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Why Indonesian education is in crisis

Publication Date : 03-05-2014

 

I have no doubt that some will read the byline of this editorial and conveniently turn off or tune out without considering an iota of the argument or rhetoric presented.  It isn’t my country, they certainly are not my children, and whether this country implodes or soars to the heights of success makes little difference to me.

So what is the major malfunction of the Indonesian education system?    Does anyone seriously believe “education” in  Indonesia is on par with the west, or even Asian countries like Japan, Korea or Singapore?  Ask the question another way: If you had to have spinal or brain surgery, would you prefer to have that surgery performed here in Jakarta, in Singapore or Hong Kong? 

If you answered “here in Indonesia,” I would presume you either have a very decently western-trained physician, or else no resources whatsoever.  Or at least, none of my Indonesian friends with any money has ever had major medical procedures performed here.  They very readily say they would rather fly to Singapore than trust an Indonesian doctor to open them up.  Which is all one needs to know when it comes to “evidence”of the torturous state of Indonesian education.

Certainly we can take a good deal of time arguing about whose fault it is — but the more immediate and pressing question ought to be why Indonesia has not followed in the footsteps of Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Japan. 

Rather than chasing red herrings that lead to nowhere, let us tackle the real problems plaguing the system. Better to kill the disease than merely react the symptoms, after all.

To all of this I am certain there will come shrill protests that my own country, America, is no shining example to follow.  Indeed, my country has created successive generations of people so devoid of morality that it is soon doomed to entropy in the same way that the Roman Empire did. 

But one fault is not remedied by pointing out another, and as much as it may please the senses, arguing about my country’s shortcomings does nothing to address the issues that plague Indonesia’s education system.

So what are the major issues here in Indonesia?  Let us look at a few. 

First, corruption: the graft and corruption that is Indonesia is almost unparalleled in scope, and its influence on the educational infrastructure of the country can not be overstated.  It is no mistake that diplomas being easily purchased and cash-laden envelopes greasing the wheels for degrees that have not been actually earned play a large part of the reasoning behind informed, well-off people in Indonesia traveling overseas to get medical attention.

Second, integrity (a close cousin of the whole “corruption” thing).  There is none here.  The same person who smiles and assures you all is fine will 10 seconds later stab you in the back with no more than a flinch of a thought, if that. 

This general deficiency quite literally bleeds into the educational system in this country. You know, the whole idea of paying for scores related to the national exams (UN) administered, the additional concept (practiced regularly) of envelopes of cash exchanged with administrators or teachers that, magically (or not so magically) seem to correlate to above average marks for students who clearly can barely spell their own names, let alone count and reason higher-level arithmetic.

And thus we come back to the reason well-off Indonesians and expatriates travel overseas for serious medical treatment.

Does anyone see a pattern here?    That I managed to suck $40,000 plus out of your economy (in US$, by the way, not Rp) is just further evidence of where I was educated, and conversely where I was not educated.  Enough said.

(The writer, who holds a Master’s degree in education and a Bachelor’s degree in political science and English literature, teaches at an international school in Jakarta)


 

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