Indonesia’s education system is in for a major overhaul, with the government unveiling plans to increase compulsory education to 12 years. However, some experts warn that the country’s schools have yet to fully assimilate the last round of reforms, which saw mandatory attendance for students raised to nine years.
In late May, Vice-President Boediono said the government was stepping up efforts to introduce compulsory 12-year basic education for all Indonesian children by 2014, with initial pilot programmes to be launched in selected regions some time this year.
“We’re committed to rolling out this programme in stages, as part of our effort to boost the country’s academic standing,” Boediono said during a visit to a school in Bali.
The proposed increase in the term of compulsory education is part of the government’s campaign to make the country more competitive in the global marketplace by strengthening the economy’s foundations, according to Boediono.
“We will use this programme to increase the quality of our nation in an effective way,” he said.
If the government keeps to its schedule, it will be the third extension of compulsory education in the past three decades. In 1984, six-year mandatory universal education was introduced, ensuring that all students attended elementary school. This was followed in 1994 by the establishment of a nine-year compulsory education system, covering the six years of primary schooling and three years of secondary school.
Any further increase in the term of compulsory education will add a significant burden to the national budget, which already dedicated a large slice of state spending to schooling. In the 2010 budget, some $21bn, approximately 20% of total planned expenditure, was allocated to the education portfolio, of which almost 50% represents the wages of teaching and ancillary staff.
With some 51m primary and secondary school students covered by the compulsory education system, any increase in the mandatory term would entail a massive injection of funding to accommodate new infrastructure and staffing requirements.
National education minister Muhammad Nuh, who was accompanying the vice-president on his Bali trip, has acknowledged that funding will be a hurdle, though one he believes will be overcome.
“If we could, we would start the 12-year programme immediately,” he said. “But since there is not enough money for it, we are introducing it gradually.”
That being the case, a further plan to extend the term of compulsory education to 17 years, which Nuh said would ensure most young people have the opportunity to get a college degree, is a long way off.
While there has been little opposition to the proposal of extending mandatory education, there has been a degree of skepticism among experts yet to be convinced that the state will be able to deliver on its promises.
According to Satria Darma, chairman of the Indonesian Teachers’ Club, an independent body that monitors educational issues, work still needs to be done to fully implement the 1994 programme of nine years before taking schooling to the next level.
“Deal with the current programme first before going to the next one,” Satria said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe on May 31.
Among the issues that the government needed to address were ensuring that the families of students could afford to send them to school and that educational facilities were sufficiently resourced, he said.
Though attendance at school may be compulsory up to the end of secondary school, this does not mean that Indonesia’s teachers are lecturing full houses. While Indonesia has committed to making education available to all by 2015 as part of its UN Millennium Development Goals, it is still well short of meeting its target, according to Mayling Oey Gardiner, an economic development instructor at the University of Indonesia.
“In 2007 the pure participation rate in elementary education was 94% but the pure participation rate of children aged 13 to 15 years in secondary education was only 67%, and so far there had been no breakthrough to increase this figure,” she said during an address to the Indonesian Academy of Sciences on June 14.
So far, no hard figures have been released as to what the cost of providing every school child in Indonesia with an additional three years of education will be, let alone the more ambitious plan to extend compulsory education to 17 years. On a sheer pro-rata basis the shorter-term plan would involve a one-third increase in the education budget, the latter almost a doubling of expenditure.
Though a laudable proposal, the government may have to do the maths on its educational equation before graduating to 12-year compulsory schooling.