Education expenditures: 2.8 percent of GDP (2011), country comparison to the world: 143, Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): total population: 92.8 percent; male: 95.6 percent; female: 90.1 percent (2011 est.). School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 13 years; male: 13 years; female: 13 years (2011). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Twelve-year public and private primary and secondary education system; the first nine years mandatory. In 2008 primary and secondary education, both private and public, included: 63,444 kindergartens, 144,228 six-year primary schools, 28,777 junior secondary schools, 10,762 general senior secondary schools, and 7,592 vocational senior secondary schools, enrolling total of 45.4 million students taught by 2.9 million teachers. Special education schools, for the physically and mentally disabled, numbered 1,686, with 73,322 students and 18,047 teachers. Higher education offered in 2,975 colleges, universities, and other tertiary institutions, with more than 4.2 million students. Adult literacy rate 90.4 percent in 2009. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The character of Indonesia’s education system reflects the country’s diverse religious heritage, its struggle for a national identity, and the challenge of resource allocation in a poor but developing archipelagic nation with a population that is young (median age 27.6 years) and growing (at an estimated annual rate of about 1.1 percent) in 2009. Nearly 98 percent of students complete primary school according to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates in 2001. The adult literacy rate ranges between 88.5 percent, according to a U.S. Government estimate for 2003, and 90.2 percent, according to a 2001 UNESCO estimate. *

Some say Indonesia has one of the worst education systems in the world. In 2013, Indonesia ranked last in a landmark education report that measured literacy, test results, graduation rates and other key benchmarks in 50 nations. Yenni Kwok wrote in the New York Times, “ Indonesia has consistently been among the worst performers in the Program for International Student Assessment — the triennial test given to 15- and 16-year-old students from 65 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development. In the PISA rankings, Indonesian students’ scores in math, reading and science lag behind the average of their peers. [Source: Yenni Kwok, New York Times, June 15, 2014 ^+^]

According to the International Study Center by Boston College in 2001 the archipelago ranked 34th in 38 countries in math ability among 8th grade and 32nd in science ability. According to a ranking of education systems and worker productivity in Asia by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Indonesia was last out of 12 countries. As of the early 2000s, about 77 percent of the country's workforce had only graduated from elementary school.

The government’s Household Health Survey estimated an illiteracy rate of 7 percent, with more females (10 percent) than males being illiterate (4 percent) and with higher rates in rural (10 percent) than in urban areas (4 percent; Badan Pusat Statistik, 2007b). The highest illiteracy rates occurred in Papua (23 percent; rural 32 percent and urban 2 percent) and West Nusa Tenggara provinces (18 percent; rural 20 percent and urban 13 percent; Departemen Kesehatan, 2008). These are also two of the most malarious provinces in Indonesia. [Source: Iqbal R.F. Elyazar, Simon I. Hay, and J. Kevin Baird, PMC Apr 13, 2011]

History of Education in Indonesia

Only in the last years of colonial rule did the Dutch try to build an educational system. The first university was not opened until 1920. Even in the 1940s only about 4 percent of the Indonesian population could read. The colonial government limited education to an amount needed to fill positions in the civil service and society of the time.

Today about 90 percent Indonesians can read and have a grade school education compared to less than 50 percent in the 1960s. In the early years after independence education was given a high priority. By 1961 the illiteracy rate had dropped to 40 percent from 95 percent in the 1940s and the number of universities increased from 4 to 25. The number of primary school students increased from 2 million in 1940 to 8 million in 1961 and the number of secondary school students increased from 25,500 to 700,000.

Tremendous progress was made toward the goal of universal education under Suharto. In 1973, nearly 20 percent of youth were illiterate. At that time, 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, and literacy rates improved significantly nationwide. During 1997–98, the financial crisis affected the poorest families the most, resulting in their selectively cutting back on their education expenditures. Government funding struggled to keep up with rising costs during this period, but by 2002, according to the World Bank, only 2 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 could not read, and by 2009, the adult literacy rate was 90.4 percent. *

Before the Asian economic crisis 90 percent of children between the age of 7 to 12 were in school. The figure plummeted afterwards in part because parents needed their children to help bring in money. The drop out rate among poor teenagers doubled to 25 percent after the Asian economic crisis. After the 1998 Asian crisis crippled the Indonesian economy, schools imposed fees on parents because of a lack of funding.

