Interview: Nenny Soemawinata

What can be done to boost the number of qualified educators across the country?

NENNY SOEMAWINATA: If we are to have intellectual and professional students, we need intellectual and professional teachers. There is a disparity between the west and the east of the country, where teachers might not be qualified to perform as such and might even need to have another job. The question is how to bring well-qualified teachers to rural areas in the east. These regions are in desperate need of skilled teachers, so addressing this should become a priority for all stakeholders in this sector. What we need at this moment is for all involved to discuss the issue and design a long-term plan to improve the quality of education across the country. To achieve this, the participation of private sector players will be necessary.

Why does the private sector need to address the issue of education in relation to their businesses?

SOEMAWINATA: Investment opportunities are vast and greatly necessary. The private sector should be more involved in Indonesia’s education system because the students they help might become part of their workforce. It is something that directly impacts the private sector, especially with government requirements to hire local talent in remote areas. There is data that suggests Indonesia could become one of the top 10 economies in the next 15 years. However, there will definitely be a shortage of 56% at the mid-management level if we do not act today. There is going to be a competency gap in Indonesia that other ASEAN countries will take advantage of, especially with the ASEAN Economic Community coming. We need to increase the quality of education, boost character building and soft skills development, and increase the confidence of our students. For this, we certainly need partners, as Indonesia does not have enough time to do it all by itself. We have to bring in best practices from around the globe, blend them with local programmes and adapt them to Indonesia. We would like to see more companies that understand the potential of education with a longterm approach. The private sector needs to be involved because education is the foundation of future growth.

How would you assess the access to quality education for all Indonesians?

SOEMAWINATA: Indonesia’s growing middle class is a very positive aspect for the country. However, in terms of education, the options are rather limited for middle-class families. They can either choose elite schools, which are costly, or government schools. The difference in quality is notable. We certainly need more options to cater to the growing middle class, as they seek a top education for their children. We need school systems that help students develop their careers from primary education all the way to the job market, regardless of their background. We must also ensure that our graduates find jobs, which is the ultimate goal.

What changes should Indonesia apply to existing educational methods?

SOEMAWINATA: Indonesia is very used to rote learning, which does not stimulate creativity. We need to implement a teaching and learning method whereby the involvement of the student in his or her own learning process is fundamental. The change will come in the form of a different mindset and way of dealing with problems. Along with this new approach, we have to reinforce the role of teachers as facilitators and not a focal point. They should be the ones combining all factors to bring the best out of each student.

Also, over the next 10 years 80% of jobs will be based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This was our consideration when we established the Sampoerna School System, which emphasises STEM subjects in line with Indonesia’s growth trajectory, especially given the amount of airports, seaports, roads and power plants the country will need moving forward. We need to focus on providing internationally competitive education, with a focus on English and STEM subjects.