Indonesia tackles education improvement

Investment in education is high on the agenda in Indonesia, but the high number of difficult to access rural areas across the archipelago is hampering the reform process.

In its most recent economic survey of the country, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested a series of reforms to improve the quality of education in a bid to equip Indonesia’s young population − and future workforce − with the right skills.

The OECD forecasts GDP growth to reach 5.3% this year and 5.9% next year. However, economic growth slipped to 5% last year, from 5.6% in 2013 and an average growth of 6% from 2007-2012, due to a slowdown in the reform process, the OECD noted. “To make the transition to a higher-income status, there remains a lot to be done," OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria said in Jakarta in March. Growth hinges on Indonesia being able to capitalise on its young population, with 43% of its population of 240m under the age of 25, added Gurria.

Making the grade

Jakarta is currently finalising a five-year education strategic plan, which features 12 years of compulsory education and improved access to quality teaching.

According to Anies Baswedan, the minister of culture and primary and secondary education, the government is putting significant levels of funding into the sector, having allocated Rp408trn ($31.2bn) for education in the 2014 budget, of which Rp250trn ($19.1bn) was transferred to local governments.

Reform to the education system will be based on several key strategies. “We will nurture the empowerment of the actors in the ecosystem: teachers, school leaders, parents and most importantly, students,” Baswedan told OBG “We will also continue our efforts to improve quality and access, including meeting the need to increase the number of high schools and vocational schools in remote areas”.

Despite investment over recent years, the education system is trailing international rankings. According to the OECD’s international student evaluation surveys, Indonesia ranked 64th out of 65 countries in terms of students’ skill in mathematics, science and reading.  In Pearson Education’s annual educational performance report “The Learning Curve 2014”, Indonesia ranked 40th out of the 40 locations assessed. This is despite being ranked as a top spender on public education as a percentage of total government expenditure. 

Nenny Soemawinata, managing director of the Putera Sampoerna Foundation, a social business institution that coordinates corporate social responsibility programmes, calls for Indonesia to implement a teaching model that avoids learning by rote and stimulates creativity. In addition, any reform must involve greater consultation with education providers, she told OBG. “What we need at this moment is for all stakeholders to discuss the issue and design a long-term plan to improve the quality of educators and education across the country,” said Soemawinata. “For this, the participation of private sector players will be very beneficial”.

Distance learning

Geographic disparity and sourcing qualified teachers in more remote areas is a persistent struggle in Indonesia and perhaps the greatest challenge for the sector. Scale is also a factor – Indonesia has the fourth-largest education system in the world − with around 50m students and 3m teachers, according to the government.

“The question is really how to bring good quality teachers to rural areas in the east. These regions are in desperate need of quality teachers, so addressing this should become a priority for all stakeholders,” Soemawinata told OBG.  

To help address the shortfalls in regional areas, a programme was launched in January to disseminate educational material to remote areas by replacing textbooks with e-books. In a similar vein, an online education platform was launched in October 2014, which aims to provide higher education to remote areas of the archipelago.

Although these programmes are a step in the right direction, there is a ticking clock to get things right, particularly at the higher education levels. The government has launched a vast infrastructure development programme to spur economic growth, and concerns remain over the country’s lack of skilled manpower. With some 56 projects planned for implementation between 2014 and 2017, including eight seaports, two airports, eight railways, five power plants, and 11 water supply and waste treatment facilities, a highly-skilled workforce will be in high demand over the coming years.

While around 30,000 Indonesian engineers graduate each year, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates the country’s economic growth requires closer to 50,000 per year, representing a 40% shortfall. By 2025 the shortage is expected to increase to more than 70%. According to a BCG, report published in 2013, the skills gap is already being felt at the middle-management level, where a 40-60% deficit is projected by 2020.

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