Despite a relatively high literacy rate, statistics show that reading books is not an especially popular activity in Indonesia. Compared to people in other countries with high literacy rates, people in Indonesia read significantly less.
Indonesia Literacy Rate in 2018, UNESCO
Educational ability is also measured as lower in Indonesia than in other countries. Improving Indonesian reading habits is likely to improve educational outcomes, although the reasons behind low reading rates must first be deciphered.
What are the reading habits in Indonesia?
A 2013 study from UNESCO showed that only 1 in 1000 children in Indonesia enjoy reading. A 2018 study from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) marked Indonesian students’ reading score at 371 (compared to the average score of 487), and Indonesia’s overall reading ability was 74th of 79 OECD nations.
Trends performance in Reading, Mathematics, and Science
Mathematic and scientific ability were marked at 73rd and 71st respectively. The percentage of Indonesian students who could reach Level 2 (the ranking determined by the OECD as describing the minimum required level of proficiency) of Reading Skills was 40%, compared to an average of 78%.
Studies indicate that general reading habits in the digital era are likely higher than in the days before the internet. Universitas Kristen Indonesia (or the Christian University of Indonesia) found that, despite not reading books as frequently as students in other countries, Indonesian students do use the internet to read, although typically only when required to for school assignments. Reading for pleasure or to learn outside of a mandatory setting is uncommon.
What are the reasons for Indonesian reading habits?
There are a few reasons for reading habits in Indonesia being lower than in other countries, some reasons being specific to Indonesia and others being more global trends:
- The oral tradition: In Indonesia, there is a long tradition of sharing stories and wisdom through the spoken word, rather than through written text.
- School culture: In Indonesian schools, reading is generally seen as an activity only for school-related purposes, and reading books of your own volition is often considered unusual behaviour. To stand out from the norm could invite bullying, which is a possible explanation for Indonesian students’ reluctance to read.
- Competition from other forms of media: People in Indonesia use social media, TV/movie streaming, and online gaming at high rates. These forms of more interactive and visual media can often be more instantly stimulating to students compared to books, which require greater levels of focus, concentration, and active engagement. Technology has been found to often reduce reading rates.
- Lack of opportunity: The low rates of reading in Indonesia may not be purely down to lack of interest—lack of opportunity can also play a role. Compared to other similarly developed countries, Indonesian schools have fewer books for students to access. According to a 2017 study by the Ministry of Education and Culture, only 61% of primary schools have libraries, and out of these libraries, only 31% are kept in a good condition. Libraries are often used for multiple purposes, such as for sports or similar activities, meaning that books are often not the priority even in school libraries.
- Poor quality of books available: Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka, the creator of a mobile libraries programme in Indonesia, cites the quality of books available to many students as an obstacle towards encouraging reading. He believes that the books issued to schools by the government are generally, uninteresting, overly formal, and poorly written, which gives students a negative perception of books from a young age.
- Lack of foreign books available: Alongside the poor quality of books in Indonesian school libraries, there is a lack of access to books from overseas. Foreign books that have been translated into Indonesian are often only accessible from specialised bookstores, and are very expensive.
How to encourage reading in Indonesia
Increasing Indonesians’ reading habits entails solving these issues and removing the barriers to accessing high-quality books. Interest in reading is usually best established at a young age, so making sure that younger students have access to books that interest them is essential. Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka, of the Pustaka Bergerak Mobile Library programme, believes that when children are provided access to interesting reading material, they enjoy reading it. Studies have shown that interest in reading for educational purposes typically only increases as a result of already having enjoyed reading for pleasure. Fostering interest in reading in the youngest generation is likely to change the culture over time and make reading more of a common activity for future generations.
The benefits of this for the education system would be significant. A 2015 study by Kenyatta University found that students with reading problems are more likely to perform poorly at school, with higher chances of having to repeat classes or dropping out of education at an early age. Conversely, students with good reading skills perform better at school and in the workforce, and have higher levels of emotional and social development.
Reading for everyone
Increasing Indonesian students’ access to high-quality books can be carried out using both technology and initiatives. Ebooks, and programmes to provide access to them, can solve many of the obstacles towards improving reading habits in Indonesia. Improving reading habits improves learning in general—not just in an academic context, but also for personal growth and wellbeing.
How can Ebooks increase reading rates?
Ebooks have some clear practical advantages over physical books, most obviously the lack of physical space needed to store them, their ease of distribution, and their reduced costs due to the lack of need for printing. Ebooks’ accessibility on any device with an internet connection is another significant benefit. Studies have found that people in Indonesia have more hours of ‘screen time’ than any other country, and are heavy users of social media. A particular advantage of Ebooks is their compatibility with internet-capable devices (from smartphones to tablets to desktop PCs), of which there is already an extremely large amount of use in Indonesia.
A 2018 study by the International Journal of Educational Research Review found that Ebooks are “easy to access” with “no need to go to the library”, and “easy topic search” functionality. What’s more, Ebooks can often be automatically translated, opening up the possibility of Indonesian students easily accessing a wider range of foreign books.
The benefits of Ebooks for Indonesian students are not just theoretical either—a 2016 study by the Journal of English Literacy Education found that the use of Ebooks had a highly positive effect on the reading habits and reading comprehension skills of eleventh-graders at a school in Indonesia.
Initiatives to increase access to books
Indonesia does have public libraries, including a national library service with a digital collection of resources. Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka’s Pustaka Bergerak mobile library service, established in 2014, is also a successful example of a grassroots initiative. There are also other initiatives in place to increase access to reading materials in Indonesia.
Overt Software is also on a mission to encourage people in Indonesia to read more, and has partnered with the Kortext Ebooks platform to provide Indonesian educational institutions with access to a wide range of high-quality educational Ebooks. Students from participating institutions can easily access Kortext’s Ebooks seamlessly through VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) like Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, and more.
The Indonesian government aims that by 2024, 50 million Indonesians will be digitally literate. General literacy is a large part of digital literacy, and an increase in digital literacy is likely to increase Indonesians’ desire and ability to access Ebooks and other online educational materials. Alongside UNESCO’s International Literacy Day (every year on the 8th of September), Indonesia also has a National Book Day, launched in 2002 and held every year on the 17th May, to promote reading books to the population.
For a future generation of Indonesian readers
Increasing reading habits in Indonesia will have significant positive effects on the quality of education, learning outcomes, and students’ personal and social development in the country. Ebooks, such as those offered by the Kortext platform, could be a hugely useful tool in achieving this. Overt Software can help provide easy, convenient access to Kortext Ebooks for Indonesia, delivered seamlessly via the VLEs already used by educational institutions.