Photo illustration: Novita Eka Syaputri
This article was originally posted on Anotasi and has been translated by RISE team.
As one of the countries with the largest population and vast area coverage, Indonesia faces many inequalities, including in the education sector. What does it mean by education inequality in Indonesia?
The easiest form of education inequality to understand is the uneven access to schools and learning facilities. The government has succeeded in impartially developing infrastructure in various regions to facilitate students’ access to go to school. Technological support is also provided to schools with a broader internet network that can be used to support teaching and learning processes.
Yet, the quality of education does not necessarily advance along with the improved access to learning facilities and infrastructure. In fact, equal access to education has even further underlined the characteristics of the education ecosystem in Indonesia, which is highly political that tends to favour certain groups of people, such as urbanites and high socio-economic groups.
Teacher quality is one indicator of the decision-making process at national and regional levels. The politicisation of education starts from the teacher recruitment, which is the same process as the recruitment of probationary civil servants (CPNS). This process places teachers’ main role as government employees, not educators.
There are two consequences of the dual role of a teacher. First, some individuals choose to become teachers to get security and facilities from the government as civil servants. This results in teachers who only focus on bureaucracy, not pedagogical strategies. This also results in the principle of seniority in the work culture of teachers. Civil servants generally receive promotions according to their term of office. When this pattern is applied in schools, the strategic position of decision making is in the hands of the bureaucrats—not educators—which affects learning in Indonesia that emphasises rote learning to meet the list of expected student competencies rather than the students’ understanding.
Second, the teacher recruitment system through the probationary civil servant selection track has caused uneven distribution of teachers that do not match the needs of the regions. The distribution of teachers is regulated based on national quotas, even though each region has unique requirements that need to be considered in determining the numbers and qualifications of teachers required. To overcome teacher shortages in regions, schools recruit honorary teachers—which later becomes a new problem. Honorary teachers are outside government policy and its supervision. Consequently, the quality of honorary teachers is not standardised; they also often get paid late and face unclear career paths.
Law Number 14 of 2005 on Teachers and Lecturers, which is the basis for setting the teachers’ qualifications, appointments, and pay, does not state the division of responsibilities amongst the government at the central, provincial, and district levels. Neither does it explain the roles and responsibilities of schools towards teachers.
Meanwhile, Law Number 23 of 2014 on Regional Government emphasises that the recruitment and career development of educators lay in the authority of the central government. The regional governments are only responsible for the distribution of teachers (which has been determined by the central government) in their respective regions. This indicates that the regional government has no influence in decision making or attracting qualified prospective teachers.
As a result, the recruitment of honorary teachers poses a risk of being used as a political tool. For example, the number of recruits is increased in the run-up to the election of regional heads (pilkada) to attract public support. Moreover, there is also a hope spread in the community that honorary teachers can be appointed as permanent teachers in the civil servant system after a certain period of service. Again, this attracts the wrong motivation for the teaching profession.
Problems of distribution, motivation, and management of teachers as educators impact the quality of student learning. Regions with strong government institutions can implement a specific system that can guarantee the quality and distribution of both permanent and honorary teachers. For example, in Bukittinggi City, prospective honorary teachers must meet the minimum standards for teacher certification before they serve as educators. However, each regional government has a different approach and capacity to implement policies on teacher quality standardisation. This is where the capacity gap between urban and rural areas becomes evident, making the education inequality even more real.
What can the Indonesian government do to address these problems?
Set up teacher professional standards
To date, teaching positions are open following the civil servant recruitment standards, without any professional educator criteria. Therefore, the recruited teachers do not necessarily have the pedagogical skills to educate students. Setting professional standards for teachers as professionals, such as certifications for accountants and doctors, will explain to the public the necessary skills to become a teacher—that not just anyone can apply to become an educator. Thus, it is expected that the recruited educators understand teaching strategies and contribute to the innovations of the education system and curriculum and, in the future, can advance the quality of Indonesia's human resources.
Data transparency and teacher recruitment process
Although there are areas with teacher shortages, there is no complete data on the number and distribution of teachers in Indonesia. Information related to teacher needs is commonly known only by a handful of regional officials without a clear mechanism for conveying this message to the central government or being accountable to the public. The lack of information related to the needs of teachers often diverts the government's attention. For instance, the regional government cannot prepare the budget for recruiting teachers without knowing the exact number needed. As a result, the teaching profession lacks incentives and has difficulty attracting prospective teachers with the appropriate skills. Information related to the development of the education sector, including teacher vacancies and the number of teachers needed in the regions, needs to be made available to the public to increase public attention to education issues and encourage interest in the teaching profession.
Certainly, the above two recommendations are only small steps in the overall series of improvements to the education system in Indonesia. However, this responsibility does not lie with the Indonesian government alone. Every citizen also has an interest in encouraging the government to act and take steps for the advancement of education. In a democratic country, public participation is the key to maintaining government accountability concerning issues for the benefit of the people, including the advancement of education.
Changes in government policies require the active participation of citizens and critical community. One of the contributions we can now give is building a dialogue on values needed from the education system and educators to produce human resources who not only memorise the knowledge, but also have the understanding to apply it in everyday life. Such a dialogue can be held among teachers, principals, community groups, and within our respective families. Through this simple contribution, we hope to increase public awareness of the significance of education and the importance of overcoming the problem of inequality as a determinant of the quality of Indonesian education.
1. Definition of education inequality
Education inequality is uneven access to schools and learning facilities.
2. Education quality indicators
Education equality will not automatically improve only by improving access to learning facilities and infrastructure. Another important indicator is teacher quality.
3. Education ecosystem in Indonesia
Unfortunately, the characteristic of the education ecosystem in Indonesia is highly political.
4. Solutions to education inequality in Indonesia
Two feasible solutions: (1) develop professional standards for teachers in Indonesia and (2) transparency in data and teacher recruitment process.
Aris Huang was a visiting analyst focusing on education, culture, democracy, and governance in Indonesia. He assisted RISE in producing qualitative analyses of the social and political consequences of the design and implementation of Indonesia’s education policies. Aris holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Melbourne. He was previously a member of the Indonesian studies department at Monash University and the University of Melbourne.