Since it was established, SMP Negeri 10, a state-run junior high school in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara
province has suffered from one major problem — there is no actual school. Founded in 2013 to serve the children of Goreng Meni on Flores Island, the school has lacked a school building and classrooms. Locals initially tried doing what they could and built makeshift classrooms out of bamboo, but they collapsed two years later after being hit by strong winds. The school's more than 90 students have to make do by either cramming into a small government office in the village or sitting under a tree to study. "If it rains, we have to quickly pack up everything and run to find shelter," Damianus Nabit, the school's principal told ucanews.com. Meanwhile, in Pong Kolong, a village in West Manggarai regency, a Catholic elementary school building built in 1967 is near collapse. The walls, the roof and even the floor are all in a state of disrepair and decay.
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"All the classrooms get wet when it rains. When there are strong winds, we are always afraid the place will collapse," said Yustina Jemina, a teacher at the school. Schools like these are very common in the Christian majority province of East Nusa Tenggara where Catholics make up 54 percent of the 4.9 million population. They also seem to paint a typical picture of its quality of education, which ranks rock bottom among Indonesia's 34 provinces, just above two other Christian majority provinces — Papua and West Papua. National exam results over the past several years have shown students in East Nusa Tenggara achieving way below the national average. Most senior high school students achieved marks of around 39 percent, significantly lower than the 62 percent national average. As a result there are many students who leave school without proper qualifications and end up in low paid jobs or look for work abroad exposing them to the dangers of human trafficking. Elementary school students in Pong Kolong, a village in West Manggarai regency of East Nusa Tenggara province, study in a dilapidated building. (Photo by Johnny M/ucanews.com) Various factors
Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, has focused much of his attention on the province in recent years because of the poor state of schooling
there. He says much of the problem can be blamed on poor management and corruption. "Both national and local government are half-hearted in taking care of education," he said. "Central government only disburses funds to local government, and supervision is very weak. Meanwhile, the local government does not have a clear vision in improving the quality of education," he added. Due to the lack of control, a lot of the funds are embezzled, while attention to facility and equipment procurement, as well as teacher competency levels are ignored, he claimed. Only last month a former East Nusa Tenggara provincial education official was sentenced to seven years in prison for embezzling US$ 5.5 million that was destined for school infrastructure and an out-of-school education program. Several other cases involving misappropriation of school assistance funds are currently being investigated. Father Mbula said that such practices have many impacts and to make matters worse the quality of teaching is also of major concern. "In addition to poor facilities, another is the absence of any effort to improve quality," he said. "Blatant cronyism on the part of local officials in the appointment of school principals at the expense of competence doesn't help either," he added. Father Mbula also pointed to recent results of a teacher competency test conducted by the Ministry of Education, which showed educators in East Nusa Tenggara scored lower than the national average. This only compounds the problem as teachers are the main source of learning in the province, since access to other sources such as books, newspapers and the internet are also scarce, he said.
"The appointment for a principal is also based on consideration of proximity to officials at the local level, not because of their competence," he said. Overcoming the problem
The central government is attempting to overcome the problem by significantly increasing this year's education budget
for East Nusa Tenggara from US$10.9 million last year to $66 million this year. Education Ministry general secretary, Didik Suhardi, says in addition to building new schools, the government wants to improve the quality and competence of teachers, in the form of training and workshops. It is also looking to collaborate with the Catholic Church in building a teacher training college run by the church. Indonesia's Education Minister Muhadjir Effendy has said the church is expected to play a more important role in the future, as schools managed by the church are always among the top in terms of quality. However, how successful these efforts are will depend on the commitment offered by local government, which takes a more hands on role in running schools, he said. "I must admit that so far, this commitment is still very weak," he told ucanews.com. Hope for new leaders
Effendy hopes that could change when the province goes to the polls on June 27 to elect a new governor. All four candidates say they will make education a priority. The problem is they have either talked about providing scholarships or sending students to study abroad, which miss the main issues, according to Father Mbula. The most important task is to utilize the budget efficiently for useful programs. "The province needs a leader who can monitor and supervise the use of the funds, so they can make a significant contribution to improve people's lives," Father Mbula said. Locals are inclined to be pessimistic. Robertus Ombe from Goreng Meni certainly is. Usually, during campaigns, all candidates promise good things, he said. "However, when they are elected they soon forget them."