Skip to main content

Strategies to Solve Indonesian Students’ Reading Crisis

If you want different results than what you're getting, you have to try different approaches. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein).
Image Credit:
Key takeaways:
  1. Improving the current instruction practice of learning to read 
  2. Transforming the oral culture into literacy
  3. Improving the national education system, esp. the objectives and learning processes
  4. Improving reading facilities and infrastructure
  5. Guiding students to use technology wisely
  6. Increasing family support. 

The previous articleReading Crisis: The Culprit of Indonesian Education Low Quality, shows that Indonesia's national education that had lasted for almost 75 years has been successful in various quantitative aspects but is still slumped in terms of quality. One of the main cause of the low quality is the crisis reading in reading skills and interest. The neglect of reading as a foundation and a success factor in learning has a detrimental impact on the other aspects of learning. When students’ reading interest and proficiency are in crisis, the other aspects of learning are also in crisis. The second article, Why Indonesian students are suffering fromreading crisis, identifies six causes of reading crisis among Indonesian students. Based on this identification, the discussion in this article focuses on several strategies to overcome the crisis to improve the quality of learning.

The first strategy to overcome the crisis of reading among Indonesian students is to improve the current practice of learning to read. The discussion in the previous has revealed that recent learning practices failed to develop students' basic reading skills and interest in reading for pleasure. ACDP’s (2012) study revealed that only 50% of the third graders of 184 elementary schools in 7 provinces in Indonesia could read fluently and understood most of the contents of the text they read and only 29% of the teachers used effective methods and student-centered approach in learning to read. This finding indicates that improving the basic reading instruction in the primary schools in Indonesia is very urgent.

