The Jakarta Post
While more people are literate in the country, the country still struggles to make reading a habit.
A recent study conducted by John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, puts Indonesia in the second-lowest rank of 61 measurable countries for its 'literate behavior characteristics' ' everything from numbers of libraries and newspapers to years of schooling and computer availability.
Indonesia sits in 60th place after Thailand and before Botswana. The Scandinavian countries are the champions of the research with Finland in first place, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden rounding out the top five.
Hanna Pangestu, a third-grader at the state-owned senior high school SMAN 2 in South Tangerang, said that a one-hour reading session is scheduled every fortnight at her school, but the teacher is seldom present, so 'it's not conducive [to reading] and we end up doing other stuff, but not reading.'
Just like Hanna, who said that she only likes to read Japanese comic books, Muhammad Akhfin, a university student majoring in communications studies, said that he only likes novels.
'I like science fiction novels, but not news or history because I think they are boring,' he said.
Culture and Education Minister Anies Baswedan said that the illiteracy rate has in fact significantly decreased in the past 10 years.
'Indonesia has seen its illiteracy rate decrease significantly and we have many libraries, but the reading habit is still low because of a lack of passion,' he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
The ministry's data shows the percentage of illiterate people has decreased from 10.5 percent in 2005 to 3.7 percent in 2015.
Anies admitted that poor reading habits are a serious problem in the country despite the many libraries available.
Indonesia placed at the 36th rank in terms of the number of libraries, above countries like Portugal, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore.
The major setback in the country's assessment came from data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that shows only one out of 1,000 Indonesians is passionate about reading.
The study sets out data from 61 countries, drawing from sources ranging from UNESCO to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
'These kinds of literate behaviors are critical to the success of individuals and nations in the knowledge-based economics. Societies that don't practice literate behavior are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal and harsh,' Miller said as quoted by The Guardian.
Anies said that the School Literacy Movement outlined in Ministry Regulation No. 23/2015 suggested that every school provides 15 minutes of free reading time before school starts.
But students are slow to change.
Arief Rachman, UNESCO ambassador for Indonesia, said that besides school, regional government plays a big role in encouraging the habit.
Indonesia's Reading Movement seeks book-lover communities on the village level, while Reading Habit Development by the Language Centers needs regional leaders to also revamp their provincial libraries as well as those owned by state universities.
'Implementation at the regional level is the key. Leaders need to actively seek and create bookworm communities,' he told the Post.
'Communities need to be imposed with popular books or magazine that they like at the first place before moving on to the heavier themes of readings,' he went on saying.
Commenting on the study results, Arief said that Indonesia's low rank and Scandinavians' top positions correlates with each of the nations' cultures, as well as other factors.
'Indonesia has a verbal culture in which people talk more to relay information, while the Scandinavians have a more reserved nature.'