Indonesia Expat - - COTENTS - By Amina Ghazi

Opin­ion: Erad­i­cat­ing Poverty by Im­prov­ing Ed­u­ca­tion

IN­DONE­SIA is the largest South­east Asian econ­omy with a GDP of 4.8 per­cent of real growth for the months of April to June in 2016. This was the strong­est growth in ten quar­ters, sur­pris­ing econ­o­mists. Poverty went down by 2.11 per­cent in 2016, still leav­ing over 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in dire poverty.

The Wall Street Jour­nal fea­tured the claim, “Pres­i­dent Wi­dodo fi­nally show­ing him­self to be much clev­erer than his de­trac­tors ex­pected.” Elected as a “ves­sel of hope to build a tol­er­ant and pros­per­ous coun­try” with his ‘bot­tom up’ eco­nomic re­forms, the pres­i­dent spent his first year ca­reen­ing from one pre­ventable cri­sis to an­other. He be­gan learn­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of pol­i­tics at the top level.

How­ever, un­em­ploy­ment is ris­ing and low-in­come wages have not risen to meet ba­sic needs. Ris­ing Is­lamic vi­o­lence, the grow­ing in­tol­er­ance against the LGBT com­mu­nity and over­all in­tol­er­ance that rose by 30 per­cent in the first year of Jokowi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion have largely dam­aged In­done­sia’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tol­er­ant Mus­lim coun­try. This is an im­por­tant fac­tor in a na­tion that is in need of more pri­vate sec­tor and for­eign in­vest­ment to grow eco­nom­i­cally and sus­tain that growth.

Jokowi has great in­stincts and prin­ci­ples on eco­nomic pol­icy mak­ing, but he is un­able to pur­sue them ag­gres­sively enough. The econ­omy re­mains un­fair to or­di­nary In­done­sians who pay so much for ba­sic sta­ples. The ar­gu­ment can be made that this is a prob­lem glob­ally, and not just in the ar­chi­pel­ago.

But In­done­sia has made strides thanks to eco­nomic growth and con­cen­trated poverty alle­vi­a­tion leg­is­la­tion. Poverty has been re­duced by more than 50 per­cent since 1999. Be­tween 2006 and 2013, 10 mil­lion cit­i­zens climbed out of poverty, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion for the In­ter­na­tional Ex­change of Stu­dents in Eco­nomics and Com­merce (AIESEC).

By global def­i­ni­tion, there re­mains a high per­cent­age of In­done­sians liv­ing in ‘near poverty.’ These peo­ple are in dan­ger of fall­ing into real poverty in the event of an eco­nomic down­turn or nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. The Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment in­vests US$ 30 mil­lion per year into five ma­jor poverty-re­duc­tion pro­grammes.

It’s no stretch of the imag­i­na­tion to say that the great­est tool to erad­i­cate poverty is ed­u­ca­tion. How­ever, in In­done­sia it is not that sim­ple. Se­vere fun­da­men­tal prob­lems stand in the way. The Sam­po­erna Foun­da­tion names the causes of poverty in the ar­chi­pel­ago as cor­rup­tion, cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment and a se­vere lack of ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion in ru­ral ar­eas.

The foun­da­tion cites three ma­jor ob­sta­cles to elim­i­nat­ing the cy­cle of poverty in de­vel­op­ing na­tions. The first ob­sta­cle is a cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tic, whereby the poor adapt and sim­ply ac­cept be­ing poor. This mind­set cre­ates an un­bro­ken cy­cle of poverty. The sec­ond is the ‘poverty’ la­bel put in place by a dom­i­nant cul­ture. This causes the poor to lose their voice and be branded as a failed pop­u­la­tion seg­ment. Lastly but not least, poverty re­stricts op­por­tu­nity, plain and sim­ple.

The poor lack so­cial and eco­nomic cap­i­tal. They lack the knowl­edge to ne­go­ti­ate and move up on the eco­nomic scale. Sam­po­erna con­cludes right­fully that the best way out of poverty is via ed­u­ca­tion. It claims the gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor must raise aware­ness and cam­paign con­cern­ing the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion. This would mean pro­vid­ing more ac­cess, set­ting up schools in re­mote ar­eas, re­dis­tribut­ing teach­ers and fi­nally, al­low­ing for­eign vol­un­teers and teach­ers to take part and ex­pand ed­u­ca­tion op­tions across the na­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tion is in cri­sis in In­done­sia, achiev­ing barely half the global tar­get for early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion. Pri­mary school en­rol­ment has dropped and In­done­sia is ranked 121 out of 185 coun­tries in terms of ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity.

This is seen by many as an em­bar­rass­ment in an emerg­ing na­tion build­ing a strong mid­dle class. Graft and cor­rup­tion and their in­flu­ence on the ed­u­ca­tional in­fra­struc­ture can­not be over­stated. Diplo­mas and de­grees can be eas­ily pur­chased. Some med­i­cal per­son­nel in In­done­sia, in­clud­ing nurses and doc­tors, ac­tu­ally pur­chase their aca­demic de­grees with­out go­ing to univer­sity. This is why well- off In­done­sians and expats tend to go over­seas for their med­i­cal treat­ments.

