Tue, 04 Sep 2001

Minister admits poor standard of local education

JAKARTA (JP): Education minister Abdul Malik Fajar admitted on Monday that the national education system did not run as well as had been expected due to various problems, ranging from the size of the population, heterogeneity to fund shortages.

"Critics see the reality of the condition of our education system, but we should also realize that we face various problems which are not easy to solve," he told The Jakarta Post.

Malik Fajar made the remarks in response to a survey by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), which has ranked the Indonesian education system the lowest in Asia after Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

Noted education analyst Mochtar Buchori blamed the poor education system on the lack of political will, saying most leaders thought mainly about their own positions rather than the problems faced by the nation.

"It's pitiful to see that most of our political leaders are merely power chasers, not statesmen," said Buchori, adding that the small proportion of funds allocated for education also showed the lack of commitment to the importance of education.

"If we see education as a burden, we'll consider it heavy. But if we see it as an investment, we have to spend money for that. Only a handful of people consider education an investment because it takes time to see the results," he added.

Commenting on how Teachers Training Institutes (IKIP) were changed into universities, he said that it was evidence of the chaotic condition of the local education system.

"There are many problems faced by IKIP, but it should not necessarily lead to their closure as they are still needed to create teachers. We can still improve their condition," said Buchori, a former senior researcher at the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Asked about the most difficult problems faced by the education ministry, Malik Fajar said the Indonesian education system was very centralistic in that nearly all aspects of education were decided by the central government.

"We should change this centralistic system into one that accommodates local considerations, including the culture. It's not an easy job," he said, adding that successful implementation of regional autonomy was expected to have a positive effect on local education.

The minister said that the lack of facilities in schools and the poor quality of teachers constituted other problems affecting education.

"We are not speaking about schools in remote areas outside Java, but about elementary schools in suburban areas of Jakarta. I weep whenever I see the substandard facilities owned by the schools," said the minister.

Buchori underlined the importance of improving teacher quality, saying that improving teachers' welfare was not the only way to improve the quality of the education system.

"Improving teachers' welfare is crucial, but it should be followed with improvement of their quality," Buchori told the Post.

Acknowledging that many schools managed by private investors were of high quality, Malik Fajar invited the private sector to continue investing in education. In the future, he said, the government would only act as facilitator, motivator and inspirer. "Education will be run through the bottom-up approach, not top-down as what we see now," he said.

Malik Fajar said that his ministry was developing a scheme that would offer incentives to businessmen and companies that focused on education. "We will, for example, give them tax incentives. But the idea should first be discussed with other government agencies," he added.

Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives said they had for a long time been calling for fundamental changes in the education system and the curricula, especially for elementary and high schools, but no serious response had been given by the government.

A. Tambunan, chairman of House Commission VII on education, labor and social affairs, expressed concern over the fact that too much emphasis was placed on cognitive elements, instead of better interaction between students and teaching staff.

"Students are taught too much, but do not master what they have learned and do not know how to apply it in their lives," he said, adding that ideally teachers should function mainly as facilitators.

Paul S. Baut, a member of the commission, said it was time for the government to simplify the curricula and establish more vocational schools to help narrow the gap between the education and industrial sectors.

"The existing education curricula must be oriented to skills and not to certificates or titles," he said, adding that the government should also take tough measures against private education institutions which offered postgraduate and Ph.D. programs for commercial purposes.

"The main problem is that many people are not financially able to send their children to school, especially during the economic crisis. On the other hand, many parents have managed to send their children to university but, after graduation, they cannot find jobs because they cannot meet the skills required," he said.

He added that more than 70 percent of the workforce in the country had only completed elementary school or were dropouts. (rms/02)