Dio Suhenda, Jakarta – The government is planning to stick with its controversial zoning system for state school enrollment, arguing that it remains key to addressing Indonesia's long-standing education disparities, despite a recent string of complaints from parents that the policy is susceptible to cheating and bribery.
The zoning enrollment system, also known as PPDB zonasi, was presented as a way to ensure more equitable access to state schools when it was introduced in 2017 by then-education minister Muhadjir Effendy, who is now the coordinating human development and culture minister.
Under the policy, schools are required to give a large part of their seats to students who live in the vicinity and a smaller number to students on academic merit in the hope of eliminating so-called "favorite schools" that only accept high-performing students.
But more than six years after its introduction, the zoning system is once again under public scrutiny. In recent weeks, reports have emerged from across the country that students have been admitted based on false addresses, after paying bribes or through nepotism.
The Bogor Education Agency, for instance, reported that the parents of 153 students gave false addresses on their family cards (KK) to appear is if they were living near their preferred schools.
Meanwhile, the Banten Ombudsman said it had received reports of some state high schools in the province asking for bribes of up to Rp 8 million (US$529) in exchange for enrolling students.
While such complaints typically emerge near the start of the academic year in July, some parents have gone a step further this year by staging protests in schools and in front of government offices, such as those in Jakarta as well as the West Java cities of Cimahi and Bogor.
Amid mounting pressure, Education, Culture, Research and Technology Minister Nadiem Makarim appeared to pin the blame on his predecessor for the zoning system's shortcomings but maintained that it was still necessary for the country.
"The zoning system is not my policy; it's the policy of Muhadjir," Nadiem said, as quoted by Kompas.com, when asked about the zoning during a discussion on Saturday.
"[The ministry] faces the brunt of [the complaints about the zoning system] every year, but I think the policy needs to be kept. No matter how complicated it is, or how disappointed parents can be, if we don't commit to the zoning system, we can never address the disparity [in education]," he added.
Calls for improvement
Some experts and lawmakers have decried Nadiem's apparent unwillingness to alter the system.
"[Nadiem] should stop complaining and instead take concrete steps to improve the quality of [the zoning system]," Syaiful Huda, chairman of House of Representatives Commission X overseeing education, said on Monday, as quoted by Tribunnews.com.
The National Awakening Party (PKB) politician and members of Commission X have previously called on Nadiem to create and head a new task force specifically to monitor the enrollment of students in state schools.
Satriwan Salim, national coordinator for education watchdog the Education and Teachers Association (P2G), said that poor coordination among authorities responsible for the school zoning system had made the education disparity worse.
"A total and thorough evaluation of the zoning system by the education ministry is urgently needed, since [the implementation] of the zoning system has gone way off course from its initial target," Satriwan told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
While it remains unclear whether the government will revise the zoning policy, the education ministry has come up with a list of best practices to minimize the potential for foul play in student enrollment.
The list was presented by director-general for early childhood, elementary and secondary education Iwan Syahril at a meeting with lawmakers in mid-July.
Iwan advised local education agencies to closely coordinate with their respective populations and civil registration agencies, as well as regional inspectorates general, to cross-check the validity of applicants' family cards, a document required in the enrollment process.