Educating Indonesia: Teachers speak out on radical reforms

Photo: Zhao/CC BY 2.0

By Fawnia

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s recent cabinet reshuffle has brought major changes to the country’s education policy. Incoming Culture and Education Minister, Muhadjir Effendy, doesn’t want to end up like his predecessor, Anies Baswedan, who lost his position because he did not make the big changes needed to raise attainment.

In fact, he was bold enough to apply a new curriculum in 2013, but that did not live up to expectations. Instead, the inconsistent and sudden syllabus change brought confusion among students and teachers.

And so, less than two weeks after his inauguration, Muhadjir has begun by reviewing the free school policy. He has also confirmed that the 2013 curriculum would still be implemented; regardless of the controversy it has caused. But the most surprising disclosure so far has been his plan to insist on a nationwide policy of full school days.

Cracking down on “wasteful activities”

The public uproar this has caused was to be expected, especially since students will add up to four hours to their day; finishing around 5pm local time. Most state-run schools in Indonesia currently finish their timetable at 1pm; for private schools, around 3pm.

Muhadjir believes that since most parents in Indonesia are working it is better to keep children and teenagers occupied at school. He also says the policy will protect elementary and junior high school students from pointless activities after school hours. If not, they might get involved in, “wasteful activities” that encourage juvenile delinquency.

The new system, according to him, will help to build a student’s character while encouraging them to finish their homework under the supervision of teachers at school. “Full-day school doesn’t mean students would be studying the whole day, but to ensure that they’ll participate in activities that build their character; such as extracurricular activities,” he explains.

Parental support

And although the controversial plan has triggered complaints from students all over Indonesia; it is broadly supported by parents. One said that the full-day school plan would provide better education for children who come from families that cannot afford private tutoring after school. Another believed the positive activities at school would be more beneficial for her daughter than spending time hanging out at malls with friends.

On the other side, many public schools are not yet ready to put the plan into action and state and say it is only appropriate for schools in metropolitan cities. Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini has called on Muhadjir to review his policy thanks to its necessary additional spending.

There will need to be money for electricity bills, extra catering and teacher’s wages; one local newspaper came up with the surprising figure of 8.1 billion Rupiah (around US$ 618,000) for every school in Surabaya just to provide lunch for their elementary and junior high school students.

Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani also sounded her concerns saying, “It’s impossible to suddenly implement the policy. In the future, when schools are ready, then we can try it out.” She also added that the most important thing is how to improve students’ learning process, not adding school hours.

The policy also received flak from teachers. They say that after-school hours are often times when they use to teach outside class and earn additional income. They note that although they would receive extra wages to cover some of this shortfall, a rise in school fees would be unavoidable. That is a heavy burden for many parents.

European inspiration

The back and forth debate on this new announcement has already almost led to to its cancellation of the policy; although nothing has been confirmed to date. Although the idea is inspired by Finland’s education system, one of the most successful in the world, will it actually do any good?

At first glance; no. Each student has a different situation to be considered and schools may well not be prepared to deliver the proposal anyway. Yes, the plan was based on the importance of character building and potential discovery, but is limiting a child’s time with their parents really the answer?

Extending school hours and enforcing a policy that doesn’t work on a large scale would only plant the seed of doubt in the public’s mind about national decision-making, especially when they already profess low trust in the government. But in the end, whatever policy is eventually taken, something must be done to raise the bar on Indonesia’s education system.