Tue, 26 Sep 2000

Education: Sad facts in Indonesia

By Nirwan Idrus

JAKARTA (JP): Reports on the Fourth National Education Convention last week not surprisingly showed that education in this country is never going to get better.

The Minister of National Education, who regulates the curriculum, delivery methods and teacher training, went all out saying that education should no longer emphasize ideology but should now emphasize the sciences, technology and all that are needed to make human resources here competitive globally.

It is really tragic that the minister cannot himself see that he is the person who is responsible for the change that he is advocating. Who is he waiting for?

To top it all, the rectors in the talks also could not see that they are the ones responsible for improving the management and effectiveness of their institutions.

They are the ones responsible in leading the nation to stop begging for an increase in the state budget for education.

They are no better than the youngsters at the traffic lights. With their resources, these rectors should set examples by taking the initiative to better themselves and their institutions.

There are many consultancies for industries conducted by the teaching staff of universities and institutes of technology around the country. But it is no secret that these educational institutions themselves get very little of these.

It is also no secret that it is not easy to meet with rectors or other staff at these institutions because they are too busy doing things other than for their respective institutions.

It is also no secret that some of these teaching staff whose monthly pay only buys a few Big Macs, actually own Mercedeses, Peugeots and BMWs. Of course they will say that they didn't get their luxury cars from teaching at their institutions but from the other six full-time jobs that they hold elsewhere.

Education is a very sad story in Indonesia. It is no wonder that our education is going to continue to lag behind, which convention organizer Sutjipto has already admitted.

The real question is what is he and his rector colleagues doing about it?

Instead of begging for more government money, why not look at different ways of managing their institutions. Why not lobby the government to change the curricula, their working conditions, their employment terms, their remunerations and their appointment system and many such things.

The real problem, which is not only in education, is the unwillingness of Indonesians to accept that they have a contribution to make to solve the problem. Indeed they are partly responsible.

The minister is responsible for changes in curriculum and ideology. The rectors blame the government for not giving them enough money when in fact Indonesia has received close to US$1 billion to date as both gifts and loans from overseas agencies for its education program.

This data came from the Director General of Higher Education himself. Teachers and indeed students appear to be fair game for excuses as well.

Indonesian graduates are lagging behind their neighbors among others because of the curriculum. The so called Basic General Studies (MKDU), which includes, the Pancasila (state ideology), religious studies, basic cultural studies and others totaling some 10 credits, have usurped time and effort on the sorts of things the minister said students should be involved in.

With one strike of his pen the minister can reallocate the 10 credit units to something more useful.

A research in engineering education in Indonesia has shown that up to a quarter of a semester is lost on subjects which do not help engineering graduates get commensurate jobs, while their counterparts in Malaysia and Philippines are specializing on things that make the Indonesian engineers second-class citizens in their own country.

The so-called National Curriculum and its associated local curriculum are anachronistic, inapplicable in this modern economy and indeed debilitating in terms of creativity and innovation.

The excuse that one hears and many ministry officials and rectors vehemently use is that the National Curriculum is required to maintain standards and quality. If you have visited the state universities and polytechnics, you would easily be forgiven if you ask "what standards and quality?"

The fact that state university lecturers are public servants isn't helping either. Many state university lecturers who are hopeless in their universities indeed turn out to be top class lecturers in several neighboring private universities.

One does not need to be a nuclear scientist to guess why. Of course money is part of it. But it is the management of the private universities and their faculties that in fact make those hopeless people become not only hopeful but sometimes excellent lecturers, albeit not at their official universities. This points clearly to a lack of management at the state universities.

Money should not be a hindrance in the management of educational institutions. Indeed in New Zealand, the government subsidy or funds for higher education institutions, in particular, have been continually reduced.

It is no longer rare nor exceptional for an institution of higher education in New Zealand to be getting only 60 percent of their budget from the government while they are "carrying" 100 or 200 students.

"Carrying" here means admitting students without any subsidy from the government. A few years ago, Lincoln University in Christchurch received only 42 percent of their budget from the government, while Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin received only 61 percent of its budget from the government while "carrying" between 100 and 200 students.

And yet these institutions and others like them in New Zealand are running not only well but with very high standards.

Rectors there have to use their own and their people's creativity and innovation to survive and survive they do. In fact they are thriving rather than surviving. Their graduates are also sought after by local as well as foreign companies.

New Zealand has become a leader in innovation and in the use of new technology, including e-commerce and technologized distance education.

But they concentrate on what they are good at. Bob Park, previously deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch for example, is a leading authority in the world on earthquake building design.

New Zealand is continually susceptible to earthquakes. Specialization in civil engineering here therefore concentrates on earthquake design. But this would not have been possible if Park had to succumb to a national curriculum or if he had to do 144 credits with set percentages in basic general studies and other subjects.

New Zealand would not have been known overseas as an expert in earthquake design if Park's work could only be published in journals recognized by the Ministry of Education.

New Zealand would not have been known as the center for earthquake design and analysis if Park had to collecting his "kum" points to become a professor and wait many years to be bestowed that title by the Ministry of Education.

Alas, New Zealand has an education master plan. Does Indonesia have one? If we do, is it one that will take Indonesia into the 21st century?

If it is so, is there an implementation plan for it? If yes, are those people tasked to implement them trained and prepared to carry out their tasks? And are they allowed to make errors along the way?

If they are, is there a closed loop management system that will ensure that their hard work is duly recognized and rewarded? If we do have an education master plan, have we also identified the plan's key success factors, correction and improvement plans, measures of progress and all those things that good management should have?

With 70 percent of its workforce having only primary school education, Indonesia is in big trouble competing with its neighbors.

From the Fourth National Education Convention report it would appear that participants recognized the need to catch up. But did they realize how much there is to catch up with?

The remaining 30 percent of Indonesia's workforce who are highly qualified are increasingly mobile, just as is the case with intellectuals everywhere else including Singapore.

In the worst case, the 30 percent will all leave Indonesia to work elsewhere. So, let us not just talk but act.

The writer is a consultant on international higher education and executive director of IPMI Graduate School of Business, Jakarta (http://www.ipmimba.ac.id. Email: nirwan@ipmimba.ac.id)