Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | 17:53 WIB

Reading culture, expanding internet access

Jakarta, IO – Striving to stay up with the rapid progress of technology, the Indonesian Government vows to actively expand internet access, to ensure very of a competitive society within a global context. In this regard, the Government continues to encourage the equal distribution of internet access throughout the archipelago; a Digital Indonesia Roadmap has been prepared, as several programs are launched. The “4G Base Transceiver Station (BTS) Project”, “Integrated Broadband Village Program”, and “Digital Village Program” are among the efforts in progress. 

Through these programs, Government installs necessary digital technology infrastructure and sets up an internet network. Many new BTS towers are being built, 4G cellular services have been introduced and other digital technology facilities are in motion, all of which are expected to provide wider access to information, as well as more inclusive learning opportunities for citizens throughout the archipelago. 

However, we should bear in mind that these programs possess the potential to work as a destructive technological leap, if the prerequisites for digital technology development are not met. In developed countries, digital technology access has been preceded by a vibrant reading culture. Before contemporary advances in internet access, developed countries already had a sufficiently active “reading culture”. 

Ely Nurhayati
Ely Nurhayati, Lecturer at the Faculty of Economics and Business, YARSI University

In contrast, Indonesian society lacks a reading culture. UNESCO laments that Indonesia is the second-lowest in terms of world literacy, meaning that Indonesian people’s interest in reading is extremely low. UNESCO research also revealed that only 0.001% of Indonesian people have any interest in reading per se. This means that out of every 1000 Indonesians there is only 1 person who likes to read and actively engages with print matter. 

In line with UNESCO data, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 research shows that Indonesian children’s reading ability is ranked 71st out of 81 countries, signifying the eleventh-worst in the world. PISA research lists Indonesia’s reading ability category score at only 359 points, far below a global average (OECD) of 476. 

Furthermore, as many as 74.54% of Indonesian children have reading skills with low comprehension or are at level 1 or below, another 19.33% only have basic reading skills (level 2), and only the remaining 6.13% have intermediate to high (level 3-6) in reading. These data show how alarming the reading culture and skills are in Indonesia today. 

The absence of reading culture in the midst of expanding internet access efforts represents a “missing link phenomenon”. With a low level of reading culture, programs to accelerate and democratize internet access are at risk of having more negative impacts than positive ones. 

Access to the internet for communities that do not yet have a reading culture, instead of broadening knowledge and supporting learning, actually risks degradation to low-impact activities such as addiction to social media, online games, online impulse buying etc. 

Zhang et.al (2023) found that excessive use of short-video applications and internet resulted in significant negative consequences among college students. Thus, even if the internet is used to seek knowledge, the actual process is at risk of not proceeding from sound academic principle, but rather only relying on superficial information from social media or artificial intelligence. 

Randhy Nugroho
Randhy Nugroho, Lecturer at the Faculty of Economics and Business, YARSI University

Apart from the negative impacts alluded to above, the use of internet, coupled with a lack of literacy among Indonesian people, also risks further negative impacts, namely, making people easy targets for provocation and fake news (hoaxes). The large mass of people who are easily provoked and easily exposed to hoaxes risks may give rise to a multiplier effect, in the form of other, worse social problems. In the end, without stimulating interest in reading, such a leap may in fact polarize and disrupt our society. 

To ensure that expanding internet access does not become a destructive technological leap, a program for expanding and equalizing internet access needs to be preceded by or at least augmented with efforts to foster a reading culture in society. Championing the quality of a reading culture should be designed within any “stick and carrot framework”, as the cause does not simply lie in individual preferences, but also weak structural efforts in educational settings. 

In a “stick” framework, concrete steps would involve banning the use of mobile phones at school level, because this can divert their attention from meaningful learning, and could even cause problems such as excessive social media consumption, online games, online impulse buying, risk of provocation, exposure to fake news, etc. This effort should also reach the student’s parents, to ensure that they have the right knowledge of smartphone strategy including screen time allocation and selective mobile application. The idea is not to discourage students from technology but rather to systemically introduce them in a correct manner. 

Within a “carrot” framework, the Government should proactively access both programs and infrastructure. First, present “reading corners” or “reading parks” in various public facilities such as hospitals, terminals, shelters, mosques, parks, etc. 

Second, establishing a quality library, one that not only provides books but also offers regular interactive programs that involve family members. It must take into account proximity to housing complexes and should be free of charge. 

Third, maintain a healthy dose of educational parenting, so parents might comprehend the value of reading for their family members. 

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Fourth, the government must be able to provide books at affordable prices. The high price of books, exacerbated by an 18.5% duty and tax, makes people reluctant to buy books, so that ultimately it is difficult to encourage their interest in reading. Providing cheap books can be done by eliminating taxes on book purchases while also subsidizing book prices. This effort may initially burden the APBN, but over the long term it can have a multiplier effect on the economy. Therefore, the Government needs to view this policy as an investment, not as a cost. 

We should never be allergic to technological progress per se. Yet, society must put sufficient provisions in place to manage a combination of technological progress with the ability to control its effects. This needs to start by creating a reading culture.