Thu, 13 Oct 1994

European education

I must sympathize with Mrs. Sumarsono, who says she was deprived of the European education she feels she was entitled to and qualified for (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 8, 1994). Allow me to make a few observations for those expat readers who may not be familiar with the matter.

During the Dutch Colonial Administration there were two education systems: one for native Indonesians and one for Europeans. If we substitute "international" for "European" it is easy to see the factual situation for the average Indonesian has hardly changed. At present Indonesians are barred, by Indonesian law, from entering international schools in Indonesia. However, in the old colonial days not only European children but also children of high Indonesian civil servants and those who were gelijkgesteld (i.e. honorary Europeans) had access to European schools. Those MULO and (especially) HBS institutes were of an unusually high caliber and entry to those schools was seen as an absolute prerequisite for successful professional and business careers and as a token of high, social prestige. Children from other Indonesian families went to Inlandsche Scholen (Native Schools), which were of considerably lower quality, and in general had no access to European schools.

However, exceptions were made for those Indonesian students who were considered bright and ambitious. Soekarno, for instance, was such a case. His father (a school teacher) pleaded with the headmaster of the local European elementary school at Mojokerto and Soekarno was accepted. Later he became a HBS student in Surabaya (there were other such schools in Batavia and Bandung) and went on to graduate from what is now ITB in Bandung.

In his autobiography, Soekarno deals with this part of his life in great detail and gives the reader a fascinating insight in the position of a young Inlandsche student in the 1920's. It should be noted that not only Soekarno but also Hatta, Sjahrir and most (if not all) other prominent Indonesians of the first hour had top-notch Dutch education. I should also like to point out the Dutch-trained Indonesian diplomats, who in the 1940's managed to corner and totally isolate The Netherlands in the UN and mobilize American public opinion, which, seen from a diplomat's point of view, was a sheer masterpiece and in the end tipped the balance in favor of the Republic. The Dutch were done in by their own trainees.

Another crucial aspect is the numerical and logistical side of things. In the 1930's there were 70 million people in the Netherlands Indies and eight million in The Netherlands. In principle, Kartini was right when she said that the high quality European education she enjoyed should be extended to all Indonesians instead of being restricted to a lucky few. But how could The Netherlands have supplied the enormous numbers of qualified teachers required for such a mega-project? Where should they have come from? Although (seen through today's eyes) the whole thing smacks of favoritism, it is difficult to see how the Netherlands Indies Government could have dealt with the situation otherwise.