I hope our children will achieve many accomplishments – not only in Indonesia, but also in other countries, across many fields, whether in sport, the arts or academics. If this was to happen, I will have served my primary purpose. Go, children of Surabaya, go! Because God provides every child with different talents.

Tri Rismaharini, Mayor of Surabaya, Indonesia

Building a learning city

Surabaya, comprising the words sura (brave) and baya (danger), literally means ‘bravely face the danger’. It is the capital of Indonesia’s East Java province, the region’s largest metropolitan city and home to more than 3 million people. Originally a trading and port city, Surabaya has since established itself as a centre for business, industry and education, and its Human Development Index, which measures average achievements in life expectancy, education and income per capita, reflects this. To fulfil its learning city objectives, Surabaya has implemented several strategies to improve literacy levels among all age groups. One way in which the city has done this has been to increase the number of places where people can borrow books, such as municipal libraries and reading corners: from 2012 to 2015, over 1,000 new reading venues were established.

Inter-district reading competitions and new school curriculums were established in order to promote literacy across the city. As part of a new school curriculum, for example, students are encouraged to read for at least 15 minutes per day. Because of these initiatives, the number of citizens who expressed an interest in reading rose from 28°per cent in 2009 to 60°per cent in 2015 and the number of visits to public reading venues more than tripled, reaching more than 4.7 million visits in 2015.

1.            Introduction

Through its learning city initiatives, Surabaya seeks to provide its citizens with the tools to develop their reading skills, stimulate continued interest in learning and increase learning opportunities throughout the city.

Learning festivals and motivational speakers are enlisted to encourage children and young people to stay in school, while non-formal and informal learning opportunities take place in the city’s many public parks and libraries. These programmes are free of charge and available to everyone, regardless of age or income. Online education tools are also freely available through the city’s dedicated literacy websites. Here, parents and students can enrol in online courses and freely access academic publications.

The city also established the Surabaya Akseliterasi programme in order to improve literacy rates among those aged 15 and older. Annual events organized in cooperation with various stakeholders help to promote literacy throughout the city. Through the establishment of initiatives with the private sector and civil society, including universities and NGOs, Surabaya hopes to promote lifelong learning for all.

2.            Developing a plan

Surabaya faces various challenges related to poverty, with more than 164,000 people in the city living below the poverty line. The city has therefore established many initiatives to address the learning needs of these disadvantaged groups, including free access to schools and public learning venues, as well an increase in the number of learning facilities across the city to ensure accessibility. To further boost the city’s economy and promote lifelong learning, the Mayor of Surabaya has established several initiatives, including developing a stronger workforce to sustain the economy, and strengthening local cultural values within communities.

In order to transform Surabaya into a learning city, the municipality set long-term goals that involve the activate participation of all stakeholders, especially the private sector. The city also works with the media to raise awareness of the importance of learning through campaigns and the promotion of literacy ambassadors and role models.

The city deployed a number of additional measures to reach these goals, including allocating funds to benefit formal and informal education. This funding has resulted in the development of arts programmes and activities in the Balai Pemuda, a performing arts centre in the city, which offers courses ranging from cinematography to playing gamelan music (a traditional Indonesian instrumental ensemble).

3.            Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders

Surabaya’s learning city concept is based on the Triple Helix model, which calls for collaboration between universities, the private sector and the government. The first step to implementing this approach requires internal coordination at government level.

Regional Regulation No 14, issued in 2016, was therefore established to assign specific duties and functions to each regional government unit. The local government cooperates actively with the central government to monitor projects and workflow, and to ensure all new projects adhere to the guidelines of the regulation.

Surabaya has signed agreements with the private and educational sectors to guarantee a balanced sharing of responsibilities, rights and obligations among all stakeholders. Cooperative projects have since included the promotion of continuous education in school and the construction of learning venues by industries and the private sector. These facilities are used as learning venues as well as training schools for teachers. NGOs, such as the Education Council and the School Committee, are also involved as independent institutions providing advice to the city and suggesting improvements.

Finally, citizens also play an important role in Surabaya’s development as a learning city, and their participation in the decision-making process during conferences on education is encouraged.

4.            Mobilizing and utilizing resources

Surabaya strongly supports the financing of learning city programmes. The city allocates 30 per cent of its $533 million annual budget to education and has developed cost-sharing mechanisms with multiple stakeholders. The city also works with the central government to develop innovative programmes such as the Adiwiyata School Programme, which rewards schools for developing environmental conservation curricula.

Surabaya also collaborates with other cities, both nationally and internationally, to share costs more efficiently – for example, on student-exchange programmes or training workshops for government representatives.