Basic reading is the foundation for developing the other three types of reading (reading to learn, functional reading, and reading for pleasure). In general, the most effective time to learn basic reading is when children are 6 to 9 years old. That is why the period when students are in grades 1 to 3 must be optimized for basic reading mastery. The activities of learning to read usually begin with one’s understanding of language sounds and written symbols relationship, decoding, and basic vocabulary development. After that, in grades 2 and 3, the learning activities focus on fluency and comprehension (meaning-making) improvement conducted by dealing with the texts having an increasing level of difficulty.
The activities to improve fluency and understanding in grades 2 and 3, however, should be facilitated with the program of reading for pleasure. It is carried out by offering various types of storybooks interesting to them. The students should have the freedom to choose the books they like. During this period, assigning students to read difficult textbooks should be avoided because it can create the impression that reading is a burdensome experience which can lead to students’ loss of pleasure to read. If the third-graders have already got around 100 common vocabularies that allow them to fluently read (with appropriate understanding) a simple story when they are in grade 4 they can start to develop reading strategies/techniques to learn. Meanwhile, students should be continuously facilitated to read for pleasure.
Realizing the importance of basic reading skills mastery for the lower graders, why do some teachers tend to “ignore” that some of their students lack the basic skills? One of the reasons is the view that these students will master the skills naturally as they deal with more and more texts. This view holds that the process of reading skills mastery is similar to speaking skills acquisition. Recent research, however, has shown that this view is unjustified. According to Moats and Tolman, oral communication has been used for so long that the human brain, which evolves since 100,000 years ago, has fully adapted to process spoken language. This is why children can master their mother tongue naturally, without the need to be taught. Conversely, the written language is still relatively new. Schmandt-Besserat asserted that the first writing system, "cuneiform script" was created in Mesopotamia in 3,200 BC, while the alphabet was invented in 1500 BC. So, humans just read and write using the alphabet since 2,500 years ago, and the human brain has not evolved to recognize it. That is why reading cannot be acquired naturally. It must be taught.
By ensuring that the students in the low grades of the primary school have successfully mastered the basic reading skills, we can then easily help them develop the other three types of reading. Makenzi (2004) asserted that student’s lack of basic reading skills mastery has caused millions of children in developing countries unable to develop further reading skills like what their peers in developed countries have enjoyed. Therefore, students’ mastery of basic reading skills should be made a priority in the lower grades of primary schools.
The second strategy is to transform the Indonesian society propensity for oral into literacy culture. Ancient writings discovered in various regions of Indonesia are dominated by religious texts, not scientific records. By tradition, those entitled to read the texts are merely religious leaders, i.e., priests or monks. Laypersons are supposed to study the texts only by listening to sermons or talks. As a result, community members become accustomed only to verbal communication. Such tradition still occurs in various forms of activity to this day. Most Indonesians like to watch 'talk shows' and are fond of 'chatting' rather than reading. To deepen religious understanding, most Indonesians also prefer to listen to sermons, lectures, or speeches. In educational institutions, the lecture method still dominates. Most academics even prefer to attend seminars in distant places rather than reading books and references although they know that the quality of knowledge gained through reading is far more complete and understood than through lectures and seminars. All of these make reading to learn, functional reading, let alone reading for pleasure are unfamiliar activity for many Indonesians. To improve Indonesian national education, transforming the oral tradition to literacy is highly necessary.
Using a sociological perspective, Comte (2018) divides the development of human civilization into three stages: theological, metaphysical, and positive. Al-Zastrouw explained that during the theological stage, culture was characterized by myths and superstitions as reflected in primitive societies. The metaphysical stage is dominated by beliefs in laws of nature that can be accepted by reason. The positive phase is characterized by a belief in empirical data as a source of knowledge. Oral culture is essentially at a transition phase between the theological stage to the metaphysical stage. Thus, people merely prioritizing the oral culture are principally still far from the modern society located in the positive stage and characterized by literacy. This theory indicates any nation aiming to live in a modern society should transform from the oral to the literate culture.
The government and religious, social, and customary institutions play an important role in such a cultural transformation. I cannot be done by schools alone. Al-Zastrouw proposed two strategies, namely soft culture and hard culture, to realize the transformation. Both strategies must be simultaneously and continuously implemented. Soft culture is carried out by exploring, developing, and inculcating religious and customary values, teachings, wisdom, and traditions that can encourage the growth of reading culture. The hard culture strategy is conducted through the provision of facilities that encourage the development of reading interest among the community, including a variety of books the community can easily access, a comfortable library with friendly and nice services, and events that motivate the public to read books.
The third strategy is to improve the national education system, especially in its objectives and learning processes. Up to now, there is a false assumption about the essence of education in public schools. Many members of the community, government, teachers, and students at all levels of education view the purpose of learning is just to pass the exam, especially the national exam with an as high score as possible and obtain a diploma. In Raka's words, many people see schools are as factories that employ teachers as the "machines", use a production system named curriculum, and produce graduates with the national examination score as the quality standard. In practice, this view is implemented through the system that made the national exams sacred and the society's great enthusiasm to carry out and participate in quizzes or Olympic competitions at various levels (local, regional, national, and international). Both types of activities have directly and indirectly confirmed that the purpose of learning is to be able to handle tests or examinations.
