Indonesian Minister of Education Muhadjir Effendy (left) talks with Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, about ways to improve education in Christian-majority provinces on March 21. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)
Indonesia will focus on improving the quality of education provided in three eastern, Christian-led provinces in cooperation with local churches, Minister of Education and Culture Muhadjir Effendy said.
Papua, West Papua and East Nusa Tenggara consistently rank at the bottom of the table in terms of education among the country's 34 provinces.
"We still face huge challenges, especially in [improving] public schools. But I am optimistic that working more closely with the church will make the government's job in this area easier," Effendy said on March 21 during a meeting with the National Council of Catholic Education (MNPK).
The MNPK, a work unit of the Bishops' Conference, is responsible for 5,000 Catholic schools across the country.
Effendy lavished praise on the quality of education at Catholic schools, adding he wants to see what can be taken and applied in public schools.
"There are many best practices in Catholic schools that can be adopted by other schools," he said.
The three provinces have much work to do before they can compete with other parts of the country in education quality, but Catholic schools including seminaries are generally considered a cut above.
Effendy said he visited the three provinces to discuss ways of effecting change with local government officials. They cited problems related to facilities, teachers and school management, he added.
The government raised the education budget for the three provinces this year and is likely to continue doing so to improve school facilities and install better-qualified teachers and principals, the minister said.
For East Nusa Tenggara, the government has set aside US$66 million this year, a more than fivefold increase from the US$10.9 million granted in 2017 to give students a more comprehensive education.
Effendy said the MNPK will help to organize teacher training programs and the government will support funding.
"I came to the conclusion the government cannot walk alone, so we decided to invite the private sector to participate, especially the church," he said.
Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the MNPK, welcomed the plan.
"Our commitment is to help the government with its programs," he said.
These efforts will be bolstered by the establishment of teacher-training centers in some areas in eastern Indonesia, he added.
"We will select the teachers who will become facilitators," he said, adding the government must continue to work with the church in order to maximize results.
"Funding for public schools is quite high but the results have been minimal," he said.
Robertus Ombe, a resident of Benteng Jawa in East Manggarai district, East Nusa Tenggara said he hoped the government would pour in the necessary resources to make the scheme a success.
He cited the case of a junior high school that was established in his village five years ago but which local people had to donate one hectare of land to as the government did not provide it.
"Hopefully, the government will fully realize its commitments this time," he said.
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