In addition to financial support, the city utilizes existing resources and provides learning opportunities for its inhabitants in public places throughout the city, including for the less privileged. Reading corners spread across the city provide all with a wide range of books, all public learning venues are free for citizens, and parks propose educational tools to know more about the rich cultural heritage, fauna and flora of the region. With a free access to a broad range of online tools, such as portals providing free courses and academic journals, the city is spreading knowledge efficiently among inhabitants. To ensure that all can reach these precious resources, a free internet hotspot is available in every association.

5.            Making learning is accessible to all

Surabaya sees learning as fundamental to building a prosperous and inclusive society. Learning opportunities are therefore accessible to all, regardless of economic background: entry to public learning facilities are free of charge and public parks, such as Taman Flora Park, offer free courses about the local flora and fauna. Meanwhile, the city’s Broadband Learning Centre provides free computer literacy classes and Rumah Bahasa (House of Languages) offers free language training. The latter institute is open six days a week and enlists 85 volunteering professionals to teach 13 different languages to more than 2,200 visitors per month. In addition, workshops to develop skills such as cooking and sewing are available to help disadvantaged groups.

Free online tools also play a significant role in Surabaya’s learning city development, with Wi-Fi hotspots ensuring everyone has access to the internet. Citizens are also encouraged to visit the Surabaya Education Department portal, where information about schools, the education system, free online courses and academic journals are available. The website eHealth, meanwhile, offers information about the country’s healthcare system and is available in three languages (Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Jawa and Bahasa Madura) to increase accessibility.

Community-based learning groups, known as Layanan Kelompok Belajar, also provide educational opportunities for citizens who are unable to continue formal education. Three types of so-called ‘equivalency education’ are available, comprising elementary, junior and high school levels. Layanan Kelompok Belajar receives funding from the city, and there are currently 36 such groups in operation.

Surabaya also promotes inclusive education for disabled children within the public school system at all levels and provides a forum to monitor learning development.

6.            Organizing celebratory events

A series of events takes place every year to motivate students to remain in education. Various activities, such as tree planting, parades and city tours, further celebrate lifelong learning.

The city also organizes a literacy competition between districts as part of the Surabaya Akseliterasi programme. This annual event celebrates learning for all and encourages citizens’ eagerness to learn. Last year’s competition, which took place in August 2016, specifically targeted women’s literacy.

Students enrolled in informal learning programmes are honoured during Widya Wahana Pendidikan, an education fair and awards ceremony that acknowledges achievements by students in training institutes and community learning centres.

Surabaya also organizes an annual literature festival, Budaya Pustaka, to foster a lifelong reading culture, as well as the Surabaya Cross Culture, Folks and Art Festival, which brings together local and international stakeholders to celebrate the country’s rich culture.

7.            Monitoring and evaluation

Surabaya conducted several studies to understand the impact of its learning city policies and to see how people’s awareness of learning and their reading habits had developed.

In 2012 and 2015, for example, a study of the community’s reading habits concluded that citizens’ interest in reading had soared from 42 per cent to almost 60 per cent in just three years.

An additional survey conducted in 2016, measuring community visits to public reading places in Surabaya, noted that visitors to public libraries and reading areas spent around 35 minutes per visit on average at different reading venues around the city, adding up to about 1 hour 45 minutes per week.

Based on Surabaya’s long term development plans, key performance indicators to monitor its progress of becoming learning city are Human Development Index and Local Culture Index which the latter contains of both how many cultures that are preserved and how many people who has literacy skill.

8.            Achievements and the way forward

Surabaya’s efforts to inspire a love of learning among its citizens and to provide free access to all public learning resources has had a positive impact on the city as a whole. The Kampung Improvement Programme, for example, seeks to preserve the traditional way of life in Kampungs (traditional low-income settlements), which are experiencing rapid urban development. Through the programme, which emphasizes human resource development and supports entrepreneurship, locals are encouraged to get involved in the Kampungs’ development (for example by producing and selling local products). The aim of the programme is to improve living conditions in these densely populated areas by upgrading the infrastructure (including roads, bridges and footpaths, water supplies and sanitation) and provide more schools and health clinics, and raise environmental awareness.

Another initiative, Tantangan Membaca, launched in 2015, challenges students to read an additional number of extracurricular books of their choice during different stages of their school education. Students who successfully complete the challenge receive a certificate from Surabaya Education Department. By encouraging youth to read, the city increases their reading interest, helping them to establish reading as their daily habit as well as making them lifelong readers, increasing human development and leading to a better quality of life.

Surabaya continues to facilitate inclusive learning and to allocate resources to education in order to empower its inhabitants and make progress towards a 100 per cent literacy rate in the future.

9.    Contact


Agus Imam Sonhaji

Official title/organization

Head of Development Planning Board


City website




For citation please use

Last update: 7 August 2017. Surabaya. Indonesia. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 24 October 2021, 12:11 CEST)

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