Opinion: Literacy Issues in Indonesia and the Solutions
by Aaron Steven Anugrah ( Binusian 2024)
In 2021, Director General of Early Childhood Education, Basic Education, and Secondary Education at the Education, Culture, Research, and Technology Ministry Jumeri stated that the illiteracy rate in Indonesia had fallen from 1.78 percent in 2019 to 1.71 in 2020 (Antara, 2020). Through various methods, Indonesia has successfully increased its literacy rate. The plans include Serambi Literasi (Literacy Platform), a platform to discuss literacy development within diverse local communities during the COVID – 19 pandemic, and Literacy Celebration Week, which includes exhibitions, virtual literacy discussion, and a workshop on managing community reading centers (The Jakarta Post, 2020). While Indonesia has strived to improve its literacy rate, the problem is far from over. Literacy issues are still happening, and to achieve the dream of a fully literate society, the government must provide more effective strategies to solve these issues. In this essay, the writer will explain literacy issues in Indonesia alongside the solutions to solve them.
The definition of literacy needs to be understood first to understand the various literacy issues in Indonesia. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, literacy is “the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” This definition was used in 1992 and 2002. While it is not wrong, it is not sufficient for today’s world. As technology keeps improving, the need for digital literacy (the ability to absorb information through digital media) is also increasing. It isn’t easy to get a fixed definition of what literacy is. Diehl (1980) stated that the purpose of literacy is challenging to construct because each cultural group has its own definitions. However, to put it in simple terms, literacy can be defined as a person’s ability to read, write, and understand information through various forms of medium, including print and digital.
Literacy issues can be found among young children. In 2019, PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), a three-year survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), revealed that Indonesia is in the 74th position out of 79 in terms of student literacy skills. Reading competency score fell from 397 in 2015 to 371 in 2018. The cause of this issue is Indonesian children’s low – interest in Reading. According to UNESCO, only 0.01 percent of Indonesian children like to read (Indonesian writers, 2016), and in 2015, National Library’s data revealed that only 10% of Indonesian children above ten years old are interested in Reading (Kurniasih, 2016). From these statistics, it can be concluded that Indonesian children who like to read are minorities. One of the reasons Indonesian children’s interest in Reading is low is the increase in technology. Phones, computers, and video games are ubiquitous today. Children today are more interested in playing video games and watching videos than reading books.
Another reason is children’s lack of access to books and lack of reading habit support from the community. According to the Ministry of Education and Culture’s index, on a 100-point scale, the index ranked access to books at only 23.1 points, while the country’s reading culture is at 28.5 points (Solihin, 2020). Due to Indonesia’s unique geographical condition, it is highly challenging to equal book distribution, which causes children living in rural areas to be left behind. There need to be solutions to solve these problems.
We need to look at the most literate nations to find the solution. In 2016, a study conducted by John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, showed that Finland was the most literate nation in the world. This study didn’t rank countries based on their citizens’ reading ability; instead, it ranked them based on their “literate behaviors and supporting resources.” Miller believed Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden were the top five most literate nations because “their monolithic culture values reading.” Finnish author Aki Ollikainen said that Finland’s high literacy rate is for two reasons. First, Reading and education are appreciated by everyone, and second, the libraries in Finland contain a versatile collection that is widely available to everyone. It can be concluded that Finland became the most literate nation in the world because of their culture that highly values reading and its libraries which contain various genres of books that are widely available to everyone. For Indonesia’s literacy rate to grow, schools need to implement reading into their curriculum. Not textbook reading, but fiction reading. Books that encompass various genres.
The solution to increasing children’s literacy in Reading is to hold frequent reading activities in school. In Finland, Reading is a highly valued culture in education, which is why they are not only the nation with the best education but also the most literate nation in the world. In the beginning, let the students choose the book they want to read. It is highly possible that when the teachers choose the book themselves, the students may not be interested in it, making it more difficult for them to read, especially for those who have just started. Let them choose the genre that they are interested in first. This will be the foundation for students to get interested in other genres of books. It is also important that we do not demoralize those who read comic books or books with lots of pictures because those are the foundations for reading more complex books such as novels. For young readers, teachers should read aloud and offer books to them daily to increase their reading interest (Swanson, 1998). Donating books to hospitals is one of the solutions to make books as widely available as possible. In 2021, Danone Indonesia held a program where they donated various educational books to children in hospitals who were inflicted with COVID-19 and orphanages (Wulandari, 2021). This is a good start. This program should extend beyond the COVID-19 era and should be held monthly. Not only that, but the books donated should also expand to other genres. Not just educational, but fiction included.
In conclusion, Indonesia has strived to increase its literacy rate. The various programs the government has created to combat literacy issues have been quite successful. However, despite all these achievements, literacy issues are still prominent today. Many children are still uninterested in reading books because of distractions such as TV, computer, and video games. The Indonesian education system has not done enough to cultivate a reading culture in schools. To make Indonesia a fully literate nation, we need to value reading culture. Hold reading activities or class sessions, encourage children to go to the library, and introduce them to various genres. Not only that, but we also need to make books as widely available as possible. Monthly book donation programs to hospitals could ensure that everyone, even those who are sick, can have the opportunity to experience the joy of Reading.
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