Public spending on education as a percentage of government expenditure rose from 11.5 percent in 2001 to about 17 percent in 2010, according to the United Nations. In 2005 the central government launched a massive plan known in English as the School Operation Fund that pumped billions of rupiah directly into schools. The effort effectively doubled the education budget between 2000 and 2006, to reach $14 billion or 16 percent of all government spending. That was one of the main reasons for President Yudhoyono’s triumphant re-election in 2009. [Source: VOA News, July 19, 2011]

Indonesian Education System

Indonesia has a twelve-year public and private education system (primary—grades one through six; junior high school—grades seven through nine; and senior high school—grades ten through twelve). In Indonesia educations begins with six years of elementary school ( sekolah dasar, SD) followed by three years of middle school ( sekolah menengah pertama, SMP) followed by three years of high school ( sekolah menengah atas, SMA)

The system is supervised by the Ministry of National Education (which is responsible for nonreligious, public schools—about 92 percent of total enrollment at the primary level and 44 percent at the secondary level) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs (which is responsible for religious, private, and semiprivate schools—about 15 percent of total enrollment).

There is a shortage of qualified math, science and English teachers. Only about a third of students complete high school. About half of those who finish elementary school finish middle school. And out half of those who finish middle school graduate from high school.

Teacher-training programs are varied and gradually being upgraded. For example, in the 1950s anyone completing a teacher-training program at the junior high school level could obtain a teacher’s certificate. Since the 1970s, however, primary-school teachers have been required to have graduated from a senior high school for teachers, and teachers of higher grades have been required to have completed a university-level education course. Remuneration for primary- and secondary-school teachers, although low, compares favorably with that in other Asian countries such as Malaysia, India, and Thailand. Student–teacher ratios also compare satisfactorily with those in many Asian nations: They were 23.4 to 1 and 18.8 to 1, respectively, for primary and secondary schools in 2004; that same year, the overall averages for Asia-Pacific countries were 22 to 1 and 18 to 1, respectively. [Source: Library of Congress *]

By 2008 the staff shortage in Indonesia’s schools was no longer as acute as in the 1980s, but serious difficulties remain, particularly in the areas of teacher salaries, teacher certification, and finding qualified personnel. In many remote areas of the Outer Islands, in particular, there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers, and some villages have school buildings but no teachers, books, or supplies. Providing textbooks and other school equipment to Indonesia’s 37 million schoolchildren throughout the far-flung archipelago continues to be a significant problem as well, especially in more remote areas. *

Participants in Indonesia Mengajar, a programme funded by private corporations and run by prominent university educator Anies Baswedan, are given army survival training before being deployed. But they are not soldiers; they are educated professionals sent to remote corners of the archipelago to teach as volunteers in some of Indonesia's most impoverished schools. [Source: Al-Jazeera]

Curriculum and Religious Education in Indonesia

Under the National Education Law, religious instruction in any one of the six official religions is required when requested by a student. In a survey by the U.S. State Department in 2000, 95 percent of all respondents said schools should provide more religious instruction for children. In the mid 2000s Islamic factions and parties pushed through a national education bill which required schools to provide students with religious teaching according to their faiths.

Angel Rabasa of Rand Corporation wrote: “In Indonesia, religious education in state-run schools is multi-religious. Every student who belongs to any of the five recognized religions (Islam, Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism) is entitled to religious instruction in his or her religion (although a minimum number of students is required before instruction in a particular religion is provided). If no religious instruction is available in accordance with the student’s faith, the student has the right to be excused from religious instruction. Instruction in Confucianism can also be offered as an option in state schools, although Confucianism is not a recognized religion. The religious curriculum is set by the Ministry of Education, in consultation with representatives of the different religious communities.Textbooks are produced by autonomous publishers, but screened by the Ministry. In order to enhance the teachers’ knowledge of other religions, the general competence aims for the other religions are cited in the introduction to the curricula for every religion. [Source: Angel Rabasa, Senior Policy Analyst, Rand Corporation, September 12, 2005 ^|^]

Textbooks have traditionally been written to engender loyalty to the government and ruling ideology. Under Suharto, history textbooks didn’t mention anything about the estimated half million people slaughter in 1965. Revised history textbooks were introduced in 2004. They substituted the guidelines to “compare various opinions” for the “Communist Party” in the section related to the September 1965 attempted coup.