Such a view makes most teachers prioritize the completion of all teaching materials. They believe it can make their students better prepared for the test. To complete all materials teachers generally use the lecture method which makes the teaching process easier and faster. However, it does not provide students with the opportunity to read for fun and to read deeply. They simply listen to the teacher's explanation, take notes, make a summary of the material and formulas, memorize the summary and the formula, and practice working on the problem (drilling). With such learning methods, only a few teachers could implement the Regulation of the Minister of Education and Culture No. 23 of 2015, regarding the obligation of all students to read 15 minutes before a class begins. Most teachers thought that practice only reduced the time necessary to complete the 'targeted' material.
Concerning this problem, the elimination of the national exam (UN) as one of the efforts to realize the policy of “learning free” by the Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim must be seen as an opportunity to increase opportunities for students to increase their reading interest and skills. The abolition of the UN and the granting of the mandate to the teacher to conduct students’ learning assessments provide a large space for teachers to apply student-centered learning. By combining the approach with appropriate learning methods and substituting the evaluation patterns from the objective questions to making products, paper writing, and report making, students will actively engage in the learning process. Including the knowledge and skills discovery through reading activities. In this context, flipped learning is highly recommended to apply in all levels of education to actualize the student-centered learning approach.
The fourth strategy is to improve reading facilities and infrastructure, i.e. the hard culture strategy proposed by Al-Zastrouw. The availability of a variety of interesting books and comfortable reading places will greatly encourage students to read for pleasure. In many developed countries, reading for fun among students can be realized because books interesting to them are available not only in school libraries but in the classrooms as well. In contrast, Fayose (2003) reports that adolescents in Nigeria did not read for pleasure because they did not find books interesting to them. The majority (85%) of the participants stated that they did not visit the library because the existing book collection did not meet their interests.
Up to the present day, school libraries' development and provision of interesting books for students have not been a priority in Indonesia. It has long been a public secret that most schools in remote areas do not have adequate libraries. Even school libraries in big cities are also not well managed. The book collection tends to consist of textbooks only. Books that support reading for pleasure are very limited. Even if such books exist, most are old-fashioned and worn-out publications. Such conditions can certainly not be used to foster reading interest in students because reading interest can be honed only by first facilitating them to read for pleasure. This can be realized if they can select and grab books interesting to them anytime they’d like to.
To illustrate, let’s assume that we need to facilitate a storybook for every student to develop their reading for pleasure. That means the students at one level (class) need an interesting storybook per week. That means they need 50 different storybooks per year.  If the program is carried out from grade 3 to grade 12, in a year we need 50 titles X 10 classes = 500 titles. Then to make it possible for the students at every level to have diverse choices, we can gradually (let's say in five years) add more books to have 5.000 titles. How can we find these books? First, we can select Indonesian folklores from various regions adapt them to suit the educational needs, and write them in good Bahasa Indonesia. Second, we can republish many of the interesting books existing in the current library. Third, we can adapt some Indonesian classical literary works into today’s Indonesian language. Finally, we can translate world literary and non-fiction works into Indonesian. By having the opportunity to select a book out of 500 and the society, school, and family’s encouragement to keep on reading, to a higher extent, the majority of Indonesian students will be avid readers in the next decades.
The fifth strategy is to guide students to use information technology wisely. Technology can be very useful if it is properly used as a means to access, store and read textbooks, articles, novels, short stories, and other documents in digital form. Technology can also be effectively employed as a means for discussing and exchanging ideas with others. Conversely, technology will be very detrimental if students use it only to access summaries that avoid them to deeply read the books assigned by the teacher or to copy-paste other persons’ work to complete the assignment from the teacher.
Recent research on the effectiveness of using printed vs. digital texts for reading comprehension has not yielded conclusive results. Some researchers reported that digital text is more effective to use for students’ understanding, while other studies claimed printed text is more effective. Despite the inconclusive results, however, because the digital text is still a very new phenomenon, many researchers propose to use printed text for reading long and complex texts (textbooks and novels), whereas short texts can be read effectively by using technology. In other words, the use of printed and digital text should be done wisely.
The sixth strategy is to increase family support. Family and parents have long been acknowledged to have a critical role in the healthy development of their children, because children's happiness and health have a positive impact on the climate of the school, resulting in improvement in academic outcomes. Family’s support for increasing students' interest in reading can be realized in three forms. First, parents need to participate in motivating and instilling reading interest to their children by reading stories to them while they are in kindergarten, willing to listen when their children read a story, and preserving time to discuss or respond to their children's questions about the book they are reading. Second, after students begin to read independently (grade 2 or 3), parents need to help facilitate the children with various books appropriate to their age. In this context, buying good books as a birthday present or as a gift in other forms of celebration needs to be considered. Third, if parents read books regularly, their children will have a living example, and learning by examples can be far more powerful than being lectured, given a gift, or being punished, including in the reading interest development,
Reading is a complex activity involving many factors. So the efforts to develop reading interest among Indonesian students need to involve various strategies that synergize the parties and factors involved. This article, based on the problem identification carried out in the previous article, proposes six strategies, namely: (1) improving the current practice of learning to read instruction; (2) transforming oral culture into literacy; (3) improving the national education system, particularly in its objectives and learning processes; (4) improving reading facilities and infrastructure; (5) guiding students to use technology wisely; and (6) increasing family support. The six strategies are described globally. The details for implementation need to be formulated by all stakeholders. ***

