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Indonesia Seeks to Democratize its Schools
In an effort to minimize what amounts to “school shopping” and assure that no student has to travel too far to attend lessons, Indonesia is implementing a zoning policy that classifies schools in each regency and city into separate zones and mandates that schools enroll students living in their vicinity
The policy, called in Indonesian Penerimaan Peserta Didik Baru Zonasi, is part of the administration’s ongoing effort to fix the country’s education system, which has been criticized for poor teacher quality and teacher distribution, discrimination against marginalized groups and schools that are considered child-unfriendly. The country has been making some progress, with an OECD study in 2016 showing that between 2012 and 2015 science performance among 15-year-old students rose by 21 points nationwide, making Indonesia the fifth-fastest improving education system among the 72 that took part in the comparison.
With more than 300 dialects spoken across the country’s thousands of islands, Indonesia faces an uphill climb to standardize and raise the quality of its system. The zoning system is one of many reforms being applied across elementary, junior high and senior high schools, although vocational schools are exempt from the policy, officials said. State and private schools that receive the government’s school operation assistance are required to accept at least 90 percent of students domiciled in the nearest zone radius depending on location, for example 5 km for Central Java. In Jakarta the set distances are 3 km for elementary schools and 10 km for senior high schools.
The long-term objective of the policy is to distribute access to good education by compelling schools, irrespective of their geographical location, to have roughly the same quality. However, given existing conditions, where the quality of both schools and teachers can be dramatically uneven, meaning outstanding students are often victimized. For example, a student named Ajeng, whose average score is 90 in a standardize test, must be willing to go to school with those whose average score is 50, simply because he lives outside a designated zone that would get him into a school that better fits his aspirational and educational level.
A Good Approach for Equality
Although in practice the policy has such problems, it is a beginning step for minimizing the favoritism of schools that is prevalent across the society and is an attempt to produce schools that are non-excusive and non-discriminatory.
The government argues that the reform is necessary because all schools should have the same equality of education. Urban teachers are also to be rotated to villages to improve students’ quality of education,
This distribution of quality is important to break the cycle of poverty. Students from poor families mostly live on the outskirts of cities and can only attend schools with B and C accreditations, far from the national quality standard. Like most schools in remote areas, they find it hard to attract well-qualified teachers and to have good facilities. The zoning policy is designed to impel all schools to improve in order to deliver good output, regardless of their locations.
It is important to note that all the fruits expected can only be reaped if all schools are standardized. A number of hot issues are being discussed and protested by those impacted.
From the schools’ side, there is an imbalance between school capacity and student numbers. Some overpopulated schools take in hundreds of students’ year to year although currently only 50 percent of other quotas are fulfilled.
Second, parents who are concerned with their children’s educations are able to pay more for their transportation to get their children to good schools. Some families register their children with other families to get them into better-quality schools. Moreover, the so-called KK residence card doesn’t really reflect the residence of a family. Many families have KK and ID cards with addresses in cities but live outside it due to high urban land prices.
There are various opinions within the government itself. Ministries and local councils often disagree on implementation. Some give priority to students whose homes are 500 meters away from school while others whose homes are 1 km away – but in the same 5-km zoning radius are down the list. For others, those selected are students with higher grades, not those whose domicile is closest.
Towards A Better Zoning Policy
Under these circumstances, analysts say, the Ministry of Education and Culture must ensure that all schools, whether they are located in cities or rural areas, have qualified teachers and school personnel. Too often the best-qualified teachers can only often be found in schools labeled as favorites, with adequate infrastructure and learning facilities. Therefore, the zoning policy won’t be effective if it isn’t accompanied by other efforts such as financial support, improvement of infrastructure and facilities and the distribution of qualified teachers.
In any case, implementation won’t be instantaneous. It could take years for the policy to be properly and fully implemented. The government needs to minimize the impact on victims like Ajeng, the bright student sentenced to an inadequate school. For that reason the government needs technical implementation guidelines that are designed in stages and in accordance with the ability of schools and teachers to follow the policy. The process of improving school facilities and rotating teachers will also require time. Hence, in this early period, many parents like Ajeng’s are afraid their children who have studied hard will be admitted to substandard schools.
Implementation will thus require constant monitoring to ensure that policy is not chaotic and achieved with a minimum of protest so that stakeholders impacted are not disappointed, be it schools, teachers, students, or parents. The government will also need time to organize teacher rotation and infrastructure developments especially in rural areas.
Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dikanaya Tarahita write regularly on Indonesian social issues.