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Education in 2016: Big Changes, Bigger Gaps

posted Jan 26, 2017, 1:54 AM by Brook Ross
Abridged from The Jakarta Globe, January 02, 2017

With Indonesia's youth making up half of the country's population, everyone agrees that education must be prioritized. It was a shaky year for the sector, especially after July's cabinet reshuffle, which saw education minister sacked and policies changed.

Cabinet Reshuffle

On July 27, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo announced the formation of a new cabinet. Muhadjir Effendi, rector of Muhammadiyah University in Malang, East Java, replaced Anies Baswedan on the ministerial post. According to some observers, Anies was not given enough time to "complete his vision," which included a popular school supervision program to create child-friendly schools through anti-violence and anti-bullying policies.

National Examinations

Muhadjir's predecessor was also very keen on introducing a moratorium for national examinations — a decisive factor for students' graduation, regardless of their overall school performance. Anies believed it was not fair when one test is supposed to determine a student's future and mental ability. Although Muhadjir agreed with him, the government has decided to keep the national examinations program for elementary and high schoolers, claiming it is crucial to assess the students' development. The move came after the release of the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of 15-year-old school pupils' performance in mathematics, science, and reading. The report, released every three years and covering 72 countries, saw Indonesia climbing slightly to 62 from 71 in 2013, which convinced the president to improve the current examination program instead of scrapping it altogether.

State of Education

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, education standards in Indonesia were on the rise, with literacy rate up to 99.7 percent in 2015 from 98.7 percent a year earlier, giving hope for the future of education in the country. However, a great challenge was still there to achieve educational equity, as in remote areas access to education remained hardly available. State universities have seen an improvement, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), and the University of Indonesia (UI) have been rated as two of the top institutions in the world, according to Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017. UI had a rating in the range of 801 and above while ITB made its debut on the list, in the same range. This year, a major loss in the education sector came from the Aceh earthquake in December, in which many schools were destroyed. The quake was the worst natural disaster of the year. The ministry has announced that Rp 25.8 billion ($1.8 million) from the 2016 budget, and Rp 42.4 billion from the 2017 budget will be allocated to rebuild the schools.

Room to Grow

According to Education First's English Proficiency Index (EPI), which ranks countries by their skills in the language, Indonesia stands 32nd out of 72 countries surveyed, falling behind Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries in the region, although doing relatively better than Thailand and Cambodia, which ranked 56th and 69th respectively. While English proficiency must certainly be improved, the government is also going to issue new regulations to prevent school violence, as bullying, hazing and other types school violence are on the rise again. Infrastructure-wise, according to the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection, only 1,022 schools in the country are child friendly. 

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