Andrew Marshall, Jakarta – Nearly half of Indonesias children have failed to enrol for the new school year as deepening poverty forces more parents to put their children to work, the countrys education minister said on Wednesday.
Education and Culture Minister Juwono Sudarsono told Reuters the number of children enrolled in the current school year had plunged to 54 percent of those eligible from 78 percent last year. He said the registration period for pupils had been extended, and the government had launched a rescue programme with help from international donors, in a bid to staunch the mounting drop-out rate.
"The school year started on July 20 and the final figures are not yet in. I have extended school registration until the second week of September, to give more time to parents who cannot afford the fees to maintain their children in school," Juwono said. "Help is coming, with the aid of the government, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and UNICEF, as well as bilateral support, both for scholarships and for school block grants."
Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for school fees, books and uniforms, and growing numbers of children are being taken out of school so they can contribute to household income, Juwono said.
"Over the past six months there were reports that parents have asked their younger boys and girls to leave school not simply because they cannot afford the fees, but (because) the children are asked to help make ends meet," he said. "Some have become hawkers, shoe-shiners, some are working in the informal sector, in sweatshops." There had also been a rise in "social problems" such as prostitution, Juwono said.
He said the government had drawn up a plan to cope with the effects of the crisis on education, providing scholarships and grants to persuade families to keep their children in school. "For a three-year period, which we expect to be the longevity of the crisis, we have established a programme," he said.
The Asian Development Bank is providing around $300 million over three years to help fund the scheme, while the World Bank would donate $90 million and bilateral country donors were providing $8-10 million, he said. Indonesia would contribute 1.2 trillion rupiah ($92 million).
The scheme will offer annual scholarships of 120,000 rupiah – less than $10 – to selected primary school pupils, 240,000 rupiah to junior secondary high school pupils and 380,000 rupiah to senior high school students.
"We are trying to apply the scholarship schemes to the poorest of the poor – the lowest 20 percent income group, for parents who cannot afford the fees. We will offer a reduction in the fees for those who are more well off," Juwono said. "Weve also rescinded the obligation to wear school uniforms for those who cannot afford it, particularly in rural areas."
Juwono said schools were also being offered block grants to help with maintenance and purchases of books and equipment. Help would be targeted at pupils between the ages of 13 and 15, as they are recognised as crucial to Indonesias economic recovery. "The target is the junior high schools, school-leaving age, because this will be the most important sector," he said.
"If the economy picks up within the next two or three years, then that particular age group will be important for the labour force, for the manufacturing industries which contribute 40 percent of our non-oil exports abroad."