The dire truth about Indonesian education

These quotations below are taken from an editorial in The Jakarta Post dated 27 November 2007:

Among the ranks of Indonesia’s poor are our teachers, the men and women we say we count on for the nation’s progress, its achievements in research and innovation, its character-building and all other things noble.

Among our teachers are those who after classes end, take up other jobs, as construction labourers, motorcycle taxi drivers – and in the case of one Jakarta principal – scavenging.

…It even made the news when Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo said earlier this year teachers in the lowest salary bracket would receive an allowance of barely US$10 a month….

…”Among our 2.7 million teachers, only very few can write,” an official at the Education Ministry earlier said.

With this fact, the official revealed one basic truism nationwide: How are students expected to excel in anything when their teachers lack basic requirements?

And these quotations below are taken from another article by consultant named Debnath Guharoy on the same day of publication:

[The government commitment to increase spending on education by 20 percent of the GDP] will go a long way toward raising monthly salaries of some 2.7 million teachers from Rp 2 million to Rp 3 million with additional allowances for certification, remote schools and camps.

…Asked if “most secondary schools today place too little emphasis on academic achievements” 53 percent of the population agreed, reconfirming the demand for quality not just quantity….

It really is dreadful for me as a former student in Indonesia to read those horrifying truths above. While private school teachers’ fates differ greatly from their public school counterparts, their curricula are not much different.

Here are some other truths about education in Indonesia that I’ve summed up so far:

  1. The allocated budget for education only consists 3% of the total GDP
  2. Generally, there are 4 types of educational systems that exist in Indonesia today:

Ø Public School

Ø Private School

Ø National Plus School

Ø International School

  1. The poor, which consists 47% of the population, generally go to the public schools wherein a significant minority of the buildings are bedraggled in the rural areas. Only a very small minority of the poor population can afford to enter some Private Schools (usually it’s due to some subsidy they obtain from the school itself).
  2. The middle class generally go to the private schools with a significant minority of them prefer to go to the public schools due to the free school fees.

While the National Plus and International schools usually comply to the international standards (such as Cambridge or Montessori), only a minute minority of the Indonesian population are able to afford matriculating in such institutions due to the fact that the fees are notoriously overpriced. Moreover, such schools are mostly filled by expatriates’ children. (I don’t mean segregation here; I’m simply stating the obvious truth. I have no grudge against expats like another-blogger-who-is-not-to-be-named has done in the recent months)

Now, let me set my points straight by envisaging an imaginary reporter or a random stranger who interviews me about my arguments above …

Q: With your so-called listing of “Truths of education in Indonesia”, you’re implying that the public schools are a lot worse than private schools. Why? In what aspects are public schools better?

A: First of all, please do forgive me for not giving too-specific examples, as I do not want to offend anyone in person here. If I take a case study of the whole Indonesia, it would be too wide and general in scope, so let me be specific with the case of Jakartan high schools.

I don’t really mean to imply that they are worse, but perhaps the term “less better” would sound more proper to deliver my point. As we can see, the mindset of young talents in Jakartan public high schools regarding the school reputation is divided into three aspects: “Academic”, “Sports”, and “Power”. The first two may seem normal to us, but the three isn’t.

How do they compete for power? By forming gangs, go tawuran (massive school-fights conducted between two or more schools) once in a while with other schools, etc. Such things indeed exist in private schools, but of course, in a much lesser extent.

I am aware that such “competitions for power” also exist in first-world countries. However, they are mostly on a more grouped or personal basis, not carrying the school name like we have here.

The fact that some Indonesian public school students emphasise some of their reputation in “Power” aspect is simply… abominable, and pathetic.

Q: What do you think is the main cause of some of the Indonesian students’ obsessions in tawuran?

The lack of critical thinking. As aforementioned in the first article I quoted above, if the teachers can’t even write, how can they be expected to be critical thinkers?

And if the teachers aren’t critical thinkers themselves, how can we expect the students to be able to think critically?

The education here mainly focus on rote-learning and memorising, a heritage left by the Dutch colonials during the pre-Indonesian independence era. It’s such a wonder how the education ministry could preserve such a system so well, one that was designed by the Dutch to produce people who could work as housemaids and plantation superintendents.

I must admit, despite graduating from Singapore myself, my ability as a critical thinker isn’t fully developed very well yet. I sometimes falter in my arguments, as you can see how my arguments above are (perhaps) flawed themselves. However, I have been challenged a lot of times in my Singapore education to be analytical, critical, independent, and original in whatever I do or say as a part of being a mature thinker and thus, I’m more able to argue coherently than my Indonesian counterparts do.

Q: What about those Science and Maths Olympic winners who hail from Indonesia? They mostly come from the public schools, those schools that you call tawuran-minded schools…

A: True. That’s why I corrected the term “public schools are worse than private schools” into “public schools are less better than private schools”. Some students are born to be able to excel academically under such conditions (i.e. rote-learning and memorising) which is why they could go so far as to represent the country in Science Olympics.

Unfortunately, they only consist of a minority of public school students. The rest of them are not so fortunate to be able to adapt well to such systems.

If you blog readers out there have any other questions, pls don’t hesitate to ask me by commenting on this blog post.

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