We only realize the usefulness of reading when we have been properly introduced to it and it has become a habit. This, of course, has something to do with our parent’s educational backgrounds, but other than that, our living environment also plays a role on in instilling a love of reading.
Still, many —Indonesians in particular— have underestimated the importance of reading.
Indonesian people’s purchasing power remains low, and books and other reading materials are seen as discretionary spending.
Tantowi Yahya is concerned about the nations’ poor reading habits, and says the government has not been active in helping develop the reading habit.
Quite a popular figure among couch potatoes, Yahya believes that being both a good reader and having a great passion for reading are useful tools for success, compared to graduating from formal college.
Appointed as Indonesia’s “ambassador for reading” since last year, Yahya told The Point how difficult it can be for grown-ups to get used to reading.
The following are excerpts from our interview with him earlier this week.
Q: How do you view Indonesian people’s reading habits in general?
A: Despite the fact that many Indonesians are aware of the importance of education, many of them overlook the benefits gained by reading. So, our nation needs to have its’ reading habit boosted.
Q: It seems that reading has yet to become a part of the culture here. Is it difficult to implant such a habit?
A: Implanting a love of reading is difficult for adults, but it is easy for children. Parents should start instilling a love of reading in their children. Our nation needs to work towards establishing a reading community. In the west, parents start implanting a love of reading in their children at between 1 to 6 years. And it is time for us to learn from them towards creating a reading culture. You see even though an Indonesian may have gotten their degree through years of studying at universities, but their reading habit is not developed.
Q: So, do you think these people merely go to university for a degree?
A: Many Indonesian university graduates, though not all, despite their degrees, have yet to understand what they were supposed to know during their academic learning. Having a bachelor degree nowadays has become a key to competing for a job. The societal belief indicates that it is a prerequisite to have a good career. Get that degree and then get a real job is the cliché. To say that if you don’t get that degree then you won’t get a good job, to me, is a fallacy. ‘Two wrongs do not make a right’.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: With the career that I have achieved, many people wouldn’t believe that I only have a high-school diploma. The reading habit has not helped me triumph in the arena of career competition, but I have uncovered much knowledge from different fields. This has helped me to more success than many of my friends who have university degrees.
Q: So you’re saying that earning a degree from a university is not that important?
A: Well, I’m not saying that is not important. Of course, I would prefer to have a bachelor degree than not to have one. Bear in mind that knowledge can be achieved from reading, including at schools and universities, but that they are not the only means to earn the knowledge. And don’t forget that the library is also a source of knowledge. Unfortunately, libraries in Indonesia are still regarded as an ignoble place. In advanced countries like the United States, libraries are used as community centers, where the source of information, through the libraries’ facilities such as books, magazines, periodicals, Internet, meeting and exhibition rooms, is widely available to public.
Q: Is it possible that our country can have such libraries?
A: Why not? People like going to bookstores, but many cannot afford to buy since books are expensive here. How can the government create a reading habit in the community when poverty is still prevalent, if not by establishing facilities such as community public libraries or giving subsidies to book publishers?
Tantowi Yahya is the chairman of the Indonesian-American Friendship Association, director of the Indonesian Recording Industry Association (ASIRI) and CEO of the Country Music Club of Indonesia. He was recipient of an Eisenhower Fellowship in 2005, and was appointed Indonesia’s “ambassador for reading” in 2006.
By Aulia Rachmat, published in The Point Daily, January 19, 2007.
Photo courtesy of pikiran-rakyat.com