacher education, amongst other things by elevating teachers’ contributions to their pedagogical practices through strengthening the idea of peer mentoring – this alone was a distinct shift from traditional often top-down teacher education models led by Western countries in Indonesia. Backed by our own research, we were extremely aware that, as outsiders, we were unfamiliar with the nuances of the local cultures, and could not make any assumptions about local practices, attitudes or orientations to very young children and their education that had been passed down over generations.

Underlying our programme design, implementation and follow up, was the critical importance of elevating teachers’ and children’s local culture and language. Home culture and language retention play a crucial role in meaningful teaching and learning. This was a critically important foundation in our workshops and engagements. Teachers told us of the non-existence of local picture books with local stories and images of local scenes, animals or people. Nevertheless, having books and the written word (e.g. in posters) in PAUD was clearly seen as important, and the imported picture books were desirable over having none at all.

One afternoon in a workshop in 2018 we asked teachers to go home and remember a story from their childhoods. It was to be one they could share the next day with their peers, aimed at giving a chance to play with the pleasure and the art of storytelling. Our work was focused on developing teachers’ and mentors’ work in PAUD in the region, including much attention to teacher identity. Childhood memories were an important component of this reflective work, and so the next morning the stories that teachers remembered from their own childhoods came pouring out.

A whirlwind of surprises arose from this story telling. Having shared the stories with each other, there was discussion, leading to a brainstorm: what makes a good story? And then: what makes a good picture book? Then teachers and mentors had the opportunity to illustrate and then narrate their own local stories into books, following their own brainstormed criteria. The outcome of this activity – and local and national support – was that 30 books were published, with over 100 more created by teachers and mentors (who continue still, to encourage others in their own cluster groups to continue making more).

Each of the 100 PAUD involved in the programme now has a full set of the published Kupang stories and picture books: that they made! Furthermore, PAUD and other early childhood settings across Indonesia now have access to the books, since the national ECE Directorate made all of the books freely downloadable. Each book ends with a teaching guide, supporting meaningful picture book reading and engagement with young children. And the teachers and mentors are now published authors: each picture book ends with a photograph and story about the author.

Readers of this blog are invited to visit and recommend the site and download them here. This is a momentous cultural achievement that embodies the tireless commitment of teachers and mentors to young children and their stories!