Indonesian education fails in face of crisis

By Richel Dursin

JAKARTA – Insufficient funding for education has forced Indonesia to settle for less qualified teachers, setting off a cycle that does little to improve the status of education as the country copes with economic woes.

”We are lagging behind our neighboring countries. For us to catch up, we need money,” says Education Minister Yahya Muhaimin, who proposed that the government earmark at least 25 percent of the state budget for education to cope with the needs of this country of more than 200 million people.

Indonesia allocates only seven percent of its national budget for education, which is far below the 25 to 35 percent level set by its neighbors like Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

The shortage of qualified public school teachers in Indonesia is due to many factors, not least low salaries from the government. A public elementary school teacher gets an average monthly salary of 100,000 rupiah (US$14), while a high school teacher receives between 200,000 to 500,000 rupiah ($28 to $71).

”That is not sufficient, especially for those teachers who live in big cities like Jakarta,” laments Muhaimin.

Lecturers at Indonesian universities likewise make hardly enough to get by. In several universities, lecturers end up neglecting students because they are too preoccupied with side jobs. Others take on additional teaching jobs to make ends meet, to the detriment of the students they are supposed to educate.

Many teachers are forced by the low pay to leave the profession. One teacher said that classroom teaching conditions are similar to those faced by blue-collar workers. At times, teachers do not have their own offices and lack basic facilities other professionals have – access to telephones, computers and fax machines.

Arief Rachman, of Jakarta’s Institute of Teacher Training and Educational Science, says he has difficulty producing skilled English instructors as well as teachers in basic sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. This is because the low-paid profession is an unattractive option for the young.

”A lot of good students in those fields don’t want to become teachers. They prefer to work in big companies that could give them a more promising future,” Rachman says. ”So we’re facing a situation of teachers who chose teaching because they are not accepted in their chosen fields. Ideally, the best and brightest should be recruited to teach, as teaching is not for the mediocre.”

Indeed, some suggest there is a link between the quality of education and restiveness among the young, enhanced by the new political and social atmosphere after the end of the Suharto regime last year. Outside the classrooms, Indonesian students are often engaged in street brawls.

”At school, the learning process is not respected. The students cheat and bribe the teachers,” says Sri Mulyani, who teaches at the graduate program of the University of Indonesia’s School of Economics and heads its Institute of Economic and Social Studies.

These weaknesses of Indonesia’s education system are coming under focus ahead of an Asia-Pacific conference this month at which countries will assess progress toward goals set under an ”Education for All” initiative launched at the World Conference on Education in 1990.

Indonesia’s education problems are exacerbated by other woes, like the strain on state budgets after the crippling economic crisis of 1997, from which the country has yet to recover fully. The country had actually achieved much in basic education in the past three decades of economic boom, using its new wealth to boost human development indicators.

But the economic crisis is now affecting school enrolment, says a new report prepared by the Indonesian government for the review conference to be held in Bangkok.

The country’s net enrolment ratio (NER) for both primary and lower secondary schools began declining in 1998, says the study, ”Education for All: The Year 2000 Assessment”. The NER for primary schools advanced to 92.3 percent in 1990, 93.4 percent in 1994 and around 95 percent in 1997, but decreased to 93.74 percent in 1998.

At lower secondary level, the NER rose from 39.24 percent in 1990 to 56.03 percent in 1997, then fell to about 53 percent in 1998, the study shows. ”The motivation of many students to study is high, but because of the crisis they could not go to school,” Muhaimin says.

Aside from the problem of paying the basic salaries of educational personnel, the study recounts how the government cannot provide adequate educational facilities, including libraries and learning materials such as books due to limited funds.

Basic education in Indonesia consists of six years of primary school and three years lower secondary education. Most Indonesian students stop schooling after finishing junior high school to help their parents earn a living. Some 60 percent of the country’s workforce are junior high school graduates.

On top of funding problems, professors say the entire system needs a drastic review. ”We do not have enough skillful university graduates though we have many graduates with titles. This is due to the manner of teaching. Teachers only give information, but they don’t let the students try new things. So the students are more skillful in remembering than in applying,” Rachman says.

Former education minister Juwono Sudarsono, who was appointed defense minister by President Abdurrahman Wahid, says: ”Our educational system needs total reform. It is no secret that the current system has been very rigid, stressing merely intellectual capability. An overloaded curriculum, uninteresting teaching methods and a passive learning process have contributed to shape the current school environment. It is high time for us to change the concept of education from teacher-oriented to student-oriented.”

Education Minister Muhaimin says Indonesia should step up efforts in higher education. He has asked big businesses to help finance the higher education of qualified students abroad as well as the training of teachers. Mulyani agrees: ”We really have a lack of education institutions at graduate level. There are some local institutions which offer graduate programs, but many of them are of poor quality.”

(Inter Press Service)

Courtesy: Atimes

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