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Education for all

Publication Date : 10-01-2013


After more than a year, a teachers union and a coalition of several NGOs have won their fight against the international-standard school pilot project (RSBI). The Constitutional Court declared on Tuesday that the RSBI programme breached the Constitution for discrimination and segregating students.

Although the ruling immediately received an exuberant welcome nationwide, it does not amount to a victory for the students, the core subject of education. They have instead fallen victim to uncertainties that have been plaguing the national education system as a result of never-ending squabbling between policymakers and bureaucrats that resulted in judicial intervention.

The debate has denied, if not revoked, educational autonomy, which ironically has been acknowledged by Law No. 20/2003 on education — the legal basis of the RSBI programme.

Article 50 of the education law says that every regency or city should have at least one RSBI school. As of 2012, around 1,300 RSBI schools operate throughout the country.

Since their inception in 2007, the schools have drawn criticism on the grounds that they were funded by the state while denying seats to students who could not afford to pay their high tuition fees. For many, the RSBI system only exacerbated the so-called liberalisation of the national education system, which has been characterised by a mushrooming number of schools that boast “international” or “national plus” curriculums just to attract students.

The RSBI programme, which was originally aimed at helping Indonesian students close the gap with their counterparts in developed countries in terms of quality, has resulted in the creation of elite schools, whose students enjoy better facilities and are taught by better teachers than those in ordinary schools. Although the law requires that international-standard schools allocate 20 per cent of their seats for poor students, few underprivileged students attend RSBI schools in practice.

For policymakers then, the RSBI programme was a short cut to preparing the high-quality human resources that the nation needs to survive fierce competition in the global market. RSBI schools differ from the other schools due to their use of English as a medium of instruction and to the adoption of an international curriculum. Specifically, the RSBI curriculum references those in place in OECD countries.

In his defence of the RSBI programme, then education minister Bambang Sudibyo said that education was indeed costly. He asserted that only countries that charged high tuition fees, such as the US, produced high-quality students.

The Constitutional Court might be right in dissolving the RSBI programme, particularly because it contributed little to improving national education, as evident in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment in 2010, which ranked Indonesian students lower than those in China and Thailand in science, reading and math.

If RSBI envisions making a quantum leap in Indonesian education, it deserves support from the whole nation. The problem, however, seems to be in implementation. The RSBI programme has been managed in such a way that money matters the most.

Former education minister Daoed Joesoef said that the RSBI was flawed because it blindly copies foreign curriculums without understanding the concept of education in developed countries. The educational system in the US and the UK is superior not because of their use of English, but due to their respect for science.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling should therefore inspire policymakers to reinforce the role of teachers as the leading player in national education, as they know what their students need.


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