The winding road to better education

Posted by Admin on Saturday, 19 June 2004 | Artikel

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Jakarta

Public opinion in Indonesia supports a radical improvement in general education, which covers scholastic education, education at home and social education. This article focuses on scholastic education.

It is becoming increasingly clear that scholastic education in Indonesia lags far behind its Southeast Asian neighbors. While Malaysia had once recruited high school and university teachers from Indonesia during the 1950s to the 1960s, today it is Indonesia that should learn from Malaysia how to develop quality education.

However, improving education is not only a matter of quality. Quality education should also be available to the nation’s citizenry as a whole, and not only benefit the wealthy segment of society. For a nation of more than 200 million people, this is certainly no easy task; the more so because the majority of the people are poor.

To improve scholastic education, at least the first nine years of compulsory education — spanning elementary to middle school — should be made free, so that children of poor backgrounds can have a good primary education. In comparison, Malaysia provides free education up to high school.

According to a study by the Research and Development Department of the Ministry of National Education, parents spend an average of Rp 4.8 million annually for each child attending state elementary school and about Rp 6.1 million for a private one. For middle school education, the figure is Rp 5.6 million for state schools and Rp 5.7 million for private schools; and for high school education, it is about Rp 7 million for state schools and Rp 6.8 million for private schools.

We can easily surmise the consequences if the government provided free education. Even if this was limited to elementary and middle school education, spending will be astronomical, as the government must also finance Islamic schools, to which the compulsory education program also apply.

Moreover, this must be complemented with an improvement in the quality of teachers through professional development programs and in increasing their salaries. Basic salaries for the teaching profession must at least be equal to that of their counterparts in the business sector, if we want to attract the best graduates to the profession.

We must also not forget that good scholastic education requires good facilities. This means that a school must not only have a proper building, but also other facilities, such as a library, athletic field and science laboratories, to elevate the quality of education to an appropriate standard.

Today, we often read in newspapers how many schools have deteriorated and collapsed, forcing students to study in makeshift classrooms under extremely uncomfortable and inappropriate conditions. Meanwhile, only a small number of elementary and middle schools have libraries and sports facilities, let alone laboratories.

Some say that the amendment of the Constitution, which stipulates that the state should allocate at least 20 percent of the budget for education, would solve a large part of the problem. But the government today cannot afford to meet such a budgetary requirement. As long as the economy remains weak and national revenue limited, any government would find great difficulty in allocating 20 percent of the budget to education, overwhelmed by other vital financial obligations.

It is still far from clear how much state investment in education can be expected in the near future. This year, it is not more than 8 percent. Even if budget allocation reached 20 percent, the educational fund would be limited by the total budget.

There are others who say we should not rely on the government excessively, and point out that society could make a significant contribution to the improvement of education. For this approach to be valid, it must be based on the assumption that the general public are wealthy, like in Japan or the U.S. Critics of this camp seem not to realize that the majority of the Indonesian population are poor.

Even in Malaysia, which has a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of about US$3,900, the state pays for the cost of education up through secondary school. How can we expect the people of Indonesia, which has a per capita GDP of about $820, to contribute financially to the improvement of education? In this case, it is the state that must take the bulk of the responsibility in improving national education.

During the ongoing campaigns ahead of the July 5 presidential election, we have heard the candidates’ oft-repeated promise to improve the condition of national education and provide free or affordable education. They and their success teams are either relatively ignorant about the problems facing national education or they are making empty promises intentionally.

It is clear that a better educational system requires a stronger economy. However, in order to strengthen the economy, we need a large workforce of skilled human resources. The new leadership should realize this dilemma and posit a solution.

As a nation, we should be aware of the many great obstacles on the road to improving national education and thus support the government in its efforts to overcome them.

We should support it all the more because, apart from the problem of financial resources, other difficult issues prevail; for example, in convincing Muslim leaders that the madrasah, where many children obtain their education, should teach general science alongside religious education.

The writer is a former governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas).
Source : The Jakarta Post

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