A central goal of the national education system is 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. Beginning under Guided Democracy (1959–65) and strengthened in the New Order after 1975, a key feature of the national curriculum—as was the case for other national institutions—has been instruction in the Pancasila. Children age six and older learned by rote its five principles—belief in one God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy, and social justice—and were instructed daily to apply the meanings of this key national symbol to their lives.

In public schools, emphasis on moral and civil studies under the rubric of Pancasila was altered after the end of the New Order. Since 2000, for example, courses in “Pancasila Morality” have been known as “Civic Education” and their intensity and propagandistic qualities much reduced. But with the end of the New Order in 1998 and the beginning of the campaign to decentralize the national government, provincial and district-level administrators obtained increasing autonomy in determining the content of schooling, and Pancasila began to play a diminishing role in the curriculum. Most religious schools emphasize Islamic values and thought.

Public Schools in Indonesia Increasing Go Islamic

Yenni Kwok wrote in the New York Times, “When Lies Marcoes heard that her daughter’s high school, in Bogor, Indonesia, required all female Muslim students to wear a head veil once a week, she was furious. Although she herself was a Muslim and a graduate of an Islamic university in Jakarta, she went to the school to object to the imposition of the religious uniform in a state school. As a result of her protest, she said, the order was rescinded — though her teenage daughter decided to wear the head scarf anyway to fit in with her friends. [Source: Yenni Kwok, New York Times, June 15, 2014 ^+^]

“About 400 kilometers, or 260 miles, away, in Yogyakarta, central Java, another parent, Tri Agus Susanto Siswowiharjo, says he would like to send his daughters to a public secondary school, but he, too, is worried that they would have to wear Islamic dress. Mr. Tri Agus, a political communications lecturer at a rural-development college whose wife is Catholic, now sends his daughters to a private Catholic primary school. Although he is a Muslim, he said he believed that religion belonged in the private sphere and should not be imposed. “If they want to learn about their religion, they can learn about it at home,” he said in an interview. ^+^

“Many parents like Ms. Lies and Mr. Tri Agus say they expect public schools to be neutral and to reflect the multicultural heritage of a country that recognizes six religions. But, in the past 10 to 15 years, schools have increasingly adopted policies that favor Islam, the majority religion, ordering Muslim students to wear Muslim-styled uniforms either every day or at least on Fridays, when Muslims go to mosque. Some schools also require Muslim students to recite verses from the Koran every morning before the lessons begin. ^+^

“The rise of Islamic practices in public schools, mirroring a rise in fundamentalism across the country, makes parents like Ms. Lies and Mr. Tri Agus uneasy. “I sent my children to public schools, so that they could learn universal values, have different kinds of friends and learn pluralist ideas,” Ms. Lies said. ^+^

“Some schools now hold a daily mass recital of the Koran before formal classes begin. In one school in eastern Jakarta, Muslim students spend 15 to 20 minutes reading the Koran every morning, guided through a public address system, said a teacher at the school, speaking on condition that neither she nor the school be identified, for fear of professional repercussions. Christian students sit together in one room, within hearing of the Koranic recital, to read the Bible, the teacher said. Hindu and Buddhist students, who don’t have their own religious teachers in the school, read their religious texts while sitting in the same rooms as their Muslim classmates reciting the Koran.”

Reasons for the Rise of Islamism in Indonesian Public Schools

Yenni Kwok wrote in the New York Times, ““The rise in such practices has affected teachers too. Henny Supolo, head of Yayasan Cahaya Guru, a teachers’ nonprofit foundation, said that from 2007 to 2010, the organization provided training to 4,500 teachers from 2,000 schools, an overwhelming majority of whom were female teachers from public schools. “We noticed that almost all of them wore jilbab as uniform,” Ms. Supolo said, referring to what Indonesians call the Islamic head scarf. “Jilbab has become part of uniform for female public school teachers whom we met.” This is alarming, she said: “If jilbab has become part of the uniform at public schools, then the function of public schools as a place to sow plurality to our children will disappear.” Retno Listyarti, secretary general of the Indonesian Teachers’ Union Federation, put the issue bluntly: “Public schools have become religious schools,” she said. “This shows that the majority is always right, while the minority has to adapt.” [Source: Yenni Kwok, New York Times, June 15, 2014 ^+^]

