Children’s Literacy in Indonesia

Literacy is a fundamental skill that should be stimulated in children from an early age, between the ages of 0 and 6. According to Hasanah and Deiniatur (2019: 12), literacy is not just about basic reading, writing, and counting skills. In the modern sense, literacy includes language skills, numeracy, interpreting images, computer literacy, and various efforts to acquire knowledge. These skills will later become the foundation for children to use in their daily lives. However, the low interest in literacy among the general population is one of the problems currently faced in the field of education in Indonesia. This issue is not only prevalent among adults but also among school-age children and even preschoolers.

According to a survey conducted by Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in their World’s Most Literate Nations Ranked report, which ranks literacy behavior and supporting resources in 61 countries, Indonesia ranks 60th, far behind Malaysia and Singapore. The CCSU survey findings are consistent with data from UNESCO, which states that the reading interest of the Indonesian population is only around 0.001%, which means that only 1 out of 1000 Indonesians actively engage in reading.

Another research supporting the low level of literacy in Indonesia is the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which ranked Indonesia 62nd out of 70 countries in terms of literacy skills in 2019. From 2012 to 2015, the PISA scores for reading in Indonesia only increased by 1 point, from 396 to 397. For science, the scores increased from 382 to 403, and for mathematics, they increased from 375 to 386. These test results indicate that the reading comprehension and ability to use reading materials, particularly text documents, among Indonesian children aged 9-14, are among the lowest in the world.

The issue of literacy levels and skills is also influenced by the quality disparities in education across different regions. Data shows that over 50% of early-grade students in Papua are unable to read because they cannot recognize letters. Furthermore, 60% of fourth-grade students in primary schools are categorized as having low literacy skills. The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), conducted by ACDP Indonesia with support from USAID, systematically measures the reading skills of early-grade students in various regions. The first assessment in 2012 involved 4,233 third-grade students from 184 schools across 7 provinces. The results showed that while the students could read words in the Indonesian language, they did not necessarily understand what they were reading. Only half of the students were able to comprehend the text well enough to answer at least 4 out of 5 questions correctly. The second assessment in 2014, involving 4,812 second-grade students, showed that less than half of them were proficient in reading and understanding the text. Only 26% of the students could answer 3 out of 5 questions correctly, and 5.8% of the students could not read at all. The assessment also revealed that children in Java and Bali had better reading and comprehension skills compared to children in other regions of Indonesia. Children from eastern Indonesia had the lowest level of reading comprehension. These facts clearly demonstrate a significant gap in reading abilities between children in remote areas and those living in urban centers.

The low interest in reading in Indonesia can be influenced by several factors, such as the lack of early reading habits. However, the early years of a child’s life, known as the golden age, are a critical period for their rapid growth and development, during which parents can shape their child’s character.

On average, Indonesian people read books only 3-4 times a week, with an average daily reading duration of 30-59 minutes. Moreover, the average number of books completed per year is only 5-9 books. These data are based on the research conducted by the National Library in 2017. Data obtained from Ikapi is also quite surprising. On average, Indonesians only buy 2 books per year. This clearly indicates the small quantity involved.

One of the negative impacts of the low level of literacy culture in the nation is the increasing spread of hoaxes among the public. The dissemination of hoaxes becomes faster and easier due to the low level of literacy culture. Crime, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as poverty and inequality, are also consequences of the low level of literacy. Therefore, there is a need for public awareness to enhance interest and literacy skills from an early age. Interest in literacy needs to be developed from early childhood so that this literacy culture can be ingrained as children grow up and become a habit. According to Kimbey in Permatasari (2015), habit is an action that is repeated without coercion, which is not something innate but a result of learning processes and the influence of experiences and the surrounding environment.

