Thu, 25 Mar 1999

National Plus schools: Education for the elite few

By Lena Rosenthal

JAKARTA (JP): A lot of well-to-do Indonesian parents send their children abroad to ensure they will receive a better education. During the crisis, however, some may have to think twice about overseas education.

While international schools here are only for expatriate families, there are now alternatives for those who are looking for a better education, but don't want to send their little ones far from home: National Plus schools.

Fulfilling all requirements of the national curriculum, these elite private institutions in addition offer programs adapted from Australia, the UK or the U.S.A. Thus, lessons are in the main conducted in English.

So far there are only a few National Plus schools in the Jakarta area, but they appeal to quite a few parents.

"This school is a good compromise," explains V. Murti, who sends his sons to Tiara Bangsa school in Cibubur, East Jakarta. "The Indonesian curriculum is blended into an international setting. This way my children will be able to study overseas if they wish to do so."

Aiming for a high international standard, the schools educate their students to be bilingual and critical thinkers -- something most local schools do not provide.

"It is our mission to provide high quality education to educate future business people and leaders of this country," Darell van Luchene, Academic Advisor at Pelita Harapan school explained.

The executive principal at Global Jaya school, Kenneth Cook, said his school combined Western teaching methods and expatriate staff with the Indonesian national curriculum "to produce students that will be competitive around the world".

First opened in 1995, Global Jaya, located in Bintaro, Tangerang, has some 500 students enrolled from kindergarten to senior high school. Tiara Bangsa, which opened three years ago, has 125 elementary school and junior high school students. Pelita Harapan was established in 1993 and has about 1,000 students, from prekindergarten to senior high. It has four campuses: Lippo Karawaci, Tangerang; Bukit Sentul, Bogor; Lippo Cikarang Bekasi and one at Sudirman Tower Condominium, Central Jakarta. The Sudirman campus is for nursery and kindergarten aged children only.

Almost all students at these schools are Indonesian citizens. However, the National Plus schools also attract some children from marriages between expatriates and locals. They claim they cannot afford to pay the skyrocketing fees of the international schools, but are nevertheless looking for a school which will provide western standards for their children.

"The fees at the international schools in Jakarta are not affordable for us," said an Australian-Indonesian couple. "This way our daughter will be able to decide which country she will later continue her education in."

As the fees are still high compared to common Indonesian schools, National Plus schools draw the rich only. "It's an excellent school, but it is suitable only for the upper class," explains Ibu Astrid, an art teacher at Tiara Bangsa school. "Who else can afford the fees?"

Fees at Tiara Bangsa are Rp 15 million per academic year for each student. At Global Jaya, a kindergarten enrollment costs Rp 15 million, but an elementary and high school student fee is Rp 20,625,000. Enrollment fees at Pelita Harapan range between Rp 30 million and Rp 45 million.

"We realize that education is just like an industry; if you want to be able to compete on the market you have to offer quality," Pak Tangyong, Director at Tiara Bangsa and a research specialist at the Ministry of Education said.

These elite schools indeed offer a high standard education combined with a wide variety of extracurricular activities, ranging from painting and classical music to horse riding and rock climbing.

"I take a ballet class here," a 6th grade student at Pelita Harapan said.

More and more exclusive private schools are developing language programs to prepare their students for a future in which bilingualism will be a must for many graduates. St. Laurensia school in Serpong, promises that its students will easily obtain a TOEFL score of 500.

Clearly, such schools are working hard to provide a better education for students.

But is this the right way to gradually improve the Indonesian educational system?

"If you offer a better education to Indonesian students it certainly will improve the educational system somewhere along the line," says Barbara Nichols, a technical advisor at Tiara Bangsa.

While the establishment of National Plus schools may be a way for the elite to circumvent the Indonesian educational system, it is not a long term solution to establish what Indonesia really needs: a totally reformed educational system.

Kenneth Cook from Global Jaya agrees: "It should be our goal to eventually not require expatriate teachers, so that we can create an affordable model that can be reproduced across the nation. But it is the responsibility of the teacher training colleges to train teachers who are able to regenerate the Indonesian educational system".