“Educators like Ms. Supolo have urged the Education Ministry to take action against the spread of Islamic uniforms and other religious distinctions. But the ministry’s spokesman, Ibnu Hamad, says the central government does not have powers to intervene. Such issues “are largely under the jurisdiction of local governments, in the framework of regional autonomy,” he said. Emboldened by decentralization, which began after the fall of the authoritarian regime of former President Suharto in 1998, local politicians have often pushed a populist, religiously inspired agenda, saying that it could counter social problems including teenage pregnancy and drug abuse. “We are so nervous in facing social and moral problems like teen delinquency that we are turning to irrational religious teachings,” Ms. Lies said. ^+^

“Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, who is doing a field study on women’s rights in several provinces, says the imposition of Muslim dress code on public-school students and teachers is now widespread, “from kindergarten to high school.”Implementation can vary: “Sometimes it’s based on the school’s own decision, sometimes it’s the district head’s decree, the mayor’s or the governor’s,” Mr. Harsono said. But in each case, “the central government, in this case the Ministry of Education, just lets it happen.” ^+^

“Jilbab, which has become so ubiquitous in Indonesia, became popular only in the post-Suharto years. Before then, public school students and teachers were banned from wearing head veils on school grounds and those who did so could be expelled. For some female activists like Ms. Lies, wearing a jilbab was a symbol of resistance to Mr. Suharto’s iron-fisted rule. In those years, the head veil “was the case of Islamic schools versus state- owned ones,” said Dewi Candraningrum, editor of the feminist Jurnal Perempuan (Women’s Journal) and author of the book “Negotiating Women’s Veiling.” The Islamic uniform — a long skirt, a long-sleeved shirt and a jilbab for girls — was worn only by students of schools run by Islamic organizations like Muhammadiyah every Friday. ^+^

“But as the government loosens up, allowing students and teachers to wear the head veil — should they choose to do so — has become a mark of religious difference even within schools. “Muslim schoolgirls now have to wear a jilbab,” Ms. Dewi said. “Jilbab has become a symbol of Muslim girls, who are supposed to look different from non-Muslim girls.” Ms. Retno, the teachers’ union official, says nobody should be prohibited from wearing a head veil but no one should be forced or coerced to wear one either. “Wearing a jilbab should be voluntary,” said Ms. Retno, who wears one.” ^+^

Universities in Indonesia

There are some 1,634 institutions of higher education, including the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, founded by the Dutch in the 1930s, and Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, founded by Indonesians in 1946. The best universities are mostly in Java. Top universities include the University of Indonesia in Jakarta and Trisaki University and the Universitas Gajah Mada in Yogyakarta. Bandung Institute of Technology (Institut Teknologi Bandung) is the top technical university. Opened in 1920, it was one of the first universities to open its doors to Indonesians. Sukarno studied civil engineering there and formed a study club that grew into the Indonesian Nationalist Party.

Other major universities include Catholic University in Bandung and the Institut Pertanian Bogor, in Bogor. There also are important regional universities in Sulawesi Selatan, Sumatera Utara, Jawa Barat, and Papua. Approximately 15 percent of Indonesia’s students of higher education attend a public or private Islamic university, institute, academy, or polytechnic institute. Among these is the State Muslim University (UIN)—formerly called the State Institute for Islamic Religion (IAIN)—which has been an important venue for progressive debates about Islam. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Indonesia’s institutions of higher education have experienced dramatic growth since independence. In 1950 there were 10 institutions of higher learning with a total of about 6,500 students. In 1970, 450 private and state institutions enrolled about 237,000 students, and by 1990 there were 900 institutions with about 141,000 teachers and nearly 1.5 million students. By 2009 there were 2,975 institutions of higher education and more than 4.2 million students. Of these institutions, 3 percent were public, with 57.1 percent of the student enrollment, and 97 percent were private, with 42.9 of the student enrollment. Even though government subsidies finance approximately 80 to 90 percent of state-university budgets, universities have considerably more autonomy in curriculum and internal structure than primary and secondary schools. Whereas tuition in such state institutions is more affordable for average students than private-university tuition, faculty salaries are low by international standards. Lecturers often have other jobs outside the university to supplement their wages. *

Private universities are generally operated by foundations. Unlike state universities, private institutions have budgets that are almost entirely tuition-driven. A onetime registration fee (which can be quite high) is determined at the time of entry. If a university has a religious affiliation, it can cover some of its costs with donations or grants from international religious organizations. The government provides only limited scholarship support for students wishing to attend private universities.