The strategies described above may not resonate with you most. Therefore, we’d like to hear from you. What other strategy do you propose to develop Indonesian students' reading interest and skills? Sound off in the comments section below.

The Indonesian version of this article could be accessed here.

Author: Parlindungan Pardede (


  1. I like this article, I think if the sixth strategies implemented well ,it will solve the reading crisis in Indonesian students.

    I don't know how to explain it. But, we can call this as a strategy to solve the reading crisis. It will be better if we build the reading club. The overview like this, students in the group are given one book and they are asked to read the book in 1 week. After read the book they are asked to come to the reading club then they are asked to recount, or give their response about the book. From there they not only read and responded but they also fought with their friends in mastering the book. Indirectly, their interest in reading also increased somewhat. Moreover, becoming more prominent is desirable for students today.

  2. This is an interesting article.. This quote is very interesting "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" (Albert Einstein).

    I think these two things we can do to develop interest in reading :
    1. Implement daily reading habits. Students can use about 15 to 30 minutes to read any books they like, then every week they can add their time to read.

    2. Take advantage of the waiting time. They can use the time waiting to read a book, for example during break time at school, when students wait for school pickup, waiting for the train, waiting for the bus or whatever.

  3. I agree that the sixth strategies above are useful in solving the crisis reading in Indonesia, namely (1) improving the current practice of learning to read instruction; (2) transforming oral culture into literacy; (3) improving the national education system, particularly in its objectives and learning processes; (4) improving reading facilities and infrastructure; (5) guiding students to use technology wisely; and (6) increasing family support. However, we can see that the sixth strategies talked here all are external factors. There is no internal factor talked here in solving the reading crisis. Meanwhile the internal factors are also have an important impact in solving a thing like this. So, as addition factors to solve reading skills, internal factors are also needed.

  4. This article is very interesting to me and I love it. I believe if all of us implemented the sixth of strategies above in ourself, then the quality of education in Indonesia will be higher than before. But besides that, I also agree with Candeni's statement that said" if the internal factors are also have an important impact in solving a thing like this". According to me, the internal factor that solving a reading crisis is motivation to read.

  5. Yeah, I totally agree with this article, strategy to overcome the reading crisis. In addition, I have several views to overcome the reading crisis. First, take advantage of free time by reading, for example, when we are waiting for someone, waiting for a scheduled departure, or even other free time that is only 10 minutes is very valuable used for reading. Second, for a specific time or target reading, this might be a little difficult, so it requires seriousness to get started. For example, before going to sleep, or 1:10 (1 hour of reading, 10 minutes of rest).

  6. The article is very interesting and very suitable for me who is a little lazy with reading. Honestly, I only read books if they are interesting, not all books that I read. The book that I read also consists of novels, poems, and historical stories that I find interesting. Can be read I rarely read, and only read if interested. However, for now, I am an automatic learner, I have to read a lot so that I don't miss out on knowledge. So I ask for two things so that my interest in reading is there. First, I look for reference books that are suitable for my major, but I am looking for books that I am interested in. That way there will be an interest in reading, and make us addicted to reading.
    Second, try reading books 4 times a day such as a morning, afternoon, evening, night. You try to read the morning for 10 minutes and so on. That way you will definitely get used to it. Just like me every time before going to bed there must be reading that I read.

  7. i agree with this article. To be honest, i'm the lazy one who have not interested with reading. I'm very lazy to read an article when i saw the article was very long. But, i realized that reading is very important for us.

