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Reading Crisis: The Culprit of Indonesian Education Low Quality

Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything. (Tomie dePaola)
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Since its proclamation of independence in 1945, Indonesia's national education development still seems to focus on fulfilling the quantity aspects, particularly the provision of school buildings, educational facilities, and educators (teachers and lecturers). In terms of quantity, Indonesian education has indeed been successful.  According to Biro Pusat Statistik (the Central Bureau of Statistics), in 2019, the percentage of Indonesians attending school by age is 99.24% for the 7-12 year age group; 95.31% for the 13-15 year age group; 72.36% for 16-18 year age group; and, 25.21%. for the 9-24 years. Thus, almost all Indonesian children in elementary and junior high school age have attended school; 3 out of 4 citizens aged 16-18 years study in high school, and 1 in 4 high school graduates proceed to study at tertiary institutions. In addition, in 2019 the literacy rate of Indonesia's population aged 15 years or older is 95.90%.

Various efforts to improve the quality of education in Indonesia have actually been carried out. The curriculum, for example, has been changed 10 times, i.e. in 1947, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1975, 1984, 1994, 2004, 2006, and 2013. Since 1984, to implement the new curriculum, various training for teachers have also been conducted. However, these efforts cannot yet improve quality. Indonesian national education is lower than in neighboring countries. The study of PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) 2018 showed that Indonesian students’ average reading score was 371, much lower than the OECD average score, 487. With that score, the reading ability of Indonesian students was ranked the 74th among the 79 OECD countries. The same trend occurred in mathematical ability (Indonesia, 379; OECD average, 489), ranking 73th out of 79 OECD countries. Science ability (Indonesia, 371; OECD average, 489), ranking 71st out of 79.

The Essence of Reading as the Foundation of Learning
There are many factors causing the low learning outcomes of Indonesian students. The main cause, however, is the students’ low reading culture. Reading is the foundation and the gateway to learning. Students with appropriate reading interest and proficiency can learn anything, while students without them will face many difficulties while learning.

The essential role of reading as a foundation and as a learning success factor is supported by various educational experiences and recent study results. The following section lists five aspects concerning the importance of reading in learning. These five factors are essentially interrelated. They are separated in this article only to make discussion easier.

First, modern learning systems are very dependent on literacy (reading and writing skills). This dependence occurs because modern life, to which students are prepared, demands literacy as a major need. The Reading Foundation estimates that more than 85% of the modern educational curriculum is learned through reading. Whatever the subject being learned, e.g., mathematics, science, history, or art, the main source for obtaining information is books, articles, worksheets, or online sources, and to obtain this information, one has to read.

Second, reading positively affects the development of students' behavior, attitudes, and personalities. According to Panneton (2015), students with strong reading skills are able to achieve good academic performance, have a healthy self-image, become lifelong learners, and become sought-after employees. Conversely, students with lower reading skills than their peers tend to feel inferior, have low self-esteem, and even lose self-confidence (Lynn's Learning). Karanja's study (2015) also revealed that students who drop out, often skip classes, and repeat classes are students who have reading problems.

Reading (literary works in particular) is effective in the development attitude and personality. Kidd and Castano's (2013) study of 114 adults revealed that reading literary works developed the ability to understand the emotions of others, a crucial skill in complex social relationships. In line with that, Mar’s (2010) study on the impact of reading fiction and watching movies on television to children aged 4-6 years shows that the participants’ empathy for other people grows higher while they are listening to fiction, but watching films does not influence their empathy.

Third, reading develops thinking skills. Recent research results show that the traditional view that sees reading as a receptive skill, in which the reader receives the author's message through text, is no longer relevant. The current view shows that reading is a mental or cognitive process in which the reader actively involves his memory to compare and combine his background knowledge with the information presented in the text until he gains new understanding (meaning). Reading, therefore, is a dialogue between the reader and the text. In the dialogue, based on his background knowledge, the reader processes the information in the text by predicting, comparing, evaluating, and drawing conclusions. Thus, reading is a thinking activity. Anyone who does not think cannot read.

Fourth, reading stimulates brain development and health. Similar to other muscles in the human body, the brain needs exercise to stay strong and healthy, and reading is the most appropriate exercise for the brain. Szweb et al (2011) examined the effects of reading on the brain by involving 31 adults who had learned reading from childhood, 21 adults who learned to read as adults, and 10 adults who had never read. Employing the functional magnetic resonance imaging, the participants' brain functions were monitored when they responded to verbal expressions, texts, and visual activity. The results showed that reading was more effective at stimulating the brain compared to oral language or images. The findings also indicated that reading also affects the other communicative abilities of an individual and helps him to process information verbally and visually. This is the reason why individuals with low reading ability also get low achievement in other academic fields.

