Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Key to better education system in Indonesia

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

Without the access to a high standard of education people are not able to lead the fulfilling lives they might otherwise have enjoyed. Nations that aim to create a prosperous, strong and healthy society cannot afford to ignore the rights of their people to an education. Indonesia is presently experiencing the results of its past education policies.

Education has become an expensive process, partly due to developments in science and technology. Education must be up to date with the advancements of society but this requires the constant renewal of resources.

The population is growing, and more and more people are struggling to afford a good education in order to improve their futures. Education should be open to everyone and not just a select few. If the desire for education is there it seems that the battle is half way won.

But often only the children of wealthy parents can enjoy a good education, as their parent's are financially capable of paying the high tuition fees of private institutions.

This further exacerbates the polarization between rich and poor, the wealthy have access to information and are equipped with skills that make them valuable to modern society, the poor remain uneducated and lacking in such basic modern requirements as computer literacy .

It is easy to predict the social inequalities and even security problems that will develop from such oversights. In a developing nation like Indonesia it is up to the government to lead the way to a better education for all of its people. In Germany and Sweden the government finances education from the elementary level up until university level. It can't be denied that education is the most important investment that a nation can make.

There are many debates today about education. Does the answer to a better education system lie in a new approach to curriculum or the improvement of the teacher's salary?

The first step toward better education is the understanding of the issue by leadership at both national and local levels. Without their cooperation the improvement of teacher's salaries and welfare remains a dream. It is also the key to a better education for teacher's.

If there were abundant financial resources it would be possible to make all basic and secondary education free, such as in Malaysia. The need for the government's subsidy of tertiary education has become the subject of student demonstrations. But if the government lacks in financial strength it will be slow to find the appropriate funds.

The House of Representatives could issue a law proscribing a 20 percent share for education in the national budget. But if the size of the government budget is limited, 20 percent of it is not worth much. So the government's leadership needs to aim for the growth of the Gross National Product and an increase in national wealth.

Indonesia has never enjoyed a government that puts education first. President Sukarno was a great national leader but he always favored a system of mass political education. His government did not pay enough attention to education and his bad economic management further aggravated poor efforts toward improving the system.

President Soeharto had some positive ideas about the role of education but Soeharto and his ministers considered education to be a mere commodity and never the most important investment of the nation. The Soeharto government established a system of 9 years of compulsory education but did not provide the resources to make it successful. The result was not an improvement of human resources but, on the contrary, the increase of an unskilled labor force.

For Soeharto and his economists the improvement of such things as the building of roads, harbors and the electric power system had a much higher priority than education. This notion still prevails today among leading politicians and economists.

If Indonesia seriously wants to improve education it needs to solve other problems first. The national leadership must be convinced that education is the most important investment for the nation and it must be sincere in following up its conviction with policies to provide the necessary revenue for education.

The same requirement must be extended to leadership at a local level. Without the certainty of leaders -- that education must improve in its capacity and quality -- it is unrealistic to hope for better education in Indonesia.