Mon, 16 Oct 2000

Better education urgent for Banten, experts say

ANYER, Banten (JP): To prepare for the enactment of the regional autonomy law in 2001, the authorities of the newly established Banten province should first focus on improving education, an economist said here on Saturday.

Building schools and universities is an urgent task for Banten to help improve the quality of human resources, which in turn will help the region catch up with other provinces, University of Indonesia economist Bambang Brodjonegoro said during a seminar.

He said the province would have numerous opportunities to develop its economy. "But Banten must have an adequate number of educational institutions, ranging from kindergartens to academies and universities, to improve the quality of human resources and to cope with the unemployment problem."

At the moment, Bambang said, Banten only has the private Tirtayasa University in Cilegon.

The province was made the country's 28th first-level administrative region in a bill enacted by the House of Representatives earlier this month. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Abdurrahman Wahid early next month.

According to the bill, Banten will consist of four regencies (Serang, Pandeglang, Lebak and Tangerang) and two mayoralties (Tangerang and Cilegon), which were formerly included in West Java province. With a population of some nine million, the province will have its capital in Serang.

Bambang said illiteracy, high unemployment and low life expectancy were still fundamental problems faced in many remote areas of Banten.

A 1999 national survey revealed that the majority of the province's four-million workforce was illiterate, he said. About 22 percent of the population is still jobless and the life expectancy is about 50 years, or 10 years below the national figure.

Bambang said Lebak and Pandeglang were the least-developed of the four regencies, while the social conditions in Tangerang and Serang regencies and Tangerang mayoralty were relatively better.

He said about 32 percent of the workers in the two regencies were elementary school dropouts, and a majority of the Badui people were illiterate because they were isolated in remote areas in Lebak and Ujungkulong.

Sardjono Djatiman, a sociologist from the University of Indonesia who also spoke at the seminar, said the authorities should adopt a sociocultural approach to encourage locals to participate in the development of the new province.

"The growth-oriented development paradigm should be replaced by a sociocultural one aimed at encouraging the people to be the agents of local development," he said.

He said the presence of industries in the province had not benefited locals because the development policy was oriented toward economic growth, as it was in other part of the country.

Sardjono, who conducted research in Banten in 1970, refuted Bambang's assertion that many people in the area were illiterate.

According to him, while many people cannot read or write using the Latin alphabet, most can read and write Arabic.

"While a modern education should be promoted, the government could use the Arabic language which might be more popular and communicative in serving the locals, especially those who are still illiterate in the Latin alphabet," he said.

He said that from a sociological point of view, the new province would depend more on Jakarta and southern Sumatra than the neighboring West Java province.

"Banten is a bridge for people going to Java and Sumatra and vice versa, and part of its population migrated from Sumatra and Java," he said.

He acknowledged that Banten, with its potential in industry, farming and tourism, had a good opportunity to catch up in terms of development with other provinces, including West Java.

"The new province has its industrial zones in Tangerang, Serang and Cilegon, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, tourist resorts along its northern coastal areas, protected forest in Ujungkulon, Merak seaport and the traditional agriculture sector. All this will contribute to local development," he said.

He also reminded investors in the region to contribute to the social development of locals, saying they should learn from the Indorayon case in Porsea, North Sumatra, and the Freeport case in Irian Jaya.

"Investors should not pay only the technological cost and dump their waste in the local environment, but also put aside a part of their annual profits to help local social development programs," he said. (rms)