If most kids today don't like reading, culture is often blamed as if it were the sole causal factor contributing to the lack of interest in reading among them. Our culture, it is often said, is a culture that does not encourage people to read. It is an oral culture, not reading culture, as is generally known.
This generalization, however, is not entirely correct. In fact, it is quite hard to see the correlation of cultural aspects and one's interest in literacy.
Young kids are basically avid readers. They like reading, and in fact, much of their time reading. Many bookstores are crowded with young kids reading books. Public libraries and community libraries are now popular and are on the rise, meeting young people's need for access to books.
Recent studies in literacy development have revealed that children and adults take advantage of access to books they find enjoyable and interesting. They spend time reading to entertain themselves and not just to meet academic assignments.
If young people have developed a love for reading, we teachers and parents need to support them in a variety of ways.
Helping them gain access to books both at school and at home is one way. Another way includes parents and teachers serving as models, which is a necessary stimulus for children's literacy development.
Thus, a commonly held belief that Indonesia does not have a reading culture is a myth. However, it makes more sense to relate the "literacy crisis" not in terms of culture, but rather in terms of the teaching of literacy at school, access to books and poverty.
The teaching of reading at school does not really help improve reading skills. I once carried out research at a senior high school in Jakarta. Using a questionnaire and interviews as my data collection, I explored problems related to reading comprehension. The findings indicated that overall students had little interest in reading. The reasons for this varied. Among them are not knowing how to read effectively, not understanding the text due to complex grammar and vocabulary, and having no interest in the topic.
The result of an interview with their teacher confirmed these findings. However, they were unable to offer practical clues in arousing students' passion for reading and to encourage them to become good readers.
This finding implies that we are neither supportive nor facilitative in helping young people acquire literacy skills in a second language.
Access to books has also become one of the most serious barriers for promoting literacy in the country. Children hailing from low-income families suffer the most from the lack of access to reading materials. This limitation undoubtedly impedes students' literacy development in a significant way.
No access to the print environment results in both child and adult illiteracy. If it is believed that access to more books can lead to language and literacy development, there is no best way to help stimulate young children to read but to provide them with a print-rich environment.
Thanks to the government's commitment to eradicating illiteracy in the country, the number of illiterate people is decreasing. However, what the government has yet to focus on is providing better access to public libraries in remote regions.
It is clear that it is access to rich a print-environment and effective teaching strategies that matter to language and literacy development. It is these factors that need our serious attention in helping young people accelerate their literacy skills both in their first and second languages.
The writer used to teach English to young learners. She can be reached at evariestj@.yahoo.com.