Diana Mariska, Jakarta – Low learning outcomes have been a scourge on Indonesia's education system and may undermine the country's future competitiveness, researchers warned.
Indonesia allocates 20 percent of its annual state budget to education, spending more than $30 billion on schools, teachers and universities each year. But the results have so far been far from satisfactory.
Indonesia has scored the lowest among its Asian peers, such as China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, under the Programme for International Student Assessment.
A study quoted in a World Bank report titled "A Resurgent East Asia: Navigating a Changing World" published early this year, showed that the 20 percent wealthiest students in Indonesia had lower PISA scores than Vietnam's 20 percent poorest students. The same study concluded that poorer student consistently fared worse than their wealthier peers.
Goldy Fariz Dharmawan, a researcher at independent think tank the Smeru Research Institute, warned of the consequences of Indonesia's poor education system and the harm it may cause to its citizens' economic prospects.
"We do not know for sure how the labor market in the future will be, but it surely would be more open. Indonesians with low competence will surely lose out to the Vietnamese," Goldy said.
"In terms of future investment, it will depend on the investment sector and the skills needed. For the high-skill levels, an investor will only come to Indonesia if there are good quality Indonesian graduates. The thing is, as of now, quality graduates are [mainly] from China or India," he said.
Goldy was among several researchers from various institutions, including the Education and Policy Study Center (PSPK), Tanoto Foundation and the Ministry of Culture and Education, that explored learning assessments of Indonesian children.
The researchers presented their findings during a seminar in Jakarta on Thursday, highlighting several factors that heavily impact learning outcomes in children, such as the learning environment and process in the classroom, as well as teacher competency. The amount of money parents can pool together to fund their children's education also plays a significant part.
"We have many good state schools, but who can enroll there? If it is only based on grades, the smart ones usually come from affluent backgrounds. Therefore, another model is needed to get children with lower competency [to receive the same quality education]," Goldy said.
The seminar saw discussion of several programs that have been launched as solutions to this problem. These include Innovation Development for Learning Quality, or the Pintar program, by the Tanoto Foundation and higher-order thinking skills assessment by the education ministry to assess and improve the quality of teachers.