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Indonesia’s Woeful Education System
Indonesia’s education system is saddled with a long series of difficulties including poor education funding, arbitrarily changing educational curricula, political favoritism, with teachers’ jobs dependent on the sufferance of principals and many other problems.
That has led to a ranking by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment of 62nd of 72 developing countries surveyed. One of the biggest problems is the thousand “honorary” teachers who are paid virtually nothing while they teach while waiting for civil service positions.
The OECD reports that one in 10 teachers in Indonesia are often absent during teaching periods. In the province of Aceh, teachers who did not come to school for a year still received their salaries. The schools are powerless because teachers often have family or other personal relationships with local officials.
Schools with poor facilities experience high rates of teacher absence, for example poor mobile phone signals, electricity, and toilets. Communication needs and school facilities seem to be the reason that can be tolerated by the school every time teachers ask for permission to leave. Quite often teachers leave because many principals are also leaving.
The central government is arguably devoting a lot of resources into education, including providing salaries and facilities to teachers. The education budget allocated 20 percent, which is mostly spent on teachers (64 percent). The Ministry of Education believes that by improving the welfare of teachers the quality of education in Indonesia can be driven upwards. Despite the noble aims, this policy has made students victims, as expressed by the World Bank Director Rodrigo Chavez.
If the Indonesian government does not distribute more money to the improvement of education quality, according to Chavez, under current conditions the government would need 50 years for students to reach the average competence based on OECD standards.
Since 1945, Indonesia has recorded 11 overhauls of its national curriculum. Such frequent changes are not without impact. Three groups are affected; teachers, who must adjust their materials, students, who must adjust to new subjects, and parents, who must spend money to purchase new books.
The plight of honorary teachers
There are two different classes of teachers, PNS teachers (Pegawai Negeri Sipil, or civil servants) and many others who are simply honorary teachers, or guru honor. Civil servants are paid by the state monthly with relatively good amounts of salaries, family allowance, pensions, and job security until death (in order words, no layoffs). But for temporary teachers, there is no such thing as salaries, no pension funds. They often must be content with honoraria, amounts of which fall below the regional minimum wage (UMR). Not infrequently temporary teachers paid Rp300,000 (US$25) per month.
Their work Pursuing other jobs is the most sensible answer, with honorary teachers working second jobs as drivers, rubber tappers and street vendors. The chance to be paid routinely by the state only comes every five years. They can be fired anytime without any severance pay, with many holding only contract letters from school principals.
Teaching graduates booming but quality low
Nonetheless, education majors and teaching are high in demand by Indonesian university students. In 2014, for example, the primary school education major was ranked the fourth most popular program. Other education-related majors are also crowded with students across many universities.
The unavailability of other majors than teaching in many small areas leaves some prospective students no other option. This has an impact on the input and output of universities. Many colleges majoring in education and teaching emphasize quantity over quality. The admission process is not strict. Given that the receipt of students’ tuition fees is the lifeblood of these institutions, the more students enrolled, the more money that flows in.
It is hence not surprising that the quality of teachers is still generally low. Many have limited basic competencies with a World Bank study finding that large numbers of teachers face difficulties in solving basic mathematical questions. That is compounded by the limited knowledge among teachers, especially senior teachers, concerning digital learning in the classroom, including basic computer usage.
The country’s education is still politicized, especially local authorities empowered by decentralization reforms. It is not surprising that there are deals between political candidates and their “success teams,” formed to lobby legislators for votes, who require compensation in the form of money and jobs, valued because finding jobs in the regions is not easy. Many are awarded jobs at government institutions, including schools.
When a political candidate manages to win, the success teams can be hired as contract teachers in schools in the area within the jurisdiction of the regional head. The hiring process is no longer based on meritocracy, but a political transaction based on loyalty.
This politicization has had an impact on civil service (PNS) teachers too, who still see local election periods as a moment of determination for their future. It has become a tradition that PNS teachers want to be placed in schools in major cities, for staying in the city offers higher standards of living, access to information and easy transportation.
The potential candidates understand this. They not infrequently provide strategic placement options for PNS teachers who are loyal to them, giving rise to the unequal distribution of teachers. Schools in Jakarta, for instance, have a high teacher-student ratio, sometimes even beyond the limits, while schools in Papua face teacher shortages. Even though the central government has been working diligently to address this imbalance by passing a 2011 law signed by five ministries (Education and Culture, Religious Affairs, Finance, and Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform), the results are still not visible. By 2015, it was apparent that only few areas have abided by the new policies.
Government seeks to address issue
The government has sought to address the issue of honorary teachers. However, these efforts are still temporary and have far to go. Allowances and honorary teacher certification still depend on the political and economic dynamics of the country. In other words, it can change anytime. For the long term, the Ministry of Education and Culture, or Kemdikbud, for example, proposes that temporary teachers teach in private schools to get more appropriate income.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Administrative Reform and Bureaucratic Reform or Kemenpan RB suggested temporary teachers participate in the CPNS test if they want to change their luck.
The above solutions are only half-hearted and do not touch upon the root of the problem; the gap between guru honor and PNS teachers. In contrast to the big cities like Jakarta and Bandung, private schools are not often found in regional areas. Each village usually has only one public elementary school, let alone a secondary school. If the way to exit from poverty for honorary teachers is to teach in a private school, the question is of course, where will they find them?
Furthermore, to encourage honorary teachers to take the CPNS is logical. But the government must remember that the ability of honorary teachers in the area, many who are graduates of teacher education institutions from the area, is very low when compared to persons with an education degree from prominent universities. If temporary teachers in the area to compete with those from the city, they would be sorely disadvantaged.
These teaches could also be encouraged to take other means of income such as teaching private lessons or teaching at private institutions.
Therefore, the government must tighten the rules to enter teacher training programs. Majors in teaching, both in urban and regional levels, should be made more stringent –if possible, more difficult than engineering or medicine. Later, the teachers who have been trained should immediately be hired as civil servants or contract staff. Teaching graduates should be distributed to different parts of the country (Penempatan kora). The government can provide an assurance that these graduates would get a job immediately after graduating but they need to be placed according to the government's order (with incentives).
Education funding also needs to be re-examined. Teacher allowances are given only to teachers who truly excel to save the budget. If such a budget is successfully effected, funds can be diverted to improve the ability of students by providing additional training or learning tools in the classroom. By doing so the government will invest for the better future of the country.
As for teacher absenteeism, culprits must be issued a stern warning. If this does not have a deterrent effect, it is time for the government to fire these teachers. There are still a lot of honorary teachers who are more than ready to replace them. When it comes to the curriculum and student-teacher ratio, the Indonesian government should not change its curriculum in a very frequent manner. Instead, it could develop the existing curriculum by improving its deficiencies.
Teachers who are contracted by local governments and young teachers who graduated from education programs all have the same goal: to be a PNS teacher. Like other citizens, they aspire for better life. They no longer want to be poor farmers like their parents. Of course, the better life they imagined will only happen when they become civil servants instead of struggling with temporary positions.
Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a PhD researcher at the School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, UK. Muhammad Beni Saputra is a lecturer at Institut Agama Islam Negeri Jambi.