Sat, 23 Aug 2003

'Schools must shop at store'

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Following the recent polemic on the controversial Education Law, the government is set to issue another contentious elementary school textbook policy, which contradicts educational autonomy.

Director General for Elementary and Intermediate Education at the Ministry of Education Indra Djati Sidi said on Friday that the government would issue a new regulation that required all elementary schools to purchase mathematics textbooks from bookstores -- and not directly from publishers as in the past -- to be distributed free to all students.

He said that under the regulation, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2004, the education ministry would pre-select eight math textbooks for purchase at bookstores; schools must choose a textbook from among these eight, and those violating the regulation would be given harsh sanctions.

Indra explained that the education ministry would cooperate with the Association of Indonesian Bookstores (GATBI) to distribute the textbooks to stores.

He said the new policy was made to stop the current practice of schools purchasing textbooks directly from publishers, a practice which had disadvantaged students, especially those from low-income families.

All elementary schools, including state-run ones, have direct deals with specific publishers to profit from sales commissions, although the government, in cooperation with state publishing company PT Balai Pustaka, provides textbooks for all schools in the nation.

The new policy will likely meet with opposition from numerous sides, including schools, since it will not resolve the issue.

Elementary schools will likely oppose the new regulation because it runs contrary to Law No. 20/2003 on educational autonomy, under which schools manage their curricula and facilities, including textbook purchases.

According to Article 51 of the law, school heads, teachers and their aides comprise the school management with the authority to provide educational services.

Even with the new policy, however, there will be no guarantee that schools will not strike new deals with bookstores as they have done with publishers.

Although the textbooks are to be distributed free for all students, schools subsidized by the government to supply the textbooks will be tempted to collude with bookstores for sales commissions, because the stores' profit will depend on book sales.

The education ministry and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have been slammed for the recent enactment of the controversial Education Law, which requires all schools to provide religion classes for all beliefs represented in their student bodies, even for those schools following a specific religion.

The government has allocated Rp 150 billion (US$17.6 million) for the textbook project, and elementary schools will receive Rp 7.2 million each for the math books.

Students will borrow the textbooks from schools during the academic year, and the schools are expected to maintain the books for at least five years.

Chairman of GATBI Firdaus Umar told The Jakarta Post schools would be required to purchase the math books from bookstores to halt schools and teachers from doing business with publishers.

Wukir Ragil, head of the Book Center at the ministry, which is verifying textbooks, hailed the new regulation as it aimed to provide standard math textbooks and ensure the quality of elementary education.

The marketing officer of publishing company PT Remaja Rosda Karya, Wardoyo, confirmed that his company was one of the eight publishers appointed to publish the math book.

Several other publishers contacted by the Post declined to give any information on the direct sales system.

Firdaus said the new regulation was expected to prevent teachers and schools from making a profit from book sales commissions through publishers.