Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Pioneering survey asks 8-12-year-old Indonesians: what's life like?

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

© Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Preadolescents have a lot to say about life.

Take this 11-year-old boy from Indonesian Borneo, or Jenni (pictured below), who lives in Indonesia’s province of West Java. The 10-year-old says being a good friend is something you learn with practice.

 “A good friend should always be there to help you through difficulties,” says Jenni (centre). “Real friends come to your house when you’re sick, and you go to their house when they are.” © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Scientists say it is at this age, in preadolescence, that children begin to critically assess their lives, asking themselves questions like, ‘what do I think about my family, my friends, my future’?

This year, Indonesia joined a global initiative that believes the answers might not only be insightful, but valuable guides of policy.

The country’s initiative, a partnership between the University of Islam Bandung (UNISBA), the Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) the National Statistics Office (BPS) and UNICEF, took the form of a schools-based pilot survey in West Java, Indonesia’s most populous province. 

Some 24,000 8-12 year olds in 270 selected schools were asked about the worlds they inhabit – to describe what it felt like to be themselves.

“This is the first survey in Indonesia to consult 8-12 year olds directly, at district level, about their subjective experience, how they feel about their home, school, friendships etc.” says Charlotte Lie-Piang, UNICEF Indonesia Knowledge and Management Specialist. The 13,000-island nation is home to 25 million children aged 8-12 years, spread among 6,543 districts.

A 12-year-old girl takes the well-being survey in the district of Cirebon, West Java. © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

“The plan is to use the information and combine it with the Government’s existing statistics for the development of a district-level Child Well-being Index in West Java next year,” she adds. 

Importantly, the survey addresses what many call the “middle childhood gap”, or the shortage of research on preadolescents compared to their younger and older counterparts.

“The goal is to gain a fuller picture of life for this age group. We have a lot of data on children, but relatively limited information directly from children on the aspects of their lives that they feel happy and less happy about," Lie-Piang says.

"The results from the survey will become valuable input for policymakers," says  Dr. Ihsana Sabriani Borualogo, professor of psychology at UNISBA. "It will help ensure we understand wellbeing and happiness in a much more comprehensive way." 

Great care was taken to ensure the survey was both voluntary and confidential. No child was forced to take it, and facilitators from UNISBA, as well as teachers, were given careful instructions on how to assist children who had questions. Any child who wished to stop could do so.

Every effort, moreover, was made to ensure no child was left out. For 8-year-olds, facilitators read the test aloud to ensure comprehension. They also provided assistance to children with special needs and those not able to read or speak Indonesian. 

When asked what she would do tomorrow if she didn’t have to come to school, Jihan, 9, (left) says she would choose to help her mother with household chores. “My mom can always use my help, especially with cleaning the floor.” © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

Though some 42 nations worldwide are participating in the third wave of this survey, Indonesia is one of just a handful where Government has joined the effort. 

“By bringing Bappenas and BPS onto the project, we ensure the insights gleaned have the best chance of influencing future decisions,” says UNICEF Indonesia Consultant Widodo Suhartoyo. 

“What we want to do is to create synergy between the data and the decision-makers, and the best way to do that is with the Government on board from the start,” he adds.

The planned Child-Wellbeing Index will help policymakers understand preadolescents’ needs in greater detail, and the hope is it will be a reference for a national scale-up in coming years.

“Indonesia is a global leader on SDGs and children,” says Lie Piang. “With the creation of a Child Wellbeing Index, the Government will have an important tool for monitoring progress among children.

“For the first time, preadolescents in Indonesia have been given a chance to communicate with the Government about how they view their lives,” she says. 

“I hope we can build on the momentum generated with this pilot, because these children’s voices matter.”

A mix of 8-12 year old boys and girls mill outside their classroom after taking the survey in Cirebon, West Java © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017