In the current digital era, which is becoming increasingly advanced with rapidly evolving technology, many parents and young generations are more interested in using gadgets to obtain information because it is considered faster and easier, causing books to no longer be the primary medium for acquiring the desired information. This instant and easy condition ultimately shapes the mindset of the younger generation, who rely on information search engines, leading to a decline in interest in literacy. This also happens to young children who are introduced to gadgets from an early age, making them more interested in playing with gadgets and watching videos on the internet rather than engaging in more beneficial activities such as reading books, writing, and drawing. However, all these simple activities can help develop children’s literacy skills.

Children’s literacy culture is more easily nurtured with the role of parents. According to Soejono Soekamto, a role is the part played by someone. In other words, a role means a part of the tasks that must be performed. Meanwhile, according to M. Arifin, parents are individuals who educate and nurture within the family environment. Therefore, the role of parents is participation in the process of educating children. In this regard, the roles that parents can take to enhance literacy include:

1. Parents should serve as role models for their children to develop a liking for reading. If parents themselves are not fond of reading books, they can start by reading light articles in the mass media.

2. Encourage children to visit local libraries or nearby public libraries. By visiting libraries, children become familiar with sources of reading materials.

3. Use books as rewards when children achieve milestones. Taking children to bookstores and buying them books they desire can shape their personalities to love books. Books become something important and essential to possess, more so than toys and clothes.

4. Equally important is parents’ control in providing nutritious books to children. Not all books are beneficial for children’s development. Only quality books can cultivate positive character traits in children. In this case, parents play a vital role in selecting which readings are wholesome and which are misleading.

The government’s efforts to improve education, including reading interest, have been implemented through various initiatives, such as promoting a reading culture as stipulated in Government Regulation No. 24 of 2014 on the implementation of Law No. 43 of 2007 concerning libraries. Article 74, Paragraph 1, regarding the Recognition of Cultivating Reading Interest, states that cultivating reading interest should be done through national reading campaigns, providing affordable and quality books, and developing and utilizing libraries as learning processes. This national reading campaign mandated by Government Regulation No. 24 of 2014 is further strengthened by Ministerial Regulation No. 23 of 2015 concerning Character Development. In Part IV, which focuses on developing students’ potentials holistically, schools should provide optimal facilities for students to recognize and develop their potentials. To achieve this goal, schools are required to allocate 15 minutes before the start of each school day for reading books other than textbooks (every day). Additionally, the government promotes literacy programs in schools and the general community by establishing school libraries and public libraries.

For young children, there are several simple activities that can be done to enhance their interest in literacy, with the assistance of adults, whether parents or preschool teachers. One effort that can be made is to use engaging learning media that captures the attention of young children. According to Dewi (2017), learning media is the medium or tool used to convey lessons to young children because they cannot be separated from learning media. However, the principle is that the tool used as a learning medium should stimulate all aspects of a child’s development and overcome boredom, thus ensuring effective learning. The most suitable learning medium for young children is books. A survey conducted by one division of the United States Department of Education showed that toddlers who were read books by their parents were able to recognize the alphabet at an earlier age. Another survey demonstrated the success of toddlers in early literacy stages, such as writing their own names, reading or interacting with books, and counting up to 10. The selection of books should also be age-appropriate. Parents can use appealing media such as picture storybooks. According to Zonna (2014), picture storybooks are a medium for delivering various messages through books presented in both text and images. Picture storybooks are highly favored by young children because they contain numerous illustrations, colors, and simple stories presented in an attractive manner, which captivates the interest of young children. Furthermore, parents can also read bedtime stories to their children. By telling bedtime stories, parents can foster children’s interest in literacy through simple tales or stories shared with young children every night before they sleep. This can develop a habit of listening to stories in children. Reading also helps children develop their vocabulary, listening skills, and comprehension abilities.

Children’s interest in literacy can also be built through simple activities in their daily routines, such as shopping, as shopping is an activity that children greatly enjoy. Parents can ask their children to make a shopping list of items to be purchased at the supermarket or count the number of items being bought. Although simple, involving children in these activities makes them feel valued and enthusiastic, thus increasing their interest in literacy.

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