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Indonesia compels Catholic schools to up their game

New zonal education system means parents will have higher expectations as regular kids won't get to choose 'elite' schools

Indonesia compels Catholic schools to up their game

Indonesian high-school students take a selfie at the end of national examinations in Jakarta in this April 2014 file photo. Parents are concerned a new regulation requiring them to send their children to a school near their home will result in their children receiving a lower-quality education. (Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP)

The Indonesian government has ruled that from the start of the academic year in July a zoning system will be applied nationwide obliging elementary and secondary students who opt for public schools to enroll at nearby educational institutes.

The decision was made in the interests of preventing overcapacity and establishing a fairer distribution of students, the government said.

The system is being applied because students have tended to flock to popular schools even if they are located far from their homes, causing overcrowding.

The new law mandates they attend schools closer to their place of residence and offers the added benefit of giving them more time to enjoy extra-curricular activities in place of long commutes, education officials said.

But many parents, including Catholics, have objected to the policy because many public schools are considered to have lower-quality teachers and provide a subpar education.

Lukas Feryanto, 51, whose child attends one of the more coveted schools in Jakarta, said his family was disappointed with the government's change in stance. He said the school close to their home is considered of inferior quality with inadequate facilities.

"To be honest this has got us a bit worried," he said. "It means more parents will have to send their kids to private schools that are better [but which cost more money]."

Catholic Johanes Suhardi, 43, initially sent one of his children to a public high school but was so concerned by the boy's grades that he moved him to a Catholic-run school.

"The government should offer students and parents the freedom to pick the school of their choice," he said.

Franciscan Father Vincentius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, agreed that more parents would now be financially encumbered by the prospect of paying for a private school.

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"The policy is an opportunity for Catholic schools to improve their quality, record of academic excellence and also be more publicly accountable," the priest told ucanews.com, on June 28.

The zoning system was approved by Muhadjir Effendy, Indonesia's minister of education and culture, through a ministerial decree in 2017 but will take effect from this July.

Effendy said it also aims to narrow the gap between rich and poor students, which was widening as the most preferred schools were becoming disproportionally filled with children from affluent families.

"The new system has been designed to accommodate both rich and poor students and eliminate this sense of favoritism for different schools," he said.

Father Mbula said the policy would directly impact Catholic schools as parents expectations would now be higher.

"We have to respond to this measure urgently by taking the quality of education we provide to the next level," he said.

"Because parents won't be happy sending to their kids to a school near home if they don't think it is good enough."

Catholic schools dot the nation's 37 archdioceses and dioceses, but most cater to children from underprivileged or impoverished families.

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