  8. I feel motivated after reading this article. The six strategies can solve the reading crisis in Indonesian students. Honestly, I am one of the students who are lazy to read. Since my elementary school was not interested in reading books. The negative impact, I often miss information both in school and outside of school. Even if I read a book, I only read books that can interest me. But, I slowly tried to like a book to read until I was interested in reading more. It also had an impact on my lecture at this time. Where in lectures students are required to read, so they have good reading skills. therefore, it can motivate my interest in reading by applying the six strategies that can solve my reading crisis. namely: (1) improving the current practice of learning to read instruction; (2) transforming oral culture into literacy; (3) improving the national education system, particularly in its objectives and learning processes; (4) improving reading facilities and infrastructure; (5) guiding students to use technology wisely; and (6) increasing family support. The six strategies should be implemented for a lot of students, especially for the student who is lazy to read.

  9. I agree. I agree with the author. One of six strategic according to the author is increasing family support.
    Someone said that: “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” – Napoléon Bonaparte
    Family is the first supporter of the children because the family is the closest to the child and knows about the child progressing very well. encouragement from the family can move the urge from within himself. the family not only supports it, but learns to both learn to like reading.
    In addition, the family must also be able to make children realize that reading is very good and has a good impact in the future.

  10. I strongly agree with this article. With the six strategies above, efforts to develop reading interest among Indonesian students will be solved. I propose to develop the reading interest and skills of Indonesian students, by making it a habit to read since childhood as my previous comment on the article "reading crisis" so we have extensive knowledge.

  11. This article is perfect for those of us who are doesn’t like to read. From some of the strategies above, we can follow the one we like to make us intend to read. Many people read only read what we like, or we only need to find some information, the rest has no intention to read. Reading is very important to have extensive knowledge. Therefore, we must start to think that reading is fun.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. I agree with the previous commenter that not so many people like to read, especially documents. That's how I decided to divorce my stupid ex. I gave him a few papers telling him to sign them as they are some new billing rules. But those papers were actually made at site and were about uncontested divorce ;)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Types and Functions of Plot

Type of Plots  The plot used in fictions can be differentiated into four types: linear, episodic, parallel, and flashback. The most common plot employed in short stories is the linear plot. Some short stories, though quite rarely, also use flashback plot. The episodic and parallel plots, however, are found only in long fiction, i.e. novels. Short storied do not use episodic and parallel plots because short stories normally concentrate on a single event with a very limited number of characters, while episodic and parallel plots include a series of events or more than one plot. The following section describes each plot briefly. The Linear Plot The linear plot (sometimes is also called dramatic or progressive plot) presents action or occurrences chronologically. It typically starts with an exposition (or introduction to the setting and characters) and the conflict. After that, the rising action follows which leads to a climax. Soon after the climax, falling action emerges which brings

Identifying a Research Problem (and Writing the Statement of the Problem)

  Research is essentially a problem-driven process. It starts and focuses on a specific problem or phenomenon. During the research process, data is collected and theories are elaborated to explain the problem. In other words, identifying and determining the problem to study is the first and the most important aspect to deal with in undertaking research. Thus, the research problem is the foundation of a research project. If the foundation is shaky the entire project is doomed to failure. Despite its critical importance, identifying and stating a research problem are the most challenging aspects of undertaking research, especially for novice researchers. This might be due to an insufficient understanding of how to identify and write for a study. This article describes research problem identification as the first step of a research process. It starts by describing what a research problem is, how to identify it, and where to obtain it. Then it briefly probes the criteria for determining a

An Analysis of the Theme of Hemingway’s “Old Man at the Bridge”

  An Analysis of the Theme of Hemingway’s “Old Man at the Bridge” Introduction The theme is one of the most interesting elements of fiction, including a short story. It refers to the central idea or meaning that the author wants to convey to the readers. Some stories convey a single theme, but some other stories have several themes. Since short stories are related to human life, Alternbend and Lewis (1966, p. 78) define theme as “The general vision of life or the more explicit proposition about human experience that literature conveys”. In relation to this, one of the easiest ways to determine the theme of a short story is by asking ourselves, “What does the story say about life? The theme of fiction is generally presented through the other elements of fiction, particularly the plot and characterization. This article is a venture to analyze the theme of Hemingway’s Old Man at the Bridge . This story is interesting to analyze due to two reasons. First, it is based on Hemingway’s exp