Tue, 06 Apr 2004

Decentralization poses opportunities and challenges in education

Ardimas Sasdi Staff Writer The Jakarta Post Berkeley, California ajambak@calmail.berkeley.edu

The decentralization program launched by the government in 2001, including the delegation of further authority over education, has raised hopes in some areas, but sparked anxiety in others, especially among small towns and poor regencies.

Some areas of the country -- which received windfalls in revenues from oil and gas after the launch of regional autonomy -- saw decentralization as an opportunity to develop education as a means to building the skilled human resources required to meet the demands of a highly competitive world, in this era of globalization.

Tarakan, a municipality in East Kalimantan and Bengkalis, a regency in Riau, are two of many areas rich in natural resources, which have invested a large chunk of their money in educational projects.

Residents of resource-rich areas have long been disgruntled over, what they view as, the unfair distribution of wealth during the centralized administrative system -- which spanned five decades and ended three years ago with the implementation of regional autonomy.

Before decentralization, East Kalimantan, for example, received Rp 1 trillion (US$ 125 million) out of Rp 77 trillion contributed by the province to Jakarta, but now it receives more than 10 times that amount in development funds.

Tarakan allocated 23 percent of its budget for education for programs, such as, to renovate old schools, build new ones and provide incentives for teachers and administrative staff. A teacher at a public school receives an incentive of Rp 525,000 per month, while a school principal or comptroller get an incentive of around Rp 850,000 per month plus a motorcycle. The city has also built a university and awarded scholarships to students with good academic achievements.

The amended Constitution states that the government should earmark 20 percent of its budget for education, but so far only one local administration has been able to fulfill this constitutional obligation.

Bengkalis, a regency which serves as a main operational area of the U.S. oil firm PT Caltex Pacific Indonesia, but is left behind in education, allocated 18 percent of its budget for education. Most of the funds were used to renovate old schools, construct new ones and provide incentives for teachers to boost their meager incomes.

The dramatic leap was, of course, a decision taken by Bengkalis to send its teachers to Malaysia for an internship and recruit teachers from the neighboring country. Malaysia -- which still sent its students to study at Indonesian universities three decades ago -- has surpassed Indonesia in the fields of technology and economy, due to its progressive and visionary programs in education.

The guest teachers -- mostly teachers of mathematics, physics, chemistry and English at secondary school level -- received a monthly payment of Rp 7.5 million ($900), an amount three times the wage of a professor with 30-years teaching experience at an Indonesian university. On top of that they received transportation costs, housing allowances and other benefits.

Will the other 404 municipalities and regencies in the country be able to follow the steps of these two oil-rich areas?

The answer to this hypothetical question is yes and no. There are many other areas rich in natural resources, such as regencies in Aceh, East Kalimantan, Papua, South Sumatra, Jambi and Riau Islands.

There are also dozens of areas strong in industry, trade and services, business and tourism, such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali, Bandung, Medan, Palembang, Manado and Makassar. These areas would not encounter problems in raising the funds needed to finance local administration, including education, if their mayors and regents were creative and not corrupt.

The rapid movement of middle-class and upper-middle class people to Bogor, Tangerang, Bekasi and Depok in Greater Jakarta in the last two decades also benefited these suburban areas in view of higher income from property and vehicle taxes -- two major sources of revenue in many areas.

The financial aspect was nonetheless only one factor in the success of these areas in education.

While seen from an institutional perspective, the success of schools is largely determined by factors like organizational management, the process of recruitment, training and retention of teachers and support from society.

These factors, blended with the political commitment of leaders and sound planning -- which is translated into a blueprint for education designed by a team of experts knowledgeable in their fields -- are useful to avoid a patchwork effect. They also ensure the continuation of programs and the development of fields of expertise needed by end-users, and to calculate the size of the market demand.

A good master plan should also take into account local culture, language, economy, religious beliefs, diversity and democracy. The launch of decentralization opened wider opportunity for areas to promote education to equip youths with the skills needed for jobs, and to provide initiatives, that deserve the support of all parties.

On the other hand, regional autonomy is a challenge for other areas to think intelligently and creatively in a collaborative effort to generate the funds to finance education, a big undertaking which needs the cooperation of all sectors.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of California, Berkeley.