By Aulia Rachmat. Photo courtesy of risenetworks.org
Published in The Jakarta Post on May 10, 2008.
Although awareness of education’s importance is growing throughout the archipelago, many still ignore the benefits of reading.
Reading is not an automatic skill, but something that needs to be learned properly so the desired outcome can be achieved — being able to read is much easier than developing a love for reading.
Therefore, it is important that parents and teachers instill the habit in their respective children and students at home and at school.
Implanting a love for reading is difficult in adults, but not in children. In the West, where a reading community is already established, parents begin encouraging their children between the ages of one and six. So, it is not wrong for us to learn from them as a means for creating our own culture.
How far is Indonesia from having a reading culture? Not too far perhaps, although some would disagree, but it all depends on not only the efforts of parents and teachers, but rather it is the government’s role that could really counts.
The National Education Ministry has revealed the majority of adults aged between 15 and 45 know the basics of reading and writing. However, only a very small number have developed reading habits.
The other ‘sad but true’ fact is that only a small number of the country’s 2.7 million teachers can write well. Just as speaking is a skill fully dependent on listening, so too is reading a prerequisite for learning how to write. Just how much can a student expect to learn about reading if their teachers can not write?
Thus, in commemorating National Education Day, I’m crossing my fingers the government will get a grip on promoting reading awareness as a means to create a well educated generation.
We, nonetheless, should not rely only on the government’s efforts, the roles of teachers and parents really count too.
In teaching children to read, the roles of teachers and parents should be synchronized. Parents can provide support and encouragement to their children from an early age until puberty.
However, parents without the expertise can only help so much.
In addition, parents and teachers need to provide children with adequate reading activities and materials. All of these sound easy for those with sufficient income, but how about those in the low income bracket?
Poverty has truly become an obstacle for the establishment of a reading culture in this country. Due to the low purchasing power of many Indonesians, books are considered an extravagance.
Illiteracy is one of the roots of poverty, and with a high percentage of poverty and unemployment in the country, one may wonder what the government should do to encourage reading when many still struggle to provide the most basic needs for their families.
Establishing facilities, including public libraries, or giving subsidiaries to book publishers are options for the government to overcome the income boundary, but will the government co-operate? Perhaps we should just forget the poor and count on wealthy families to promote the hobby among their children?
Unfortunately, it appears that it is no easier to boost interest in upper income bracket households. Even among university graduates and graduates of other higher education institutions, many have still to develop the interest.
In today’s era of globalization, more and more people believe having a university degree is necessary to compete for a good job.
Get that degree and then get a real job is the cliche. However, the notion that ‘two wrongs do not make a right’, or that those without degrees will not get good jobs, is fallacy. There are many out there who have uncovered knowledge in different fields from reading. In fact, many of them have gained more success than those with university degrees.
In spite of all the benefits one can reap from reading, allocating time to read is the major challenge for many of us.
The whole world is distracted by the power of multimedia, including T.V., movies, computers and video games. Despite the growing number of Internet users in Indonesia, it is still not easy to find time to sit down to read unless you have already acquired the reading habit from childhood.
Thus, it is important to implant a love of reading from childhood regardless of social status. The children of Indonesia represent real potential for this country to catch the reading bug, but they need to be guided properly.
It is our duty — whether we are parents, teachers or government officials — to work hard toward establishing a reading culture. Remember that you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.