Modern outlook: Reforms look to update traditional teaching methods to better prepare students for future jobs

Human capital development is at the forefront of the second-term agenda of President Joko Widodo, better known as President Jokowi, as he attempts to build a future-ready workforce prepared to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is characterised by the application of new digital and automated technologies in production processes and service delivery. In 2018 the government unveiled its Making Indonesia 4.0 strategy to harness new 4IR technologies to improve manufacturing productivity and spur high-value job creation. Headline targets of the strategy include the creation of an additional 10m jobs between 2020 and 2030. The roadmap accordingly includes a focus on boosting the quality of local human resources, with the Jokowi administration especially keen to see the proliferation of vocational and technical training centres linked to the needs of industry.

Smart Indonesia

Early in his first term President Jokowi launched the Smart Indonesia Programme (PIP), aimed at giving young, disadvantaged Indonesians access to funding for school supplies and daily travel expenses, thus increasing the prospect of obtaining a full and proper education. PIP is part of the Welfare Family Savings Programme, a comprehensive social reform package that comprises three social benefit card systems – the Prosperous Family Card, the Healthy Indonesia Card and the Smart Indonesia Card. The number of Smart Indonesia Card recipients has increased markedly since the programme’s inception, rising from 7.9m in 2014 to 17.9m in 2019. Part of this expansion is due to a widened eligibility of the Smart Card initiative to include higher education students; previously this was available only to primary and secondary school children. This reconfiguration and subsequent expansion should see the number of recipients more than double from 398,000 to 818,000 by end-2020.

While the PIP may have enabled the government to follow through on its promise to make education more accessible, particularly to those from rural communities, higher enrolment rates have not yet stimulated higher attainment levels, calling into question the quality of teaching and education in Indonesia and the methods used to monitor student progress (see overview).

Fixing Deficiencies

Various periodic international assessments have highlighted deficiencies in Indonesia’s education system. To investigate the issue, researchers at the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies in 2016 formulated a simple, paper-based toolkit, Pemantik. Intended for intermittent administration either at home or at school, the test assesses student numeracy and literacy. Pemantik was administered in four regions of Indonesia – Batu, the Mentawai Islands, Probolinggo and Flores – during the 2016-19 period. The results found that approximately 25% of assessed fifth-grade students could not complete tests intended for third graders. Further investigation revealed that students were not undertaking personalised curricula or generally having their educational needs met. While the findings may be concerning, the results demonstrate the efficacy of such methods in assessing the development and progression of Indonesia’s students, making a strong case for their wider implementation and also highlighting which aspects of teaching methodologies should be targeted for improvement.

Nadiem Makarim, the new minister of education and culture, announced in 2019 as part of his Freedom to Learn initiative that, as of 2021, both Indonesia’s annual final school exams and its influential national examinations will be replaced by more reflexive and intuitive systems. Makarim’s new system provides schools the freedom to design and implement their own annual assessment processes, and schedules the national exam in the middle year of each stage of schooling, meaning it is no longer necessary for graduation.

Freedom & Expression

Makarim believes that by removing the constraints of fixed curricula geared towards rote learning and the pressure of sitting through demanding exams, it will be possible to ignite in Indonesia’s youth a sense of freedom in learning and a passion for education. Having studied in both Singapore and the US, Makarim is familiar with the benefits of an education culture based on classroom discussion, the development of reasoning skills and personal expression. Character assessment is another important factor in Makarim’s reform package, and this reflection-based component will enable teachers to identify where students’ strengths and interests lie, so that they can guide youngsters onto appropriate vocational pathways, helping them to develop valuable, adaptable skills from an early age.

Freedom of expression in Indonesian education is a sensitive subject, and establishing it is arguably one of the biggest challenges facing Makarim. Indonesian society is generally conservative, and some schools and campuses are known to place restrictions on permissible topics for discussion. Satryo Brodjonegoro, chairman of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, has expressed his concern at this censorship, particularly at the tertiary education level. Among his key messages is the assertion that allowing students to explore ideas without restriction is vital to developing the intellectual faculties they require to become experts in the technical, highly skilled occupations needed to fill the gaps in Indonesia’s labour force and help meet the evolving demands of a workplace in which technology plays an increasingly prominent role.

Vocational Training

Revamping Indonesia’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system is a priority for the government to enable the preparation of its workforce, particularly young people, for the demands of the 4IR. World Bank figures for 2019 showed that Indonesia had a youth unemployment rate of around 16% – the highest in the ASEAN region. “Indonesia wishes to follow the German model of vocational schooling,” Bhima Yudhistira, an economist at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, told OBG. “While university academics are important in a research and development capacity, presently Indonesia is in need of skilled workers.”

The German model of education, often referred to as the dual system, is characterised by collaboration between small and medium-sized enterprises and publicly funded vocational training centres. Trainees split their time between a training centre and a host company for a period of work/study/training that lasts from two to three and a half years. Curriculum is standardised throughout the country, ensuring that training is uniformly administered. This consistency means that graduates of the dual system are highly sought after and highly skilled. Notably, youth unemployment in Germany is low. There are, of course, significant differences between Germany and Indonesia, with the latter’s educational infrastructure still very much in the developmental stages.

The Indonesian government also faces the challenge of persuading companies that participation in TVET programmes is worthwhile, particularly in light of the traditionally negative perception of the system. “Tax deductible incentives will be offered to companies and increase with the number of interns they employ,” Yudhistira told OBG. Such incentives are part of a broader scheme to incentivise labour-intensive industry development. Official documentation detailing the aforementioned incentives states that a maximum reduction corresponding to 200% of expenses incurred in the delivery of apprenticeships and internships for selected professions is available for companies taking part.

Strategic Partnerships

Furthermore, innovative solutions are being implemented to link the construction of vocational facilities with wider infrastructure development. For instance, Kendal Industrial Park in Semarang, Central Java, a joint venture between Singapore’s Sembcorp Development and Indonesian developer Jababeka, contains the Kendal Furniture Industry and Wood Processing Polytechnic. Such a strategy reflects the government’s intention to align TVET curricula with specific industry and regional requirements.

Indonesian-Singaporean collaboration in the development of TVET goes beyond the building of polytechnics. Singapore is becoming more heavily involved in Indonesian TVET curriculum development and teacher training as the Indonesian government seeks to strengthen its strategic partnerships, drawing on the successful practices of the world’s most developed economies in cultivating a future-ready workforce. Workers and firms around the archipelago stand to benefit, especially those in the less-privileged areas. “Companies that operate in marginalised regions should be at the forefront of initiating best practices in vocational training,” Victor Hartono, president director of local non-profit Djarum Foundation, told OBG.

The February 2020 ratification of the Indonesia-Australia free-trade agreement – which allows for fully Australian-owned universities on Indonesian soil – and the emerging trend of foreign rectors appointed to lead Indonesian universities both further strengthen President Jokowi’s efforts to globalise the country’s education system and in turn, its industry and economy.