Wed, 03 Sep 2003

E. Java plans to offer free education

Nugroho and Ainur R. Sophiaan, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya

The East Java administration plans to promote free education for the first nine years of school in the country's second most populated province next year by providing subsidies for more than five million students of elementary and junior high schools.

East Java Governor Imam Utomo said on Tuesday his administration would allocate Rp 1.1 trillion (US$132 billion) from the 2004 provincial and regental budgets to finance the education program.

The central government will provide assistance to be earmarked from its budget for national education, he added.

"We will ask the central government for the funds. If there is any remaining finances, we will use it for other (educational) activities," Utomo said.

The governor said the province had at least 5,674,872 elementary and junior high school students, including private ones, who are entitled to the subsidies.

The would-be recipients would comprise 4,187,677 elementary school students and 1,487,197 those from junior high schools.

"Therefore, we need Rp 1,110 trillion (to subsidize them)," Utomo said.

Under the program scheduled to start in 2004, the elementary school students would receive Rp 15,000 each per month, and junior high school students would be given Rp 20,000 each per month.

In East Java, private and state schools charge elementary school students Rp 15,000 in monthly tuition fees on average, while junior high school students are generally charged around Rp 20,000.

"The program will be carried out in 2004. Now we are gathering data on the number of students. It would be carried out directly in their classes in every school in order to avoid excluding any potential recipients," Utomo said.

He said the Rp 1 trillion fund was nowhere near as much as the Rp 41 trillion that East Java, a province of around 36.2 million people, provided annually to the central government in taxes. The central government in turn returns only Rp 9.5 trillion of the amount.

That is why there should be no reason for the central government not to help finance the program, Utomo added.

On Tuesday, the newly reelected governor chaired a meeting with all the East Java regents at the Grahadi Hall in Surabaya to discuss the preparations for implementation of the free education program.

To support the program, the local government approved the establishment of the East Java Education Council chaired by Dhaniel M. Rosyid, a professor from the Surabaya Institute of Technology (ITS).

Marsetio Donosaputro, another professor from the same university, was appointed as chairman of the council's supervisory board.

Daniel said the implementation of the program should be tightly monitored to prevent or reduce possible cases of manipulation and irregularities.

"We should prevent this gesture of goodwill being misused by irresponsible people," he added.

He said the free education program would be effective to fight poverty and illiteracy in East Java.

"If the program proceeds smoothly, East Java will be free from dropouts by 2007," Daniel said.

Marsetio said that not only parents but also teachers should support the mandatory nine-year education program. "Without the involvement of teachers, the program will be useless."