Higher education has suffered from a lecture-based system, poor laboratories, a shortage of adequate textbooks in Indonesian, and a poor level of English-language proficiency, which keeps many students from using such foreign textbooks as are available. Research in universities is limited and mainly serves government projects or private enterprise and allows researchers to supplement their salaries.[Source: ]

Today many Indonesians have earned advanced degrees abroad and most have returned to serve their country. In this effort the government has received considerable support from the World Bank, United Nation agencies, foreign governments, and private foundations. Increasingly, better-educated people serve at all levels in national and regional governments, and the private sector has benefitted greatly from these educational efforts. [Ibid]

History of Higher Education in Indonesia

The colonial government greatly limited education in Dutch and the vernaculars, and people were primarily trained for civil service and industrial and health professions. The Dutch limited education to an amount needed to fill positions in the civil service and society of the time. [Source: **]

The Republic of Indonesia Institute for Higher Education (BPTRI) was founded in Jakarta shortly after independence was declared in 1945. When the Dutch returned in force, BPTRI dispersed its various schools to other parts of Java. The Dutch established Nood Universiteit (Emergency University) in Jakarta in 1946, and the following year changed its name to Universiteit van Indonesië (UVI), or University of Indonesia. On February 2, 1950, in the wake of the war for independence, the government established a state university in Jakarta called Universiteit Indonesia. It was composed of units of BPTRI and UVI; the name Universiteit Indonesia was later changed to Universitas Indonesia. This institution enrolls about 37,000 students per year. Universitas Gadjah Mada lays claim to being the oldest Indonesian university. It was founded in Yogyakarta on December 9, 1949, but was giving its first lectures in early 1946 (when Yogyakarta was the Republican capital). State-owned Gadjah Mada has an annual enrollment of about 54,000 students. [Source: Library of Congress *]

At the time of formal independence in 1949, the republic had few schools or university faculties. Mass education became a major government priority for the next five decades. Indonesian mass education, with a different philosophy, has had the effect of producing more graduates than there are jobs available, even in strong economic times. Unrest has occurred among masses of job applicants who seek to remain in cities but do not find positions commensurate with their view of themselves as graduates. Students have been political activists from the 1920s to the present. They played a major role in the ouster of Suharto in 1998.

From the late 1970s through the l990s, private schools and universities increased in number and quality and served diverse students (including Chinese Indonesians who were not accepted at government universities). Many of these institutions' courses are taught in afternoons and evenings by faculty members from government universities who are well paid for their efforts. The New Order regime made great efforts to expand educational opportunities while also influencing the curriculum, controlling student activities, and appointing pliant faculty members to administrative positions. New campuses of the University of Indonesia near Jakarta, and Hasanuddin University near Makassar, for example, were built far from their previous locations at the center of these cities, to curb mobilization and marching. **

University Programs in Indonesia

Indonesian institutions of higher education offer a wide range of programs. However, about 52 percent of all non-teacher-training students enrolled in higher education were social sciences majors in the 2008–9 academic year, while only 3 percent majored in laboratory-intensive fields of study, largely because universities prefer to offer social science courses that do not require expensive laboratories and equipment. The major academic degree programs are the sarjana (literally “scholar,” roughly corresponding to a bachelor’s degree) and the pasca sarjana (master’s or doctoral degree). Professional schools offer “diploma” and “specialist” degrees, the latter graded either “SP1" or “SP2," depending on the level of advancement. From 2001 to 2004, the number of students completing their sarjana degrees grew dramatically from about 308,000 in 2001 to nearly 683,000 in 2004, a 122-percent increase. This level stood at 652,364 graduates at the end of academic year 2008–9. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Discussion about how to improve Indonesian higher education focuses on the issues of teacher salaries, laboratory and research facilities, and professors’ qualifications. Only 7 percent of university faculty overall held a Ph.D. in the mid-2000s, although the proportion was greater (11 percent) in state institutions. Because doctoral programs are few in Indonesia and there is little money to support education overseas, this situation is improving only slowly. Despite these difficulties, most institutions of higher education receive large numbers of applications; in state institutions, less than one in four applications was accepted in 2004; in private institutions, the acceptance rate was nearly two out of three. One of the most serious problems for graduates with advanced degrees, however, is finding employment suited to their newly acquired education. In 2003 the unemployment rate for college graduates with the sarjana degree was approximately 20 percent, and 10 percent for graduates of professional schools.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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