Interview: Nenny Soemawinata
What are the principal issues facing the education sector at the present time?
NENNY SOEMAWINATA: For many reasons, our traditional higher education institutions, especially those that are state-operated, have not been able to deliver the necessary and consistent supply of enlightened leaders who are intellectually, morally and ethically dedicated to the greater good of our society. The deteriorated state of the Indonesian education system’s infrastructure, including dilapidated premises and school rooms, is just one aspect of the problem; around 50% of teachers at all levels are under-qualified and there is a total lack of capacity with 450,000 public higher education applications for only 75,000 seats. However, today's technological advances and a greater understanding of the education process and its evolution worldwide, provide us with the unique opportunity to take the steps needed to revolutionise learning and teaching experiences to meet the challenges of a more competitive world. We can then fulfil our education system's infrastructural needs and resuscitate the sector.
Aside from providing additional funding, what else can the government do to improve education?
SOEMAWINATA: The state fully supports the growth and expansion of the education sector but, as the major stakeholder, it has also sought to control it. The Indonesian government prescribes education as a tool for building national unity but does not place sufficient emphasis on education, particularly higher education, as a major contributor to economic growth. For education to serve both social and economic development, it must function within a more flexible system.
The government also needs to allow for a more liberalised curriculum that is more related to industry, providing work experience and problem solving. Education today is not about the transmission of accumulated knowledge from the past and rote learning. It is a fundamentally creative process, generating new knowledge, which transcends the scope of any single discipline and is often based on learning by doing. We need to consider new forms of delivery and collaborative learning via information technology. Finally, we need to reduce regulation. While control and limitation are often seen as ways to ensure quality of provision, they can become obstacles to innovation. Throughout history, the private sector has driven economic growth through creativity, which in turn, drives social progress. In Indonesia, education is regarded as a social, not-for-profit good. But with the limited capacity of the state, it needs public-private partnerships and industry participation in order to deliver a new sustainable model to move up the development value chain.
What opportunities can the education sector offer to foreign investors and how successful has Indonesia been in attracting these investors?
SOEMAWINATA: Only 20% of applicants find places at Indonesia’s leading academic institutions because of the low number of available places. Parents who can afford the fees send their children abroad to receive quality education and learn English within an international environment. According to the Ministry of Education, 40,000 Indonesian students studied abroad in 2010. Studying abroad is out of reach for the majority considering the cost of tuition and living expenses and it can be a cultural upheaval coming from a country where being close to family is still of great importance. Thus, there is an opportunity for international universities to set up branch campuses that offer the same level of education and resulting qualifications.
The National Education Law prohibiting for-profit, foreign-owned educational institutions has discouraged foreign universities from setting up in Indonesia. For them, partnering with a local institution is an effective way of entering the Indonesian higher education market. Higher education presents opportunities for investment. The market is comfortable with paying for private education at the tertiary level and enrolment levels are still fairly low, at 23.5% as of 2009.
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