Education will fortify Indonesia’s future

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

In a crowded and scorching school yard, little Jabal, whose bony arms protrude from his yellow t-shirt, sits by himself.  Nearby, in a cloud of sand dust, his classmates are laughing and running around playing football. Teacher is late again today and Jabal looks downhearted.  When asked “what’s-up?” he slowly explains that he is worried. “Why?”

Watching the scene from his office, the school principal is pensive. He knows Jabal’s family and their story. How they came to his city school from the rural region of Banten.  How he enjoys coming to school and learning to read. How bright he is at maths. He also knows that time is running out for Jabal. That if he doesn’t get the teaching he needs to support him to reach his potential, he will probably leave school early (for a dead-end job in the nearby factory) and never fulfil his dream of becoming a manager in a haulage company.

The Indonesian education system is immense and diverse. It reflects aspects of its past, with a diverse ethnic and religious heritage, and a struggle for national identity. It has grown rapidly but access to good quality education is uneven. Over 50% of Indonesian 15 year olds don’t master basic skills in reading and maths.

The progress that has been made over the past decades in the economy has already pulled millions out of poverty. This has been done by encouraging and supporting education, health care and shifting actively to sectors like manufacturing. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done. Indonesia currently has 43% of its 250 million population under the age of 25 years old. What an opportunity this is, to be able to work now with these young people to advance their skills and learning. By investing in its human resources, Indonesia can propel growth further, which would permit better living and health conditions for citizens, as well as allowing the potential for added economic and social improvements.

Teachers have a critical role to play in the transformation process of the education system. Likewise, they need more support  to improve their professional abilities, and become more accountable for the results of students, as highlighted in this new OECD and Asian Development Bank (ADB) book: Education in Indonesia: Rising to the Challenge. In addition, more improvements are needed to the quality of education and skills training given to youth, along with a widening of the numbers that can participate in it, fundamentally so that all regions and social groups can benefit from it. Unquestionably, all youth deserve an equal chance to progress in their learning and to be able to reach higher levels of education. So the Indonesian government has made universal senior secondary education a priority in its 2015-2019 development plan.

Sadly, Jabal’s story is very similar to millions of others from all across the globe. On the other hand, what makes his story special is that now he can have hope. Because he is lucky enough to be living in Indonesia, where the government is committed to implementing structured educational reforms aimed at giving all youth equal opportunities to learn. Quality education enables social and economic progress, it will improve Jabal’s life and enable a more stable and happy future for him, and for all Indonesian citizens.

Photo credit: Dieng Plateau, Java, Indonesia – Sept 15, 2012 / @Shutterstock

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