Indonesia Table of Contents

The character of Indonesia's educational system reflects its diverse religious heritage, its struggle for a national identity, and the challenge of resource allocation in a poor but developing archipelagic nation with a young and rapidly growing population. Although a draft constitution stated in 1950 that a key government goal was to provide every Indonesian with at least six years of primary schooling, the aim of universal education had not been reached by the late 1980s, particularly among females--although great improvements had been made. Obstacles to meeting the government's goal included a high birth rate, a decline in infant mortality, and a shortage of schools and qualified teachers. In 1973 Suharto issued an order to set aside portions of oil revenues for the construction of new primary schools. This act resulted in the construction or repair of nearly 40,000 primary school facilities by the late 1980s, a move that greatly facilitated the goal of universal education.

Primary and Secondary Education

Following kindergarten, Indonesians of between seven and twelve years of age were required to attend six years of primary school in the 1990s. They could choose between state-run, nonsectarian public schools supervised by the Department of Education and Culture or private or semiprivate religious (usually Islamic) schools supervised and financed by the Department of Religious Affairs. However, although 85 percent of the Indonesian population was registered as Muslim, according to the 1990 census, less than 15 percent attended religious schools. Enrollment figures were slightly higher for girls than boys and much higher in Java than the rest of Indonesia.

A central goal of the national education system in the early 1990s was not merely to impart secular wisdom about the world, but also to instruct children in the principles of participation in the modern nation-state, its bureaucracies, and its moral and ideological foundations. Since 1975, a key feature of the national curriculum--as in other parts of society--had been instruction in the Pancasila. Children age six and above learned its five principles--belief in one God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy, and social justice--by rote and were instructed daily to apply the meanings of this key national symbol to their lives. The alleged communist coup attempt in 1965 provided a vivid image of transgression against the Pancasila. Partly to prove their rejection of communist ideology, all teachers--like other members of Indonesian bureaucracy--swore allegiance not only to the Pancasila, but to the government party of functional groups.

Inside the public school classroom of the early 1990s, a style of pedagogy prevailed that emphasized rote learning and deference to the authority of the teacher. Although the youngest children were sometimes allowed to use the local language, by the third year of primary school nearly all instruction was conducted in formal Indonesian. Instead of asking questions of the students, a standard teaching technique was to narrate a historical event or to describe a mathematical problem, pausing at key junctures to allow the students to fill in the blanks. By not responding to individual problems of the students and retaining an emotionally distanced demeanor, the teacher is said to be sabar (patient), which is considered admirable behavior.

Nationally, the average class size in primary schools was approximately twenty-seven, while upper-level classes included between thirty and forty students. Ninety-two percent of primary school students graduated, but only about 60 percent of those continued on to junior high school (ages thirteen through fifteen). Of those who went on to junior high school, 87 percent also went on to a senior high school (ages sixteen through eighteen). The national adult literacy rate remained at about 77 percent in 1991 (84 percent for males and 68 percent for females), keeping Indonesia tied with Brunei for the lowest literacy among the six member nations of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In the early 1990s, after completion of the six-year primary school program, students could choose among a variety of vocational and preprofessional junior and senior high schools, each level of which was three years in duration. There were academic and vocational junior high schools that could lead to senior-level diplomas. There were also "domestic science" junior high schools for girls. At the senior high-school level, there were three-year agricultural, veterinary, and forestry schools open to students who had graduated from an academic junior high school. Special schools at the junior and senior levels taught hotel management, legal clerking, plastic arts, and music.

Teacher training programs were varied, and were gradually upgraded. For example, in the 1950s anyone completing a teacher training program at the junior high level could obtain a teacher's certificate. Since the 1970s, however, the teaching profession was restricted to graduates of a senior high school for teachers in a primary school and to graduates of a university-level education course for teachers of higher grades. Remuneration for primary and secondary school teachers compared favorably with countries such as Malaysia, India, and Thailand. Student-teacher ratios also compared favorably with most Asian nations at 25.3 to 1 and 15.3 to 1, respectively, for primary and secondary schools in the mid-1980s when the averages were 33.1 to 1 and 22.6 to 1 for Asian-Pacific countries.

