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Reform Indonesian education from the top down

Despite lofty goals, little progress in achieving education goals

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Reform Indonesian education from the top down

Indonesian children are seen at a school in Central Java in September, 2012 (Photo by Umpaporn / Shutterstock.com)

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The fourth debate during the presidential campaign last year, between the vice presidential candidates Hatta Rajasa and Jusuf Kalla, was mainly about education and human capital. Both stressed the importance of good education and strong research capacity for the future of the nation.

Despite these lofty aspirations, six months into the administration of President Joko Widodo and Vice President Kalla, the reality is that we haven’t made significant strides in the direction of achieving either.

Recent news items suggest that Indonesia has plenty of homework when it comes to boosting students’ science and maths skills and improving its overall talent pool.

To move forward and make sure future generations of Indonesians can compete in an integrated Southeast Asia, we need to focus on our teachers, and to that, we need to take a closer look at the Ministry for Education and Culture.

Reliable data

First, let’s ask a seemingly simple question: how many school teachers are there in Indonesia? Interestingly, nobody knows exactly.

Even within the Ministry for Education and Culture, there are two versions; the Center for Education Data (Dapodik) version and the “Padamu Negeri” (For You, My Country) version, based on a database developed independently by a body known as the Human Resources Development Agency of Education and Culture — Education Quality Assurance (BPSDMPK-PMP).

The Dapodik data state that there are 3,205,779 teachers in Indonesia. On the other hand, the “Padamu Negeri” data states that there are 3,015,315 teachers. While one may argue that the difference in number between the two sets of data is slight — a difference of around 6 percent — the fact that in 2015 the government allocated Rp 80 trillion ($6.1 billion) for teachers’ salaries means that Rp 4 trillion to Rp 5 trillion could be unaccounted for. That is by no means a trifling sum.

While the data from Dapodik and Padamu Negeri are currently being integrated and cleaned up in order to create a single, up-to-date database, the fact remains that apparently for years nobody has been sure about the exact number of teachers in Indonesia. So how has the ministry been able to justify its planning and budgets?


The second problem is one of accountability: it remains very difficult to know what happened to various programs, studies and projects that the ministry has commissioned throughout the years. Even though the ministry supposedly has a “data center,” in reality gaining access to reliable data is an impossible task.

For example, former education minister Daoed Joesoef once ordered a comprehensive assessment of all cultures in Indonesia. This was a massive project, with records that would supposedly fill several bookshelves. However, the results seem to have all vanished into thin air.

Over the years there have been projects and programs that suddenly disappeared, at times even before they were implemented or evaluated, and nobody knows whether these projects were successful or failed, and why. Taxpayer money seems to have been wasted with very little transparency, documentation and evaluation.

Education white paper

The third problem, which is very foundational, is the lack of a comprehensive policy document on Indonesian education. In other words: we do not know what our education system aims to achieve. While the Preamble of the Indonesian Constitution of 1945 bluntly states that one of the aims of the government is “to develop the intellectual life of the nation,” this is a very vague goal. What is a developed intellectual life?

A clear vision of Indonesian educational goals is needed. Granted, we do have a law on the national education system, and the ministry and the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) have tried to translate the law into plans and regulations such as the National Medium-term Development Plan (RPJMN), which contains lot of statistics and trends. Yet, neither amount to the Indonesian Education White Paper that we so desperately need.

Without a clear goal, changes are being made to the national curriculum based merely on the going academic or political fad — such as the “character-based” curriculum of 2013 — and those changes are never transparently and independently analyzed and evaluated.

Changes then are then expected to be implemented by teachers after training sessions of three to five days, leaving many confused. Without clear guidelines and proper training, how can we expect our teachers to perform better?

Streamlining policy making

The fourth problem is that there has long been a lack of coordination within the ministry itself.

Whenever the ministry is launching a new initiative or policy, almost all of its directorates start organizing trainings and seminars. While it could be argued that the beleaguered Indonesian teachers indeed need more training to improve their skills, the problem is that each directorate often comes up with its own interpretation of the new policy and many times, what the teachers are taught bears little semblance to what was originally intended.

Hope for the future

But fortunately, there is also some good news.

The elimination of the National Exam as the primary factor in deciding whether students graduate or not is a great step forward. More important, however, is the desire on the part of the ministry nowadays to consider real public input as part of the policy-making process, instead of merely relying on several experts who generally agreed with whatever the ministry proposed, as happened in the past. Recently the ministry even started to engage the general public in revising the curriculum. This shows that the ministry is committed to make necessary changes to improve the quality of Indonesian education.

Still, the ministry needs to understand that it should systematically include the general public in policy-making process, to understand what the community really wants and needs.

This Wednesday, on National Awakening Day, Indonesia remembers the founding of Budi Utomo, which played a key role in the early nationalist movement and was joined by the visionary and brilliant educator Ki Hajar Dewantara.

Ki Hajar Dewantara became the first Indonesian minister of education, after establishing the Taman Siswa school system in the early 1920s and promoting transparency as key to a successful education system. The Ministry of Education and Culture should take a leaf out of his book by practicing his mantra of Ing Ngarso Sung Tulodo: those who lead should become examples to others.

Weilin Han is a teacher-trainer, school consultant and education practitioner. Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer in international politics at the National Defense University (Unhan). Used with permission from The Jakarta Globe.

Original article: Commentary: Reform Indonesian education from the top down

Source: The Jakarta Globe

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