The commitment of substantial funds to expand a preschool programme could be an important step in Indonesia’s ongoing efforts to improve its education system through greater financial support and better access.
The country plans to next year extend its early childhood education programme, known by its Indonesian acronym PAUD, with a Rp1.5trn ($168m) investment intended to improve access to the scheme for poorer and marginalised families. When the programme was launched in 2002 it had a budget of just Rp14bn ($1.5m).
The Ministry of Education estimates that only 54% of children currently have access to PAUD, which is aimed at kids aged three to six. It says the costs of the programme, at an average of $64 per pupil per year, has deterred many lower-income families many from taking part.
The increased budget should enable authorities to provide the programme for free for such vulnerable groups, as well as strengthen the scheme in other areas such as teacher training and the purchase of learning materials.
Deputy education minister Fasli Djalal said last week that the government aims to increase PAUD access to at least 75% of children by 2012, a substantial expansion likely to mean a greater use of the resources in Koran schools and integrated health centres to ease the burden on local authorities.
Teacher recruitment will also be a priority, as while there are 29m pupils eligible for the programme, there are only 40,000 certified teachers available at the preschool level. Another plank of the PAUD expansion strategy will involve publicity campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of preschool education, which has particularly low reach in rural regions.
The authorities are also keen to hone the PAUD curriculum to ensure that it takes greater account of local culture and conditions, which can differ greatly for instance from the streets of Jakarta to remote parts of Papua. The programme is seen as socially and economically important, equipping children with a solid educational platform that will ease their progress in formal schooling. It also hoped to support initiatives in women’s empowerment, child protection, rural development and poverty alleviation.
The increased investment in PAUD reflects Indonesia’s attempts to prioritise an education system that has faced criticism over funding levels, teaching standards and rural access. In the decades following its independence in 1945, Indonesia’s education system was one of the strongest in the region. Growing oil revenues in the 1970s funded a large-scale school-building programme, and the country attracted university students from around South-East Asia. However, there are perceptions that sector has fallen somewhat behind regional standards since the mid-1980s, compared to progress made by Malaysia and Thailand.
“The greatest challenge in terms of improving the level of education in the country is, quite simply, a lack of funding,” said Putera Sampoerna, chairman of the Sampoerna Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the quality of and access to education, told OBG in May. “While it is mandated that 20% of the national budget be spent on education … we seem to have other priorities.”
Another issue is Indonesia’s devolved political system, which passes on much of the responsibility for schools to provinces and municipalities. Given the limited administrative capacity in some regions, this can lead to uneven results when new policies are instituted. While the authorities assert that the 20% spending level has been reached, it has been suggested that this was achieved through including teacher’s salaries – theoretically part of the civil service budget – in the figure.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the government, in partnership with the private sector and civil society organisations, is committed to making substantial improvements to the system, viewing it as the bedrock of Indonesia’s economic future. The country has succeeded in achieving some goals – for example, at 95.3%, elementary school participation rates are high.
There also initiatives to improve education at higher levels, including a scheme to ensure that all teachers have at least a three-year bachelor’s degree by 2014. The government subsidises textbooks, lowering costs for parents, and Indonesia has a large-scale scholarship system from primary to postgraduate level, improving access for the less affluent in particular.
Programmes such as PAUD are playing a vital role in ensuring that the country’s education foundations are sound. Improving access to the scheme should prove a shrewd investment by the government that should create benefits for both the education sector and eventually the economy as a whole.