Islamic Schools

The emphasis on the Pancasila in public schools has been resisted by some of the Muslim majority. A distinct but vocal minority of these Muslims prefer to receive their schooling in a pesantren or residential learning center. Usually in rural areas and under the direction of a Muslim scholar, pesantren are attended by young people seeking a detailed understanding of the Quran, the Arabic language, the sharia, and Muslim traditions and history. Students could enter and leave the pesantren any time of the year, and the studies were not organized as a progression of courses leading to graduation. Although not all pesantren were equally orthodox, most were and the chief aim was to produce good Muslims.

In order for students to adapt to life in the modern, secular nation-state, the Muslim-dominated Department of Religious Affairs advocated the spread of a newer variety of Muslim school, the madrasa. In the early 1990s, these schools integrated religious subjects from the pesantren with secular subjects from the Western-style public education system. The less-than 15 percent of the school-age population who attended either type of Islamic schools did so because of the perceived higher quality instruction. However, among Islamic schools, a madrasa was ranked lower than a pesantren. Despite the widespread perception in the West of resurgent Islamic orthodoxy in Muslim countries, the 1980s saw little overall increase in the role of religion in school curricula in Indonesia.

In general, Indonesia's educational system still faced a shortage of resources in the 1990s. The shortage of staffing in Indonesia's schools was no longer as acute as in the 1950s, but serious difficulties remained, particularly in the areas of teacher salaries, teacher certification, and finding qualified personnel. Providing textbooks and other school equipment throughout the farflung archipelago continued to be a significant problem as well.

Higher Education

Indonesia's institutions of higher education have experienced dramatic growth since independence. In 1950 there were ten institutions of higher learning, with a total of 6,500 students. In 1970 there were 450 private and state institutions enrolling 237,000 students, and by 1990 there were 900 institutions with 141,000 teachers and nearly 1,486,000 students. Public institutions enjoyed a considerably better student-teacher ratio (14 to 1) than private institutions (46 to 1) in the mid-1980s. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of state university budgets were financed by government subsidies, although the universities had considerably more autonomy in curriculum and internal structure than primary and secondary schools. Whereas tuition in such state institutions was affordable, faculty salaries were low by international standards. Still, university salaries were higher than primary and secondary school salaries. In addition, lecturers often had other jobs outside the university to supplement their wages.

Private universities were operated by foundations. Unlike state universities, private institutions had budgets that were almost entirely tuition driven. Each student negotiated a one-time registration fee--which could be quite high--at the time of entry. If a university had a religious affiliation, it could finance some of its costs through donations or grants from international religious organizations. The government provided only limited support for private universities.

Higher education in the early 1990s offered a wide range of programs, many of which were in a state of flux. Nearly half of all students enrolled in higher education in 1985 were social sciences majors. Humanities and science and technology represented nearly 28 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The major degrees granted were the sarjana muda (junior scholar; roughly corresponding to a bachelor's degree) and the sarjana (scholar or master's degree). Very few doktor (doctoral) degrees were awarded. Few students studying for the sarjana muda actually finished in one to three years. One study found that only 10 to 15 percent of students finished their course of study on time, partly because of the requirement to complete the traditional skripsi (thesis). In 1988, for instance, 235,000 new students were admitted for sarjana muda-level training and 1,234,800 were enrolled at various stages of the program, but only 95,600 graduated.

Discussion about how to improve Indonesian higher education focused on issues of teacher salaries, laboratory and research facilities, and professor qualifications. According to official figures, in 1984 only 13.9 percent of permanent faculty members at state institutions of higher learning had any advanced degree; only 4.5 percent had a doctorate. Since doctoral programs were rare in Indonesia and there was little money to support education overseas, this situation improved only slowly. Despite these difficulties, most institutions of higher education received large numbers of applications in the late 1980s and early 1990s; in state institutions less than one application in four was accepted. One of the most serious problems for graduates with advanced degrees, however, was finding employment suited to their newly acquired education.

The University of Indonesia, founded in Jakarta in the 1930s, is the nation's oldest university. Other major universities include Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia's oldest postindependence university, founded in 1946) in Yogyakarta; Catholic University and Institut Teknologi Bandung, both in Bandung; and the Institut Pertanian Bogor in Bogor. In the early 1990s, there also were important regional universities in Sulawesi, Sumatera Utara, Jawa Barat, and Irian Jaya.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress