Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – The Indonesian government has suspended the introduction of a regulation deemed by critics to discriminate against small private schools after a flood of protests from private school administrators including Catholics.
Minister of Education, Culture, Research and Technology Nadiem Makarim announced on Sept. 9 that the government had put on hold the ministerial regulation which states that private schools with fewer than 60 students over the last three years would not receive School Operational Assistance (BOS) funds.
"We evaluated this regulation and given that the Covid-19 pandemic is still having a very large impact, we have decided not to enforce it until next year," he told parliament. "Hopefully this can allay some fears."
BOS funds are disbursed to schools by the government annually for every student in the country. This year the government disbursed 52.5 trillion rupiah (US$3.6 billion) to 216,662 education institutions.
The money helps with the operational costs of small schools, and activists and administrators of such institutions say they would struggle to survive if this funding was withdrawn.
The government, however, wants schools with small student numbers to be combined for cost-effectiveness and the regulation is seen as a way of persuading schools to do so.
The regulation does provide exceptions for schools categorized as being in remote and underdeveloped areas such as Papua, where many people live below the poverty line, but many small schools elsewhere would be affected, its opponents say.
The proposal has drawn protests from various educational organizations such as the National Council of Catholic Education, the two largest Muslim organizations – Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – and the Alliance of Education Organizing Organizations.
In a statement, they called for the regulation to be scrapped completely, calling it unconstitutional and discriminatory and saying it "fails to fulfill a sense of social justice."
"This regulation takes away the right of Indonesian children to an education," they said.
They also said the government should respect the efforts of private institutions that have been trying for decades to contribute to education, adding that merging schools would not work in many cases.
Besides the economic ramifications, mergers would not be easy because of the differing status and practices of schools, especially those managed by religious institutions, they argued. They cited the impracticality of merging a Catholic school with an Islamic one as an example.
Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education said many small private schools are located in areas not classified as remote and underprivileged that would struggle if the funding was withdrawn.
"There are certain schools that take students who cannot be accepted in rich schools, even in state schools which require a lot of special requirements to get in. These students are generally from lower-income families and with low ability and their only hope for getting an education is through government assistance," he said.
"We don't want the government to leave behind those who are already in a difficult position."
He said he appreciated the suspension of the regulation but said it should be dumped altogether and that "the state must not forget one of its major tasks is to educate the nation."
"Private schools are taking part in efforts to help fulfill the state's obligations. Therefore, private schools should be supported, not only state schools," he said.