Research findings have also revealed that when a person reads, his brain forms new neurons which increase his memory capacity. Since the formation of these new neurons can take place in young and old individuals, reading skills development can occur and is advantageous to every individual regardless of age. For children, reading habits will improve self-development, while for the elderly, reading can help prevent dementia. Lee, Richards, and Chan’s (2018) longitudinal study involving 15,582 Chinese citizens aged 65 years showed that intellectual activity, including reading (books, newspapers, magazines) as well as playing mahjong and cards helped participants prevent dementia.
Finally, reading proficiency has a positive and significant impact on the achievement of all academic aspects. The British Cohort Study examining 17,000 people born in the same week in 1970 revealed that participants who read for pleasure more than once per week at the age of 10 years always get higher exam results than those who rarely read for pleasure when they are 16 years old.

Reading pleasure also develops intelligence because it increases vocabulary, spelling, and mathematical abilities. Karanja’s study (2015) involving 500 students from 10 public high schools in the Kiambu District, Kenya revealed that students without reading problems obtained higher academic test results than students who had difficulty in reading. Cromley's (2009) study involving international junior high school students revealed that reading ability was highly correlated with scientific learning outcomes. Additionally, a study involving 2,517 grade 4 elementary school students in the United States conducted by Shin et al (2013) showed that the impact of reading ability on mathematics was higher than the impact of mathematics ability on reading.

The results of the PISA study also clearly show that reading skills have a positive and significant impact on mathematics and science performance. Figure 1 showing the trends of Indonesian students’ achievements in the fields of reading, mathematics and science in the 2009-2018 OECD studies revealed that when the reading ability declines, the performance in mathematics and science also decreases.

Figure 1. Average scores of Indonesian students' abilities according to PISA 2009-2018 (Source:

Additionally, the study of Akbaslı et al' (2016) on the PISA results obtained by 18 countries in 2006, 2009, and 2012 revealed that reading ability correlated with learning outcomes in mathematics and science. The results also indicate that reading ability contributes positively or negatively to the success of mathematics and science learning. In other words, if students can read well, the results of learning mathematics and science are high. Conversely, students’ low reading performance will result in low achievement in mathematics and science. 

Is Indonesian education really in a reading crisis? 
Various studies have shown that Indonesian is not (yet?) a reading society. The study of UNESCO (2013) showed only 1 in 1000 Indonesians who continuously read books. CentralConnecticut State University’s (2016) study showed that in terms of reading interest, Indonesia ranked 60th out of 61 countries surveyed. The 2018 PISA results revealed that only 30% of Indonesian students are able to achieve Level 2 of Reading Skills (average OECD average: 77%). To achieve this level, students must be able to identify the main ideas of a medium-long text, find specific information explicitly, which is sometimes based on complex criteria, and determine the purpose and form of the text when requested. There were only about 1& of Indonesian students who achieved Levels 5 and 6 Reading Skills (OECD average: 9%). At this level, students must be able to understand long texts, deal with abstract or counterintuitive concepts, and critically differentiate facts and opinions based on the implicit cues related to the content or source of information. The results of the study clearly show how Indonesian students are having a reading crisis.

Four Types of Reading
After realizing that Indonesian students are suffering from a reading crisis, the question now is: What to do to overcome the crisis? To formulate a solution, proper identification of the causes of the crisis is necessary. However, before discussing these causing factors, we need to have the same perception about the types of reading, because this concept is closely related to the factors causing a reading crisis.

Reynolds andFletcher-Janzen (2007) classify reading into four types: basic reading (developmental reading), reading to learn (school reading), functional reading, and reading for pleasure (recreational reading). Basic reading is the activity carried out by someone who is learning how to read. This activity is directed to enable students to see how spoken language is expressed by written language through the development of phonemic awareness, decoding abilities, and vocabulary development. Basic reading can be started at the kindergarten level up to grade 3. In grade 3 students should ideally be able to read and understand children's stories independently. Basic reading a very crucial skill because it is the foundation for the development of the other three types of reading.  If children master basic reading on time (in Grade 3), the other three types of reading will be easy to do.

Reading to learn is used to develop knowledge by reading. This is often referred to reading for comprehension, which is developed by mastering various sub-skills such as understanding the meaning of words using the context, synonyms/antonyms, or word analysis; comparing and linking information to construct meaning, identifying topics, main ideas, and supporting details; analyzing/evaluating information, and drawing conclusions.

Functional reading refers to activities directed to obtain information in everyday life. So, the goal is not to meet the demands of learning/academics but of personal or social needs. Reading maps, following instructions for cooking certain foods, or reading a manual for assembling a product are examples of functional reading.

Reading for fun is an activity that is carried out based on internal motivation, and is aimed at getting entertainment. Reading materials that are often used in reading for pleasure are short stories, novels, poems, or comics. Although its main purpose is for entertainment, reading for pleasure can turn into an experience that takes the reader to explore and experience an alternative world (Department forEducation, 2012). Because reading for fun involves cognition, emotion, and imagination at the same time, this activity usually provides deep involvement and lets the reader ‘participate’ in the life presented in the story.

Various studies have shown that one’s interest in functional reading and reading for learning arises only after he has read enough for pleasure. In other words, to develop students' interest in reading, he or she must first be facilitated with reading activities for pleasure, which should begin when children begin to master the verbal language by reading stories to them and when they start reading independently (grade 2 or 3) by facilitating them with lots of reading materials interesting to them.

