Indonesia's minister of education and culture, Muhadjir Effendy
, has emphasized the importance of working closely with the Catholic Church to address problems with the education system in many parts of the country including Papua. Effendy, who attended a meeting of the National Council of Catholic Education
that ended on Nov. 25 in Jayapura, said the ministry aims to improve the deteriorating state of education in Papua. He said help was needed from both the church and educators. The minister lauded the church's high-quality education programs for Papuan students
, including providing school meals in a region where malnourishment is a huge problem. "We will work hand in hand with the church, which has made a great contribution to the education sector, such as in Papua," he said. About 300 Catholic educators — priests, nuns, principals and experts under the umbrella of the National Council of Catholic Education — spent much of the four-day meeting discussing how Catholic schools should respond to religious intolerance, extremism, the challenges of a multicultural society and the overall poor quality of Indonesian teachers. Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the council, agreed with the minister. He said there are many areas where the government and Catholic schools can collaborate, such as provide training for teachers and principals. "The council will start the training of teachers and principals next year," the priest said. Sylvo Lobya, director of the Catholic Schools Foundation in Jayapura Diocese, said its effort to find higher-caliber school principals has encountered difficulties due to the high costs involved in traveling to Java, where the most talented personnel can be sought. He hoped either the government or church would pitch in and help out. "There is no [teacher training] institution here," he said. "Training for two people in Java can cost 100 million rupiah [US$6,900]," he said. According to John Giay, an educator in Timika Diocese, many school facilities are in dire need of an upgrade. "Most of the school buildings here were built during the Dutch occupation," he said. According to Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura, who also attended the meeting of Catholic educators, Papua's education problems are so complex that cooperation among all stakeholders is necessary. He said the quality of teachers is just one area of concern. Geographical conditions pose another challenge as this tends to impact the attendance rates of both students and teachers. "All of these things must be addressed," the bishop said.