This article discusses that although Indonesian national education has achieved a lot in terms of quantitative aspects, it is still left behind in terms of quality from the neighboring countries, and one of the main causes of the low quality is the reading crisis. Considering this, solving the reading crises is very strategic in the efforts to improve Indonesian national education quality. However, to formulate how to solve the reading crisis requires us to first identify the cause of the crisis. This identification is discussed in Why are Indonesian students suffering from the reading crisis? Based on this identification, suggestions are provided in Strategies to SolveIndonesian Students’ Reading Crisis. ***

What do you think about this article? Please write your views in the "Comments" section below.

The Indonesian version of this article could be accessed here

Author: Parlindungan Pardede (


  1. Impresive! I really enjoyed read this article. At the first I thought that the education in Indonesian has a low quality because of the students are lazy to study. But, after I read this article the biggest thing that can make Indonesian education still low is reading crisis.
    According to me the factor that causing a reading crisis is, the students implemented the Functional reading.

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  3. Just knew that reading is that crucial in influencing other academic skills like mathematics and science. And, yeah, I also have the same opinion in resolving Indonesian' reading crisis must be start from the very beginning when they are learning how to read. By teaching them to love to read since their childhood by providing interesting books to read will make a reading as their habit. By so, they will become a person who loves to read and will influence other to love to read, then the number of Indonesian who love to read will increase as well as the Indonesian' education quality.

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  5. I'm very interested to read the article. In this article, I find it the statement that said "although Indonesian national education has achieved a lot in terms of quantitative aspects, it is still left behind in terms of quality from the neighboring countries, and one of the main causes of the low quality is the reading crisis". I think, the statement above is correct. In my personal opinion, the main factor that causing a reading crisis in Indonesian students are themselves.

  6. Im so interested and impressive to read this article, because as we know in this era reading is the lowest activity or interest for the most people in this world in this era, there are many factor first, the invention of technology that makes everyone lazy to read a book and prefer to choose a game or something else, second,behaviour, and the third is interest. As I know reading a book is the important one to make us more get knowledge , experience and motivation, so how to make everyone loves read a book and realize that book is important for the future, first, give the book to our future or our child and tell them that reading is the most useful activity to get more knowledge from now on, second , we should love read and have interest to read a book, third, find a good time to make u relax to read a book.

  7. This article is very interesting. From reading this article I came to know that, reading not only affects the academic and non-academic fields but also in health. I agree that in order "to develop students' interest in reading, he or she must first be facilitated with reading activities for pleasure, which should begin when children begin to master the verbal language by reading stories to them and when they start reading independently (grade 2 or 3) by facilitating them with lots of reading materials interesting to them". This means, the role of parents is also very important to guide and motivate them to read, and also let them read with pleasure without coercion from anyone.

  8. Wow! When I was reading this article, I highlighted four types of reading, and I think I'm still the second or third type. When reading this part I'm thinking, it's no wonder if Indonesian has such a low interest in reading, and I think one of the reasons is Indonesia hasn't been in the fourth reading type. Surely the crisis of reading like this has had a profound impact of Indonesia education quality.

  9. This article is very suitable for Indonesia. One of them is a student because students in Indonesia are still lacking in reading. There is no interest in reading for Indonesian students to make, the country of Indonesia is the country with the least interest in reading. Many things affect one's interest in reading, incomplete facilities, support from the surrounding environment, and from within themselves. Very minimal facilities and book references on every campus in Indonesia make Indonesian students not interested. Supporters from the Environment also connect if we are in an environment that likes to read surely we are also involved with our environment, but if the environment around us does not receive interest in reading it can make us not interested in reading books. The factor of yourself also influences, because the more evolving era makes us have to get the existing era and forget to read a book.

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  11. I really enjoyed reading this article and I also have the same opinion about the critical issue of reading. At first, I thought that education in Indonesia has high quality. But, after I read the article about reading, UNESCO said that Indonesia was the lowest ranking country in reading. That is, Indonesia is lazy to read and cannot manage time well in learning. Therefore, I think this article is very suitable for students who are lazy to read. So they can improve their reading.

  12. i really like this article. According this article, we know reading is the important skill for us. Reading has positive impact for academic skills. But unfortunately, students in Indonesia very crisis in reading. it will make less education quality of Indonesia. That's why we as a youth generation must be aware to more reading. Like the author said in this article " if we reading we can think, if we not reading what we nothing "

  13. I think I am a person who is lazy to read, and that is true I will only read if I am interested in reading like a novel and I only read to meet the demands of learning. From this article, my reading types are 3 and 4, they are functional reading and reading for fun. To reduce the crisis of reading we must get used to reading since childhood, so that when we grow up we become people who are diligent in reading and have extensive knowledge.


  14. According to (Tarigan (1990:7) in Jaenal 2010) argues that reading is a process that is carried and used by readers who want to get the message delivered by the author through the medium of words or written language.
    Everyone knows what the benefits of reading are, including Indonesians. Unfortunately, reality says another. The crisis in reading makes education levels low. But I am sure. Education of Indonesia can advance if the population of Indonesia, including students, truly understands the benefits of reading as written by the author.


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