The early dropout rate is at­trib­uted to early mar­riages and the need to go to work. Bo­livia and Peru, two poor coun­tries, have ex­cel­lent pro­grammes where the stu­dents of poor fam­i­lies are paid for ev­ery day they at­tend school. If those coun­tries can do it, so can In­done­sia. That would take a great deal of in­tegrity and lead­er­ship. USAID has the pro­gramme ‘Prestasi’ that selects the best and bright­est pro­fes­sion­als to get full schol­ar­ships for their mas­ter’s de­grees, usu­ally in the USA. More pri­vate sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tions here should do that to al­le­vi­ate the short­age of 100,000 teach­ers. Many teach­ers in In­done­sia are also ill pre­pared, hav­ing bought their way through school.

Ed­u­ca­tion in In­done­sia is run by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Cul­ture, with Is­lamic schools run by the Min­istry of Re­li­gious Af­fairs. It is com­pul­sory for all cit­i­zens to have nine years of ed­u­ca­tion: six years of el­e­men­tary and three years of sec­ondary school. In­done­sia has only 170,000 pri­mary schools, 40,000 sec­ondary schools and an alarm­ing 26,000 high schools. Eighty-four per­cent are pub­lic and ‘ free,’ 16 per­cent are re­li­gious and 7 per­cent are pri­vate. A prob­lem with the ed­u­ca­tion is how and what stu­dents learn. Schools em­pha­size rote learn­ing (mem­o­riza­tion) and def­er­ence to au­thor­ity. Creative think­ing and prob­lem solv­ing is vir­tu­ally non- ex­is­tent.

Utomo Danan­jaya, ed­u­ca­tional ex­pert at Para­mad­ina, Jakarta, says In­done­sia lags far be­hind other Asian coun­tries in in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity be­cause of the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem fail­ing to nur­ture cre­ativ­ity or re­ward in­no­va­tion.

“Our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem heav­ily re­lies on mem­o­riz­ing texts. It doesn’t let the stu­dent’s ideas flow and thus dam­p­ens their cre­ativ­ity. Mem­o­riza­tion is out­dated. Teach­ing with no in­ter­ac­tion cul­ti­vates stu­dents to sim­ply be obe­di­ent and re­gur­gi­tate what teach­ers tell them. It in no way en­cour­ages think­ing out­side the box. To pre­pare tal­ented In­done­sian youths to com­pete in the lo­cal mar­ket, what this na­tion needs is ed­u­ca­tional re­form that strongly em­pha­sizes rea­son­ing and al­lows stu­dents to think crit­i­cally, not sim­ply mem­o­rize. Then they will be ready to work in a global en­vi­ron­ment.”

Ed­u­ca­tion can­not be sim­pli­fied by hold­ing the cen­tral gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble. Com­mu­nity in­volve­ment is as im­por­tant as fund­ing, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies by the US De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. Pro­grammes at the lo­cal level that have proven in­valu­able in the US are the PTA (par­ent/ teacher as­so­ci­a­tion) and the se­nior men­tor­ing pro­gramme where re­tired teach­ers or re­tirees work with stu­dents to catch up or learn new skills in af­ter- school pro­grammes.

Pub­lic schools in the US must of­fer cur­ricu­lums on­line for those stu­dents who must be schooled at home due to lo­ca­tion or dis­abil­i­ties or per­sonal be­liefs. This has proven to be highly suc­cess­ful, but this is in a coun­try of mostly ed­u­cated par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers.

All schools in In­done­sia should of­fer ac­cess to English. Al­low expats to vol­un­teer, and there will be no short­age of English teach­ers. The In­done­sian gov­ern­ment spent US$ 30.4 bil­lion in 2016 on ed­u­ca­tion. The prob­lem is no one seems to know where the money is go­ing. The in­no­va­tion level in In­done­sia is still low, even com­pared to African coun­tries where in­no­va­tion is rapidly grow­ing.

The im­por­tance of in­no­va­tive and crit­i­cal think­ing must be cul­ti­vated for the next gen­er­a­tion of In­done­sians to work suc­cess­fully in a global en­vi­ron­ment. That takes a change of mind­set. Af­ter years of sub­ju­ga­tion and the de­served free­doms fought for with blood and courage, In­done­sians can set greater goals and dreams for each cit­i­zen to strive for. Throw out the out­dated caste and class sys­tems with their rote learn­ing and imag­ine an­other re­al­ity, where ed­u­ca­tion feeds the spirit of cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion in a na­tion poised for change.

All schools in In­done­sia should of­fer ac­cess to English. Al­low expats to vol­un­teer, and there will be no short­age of English teach­ers. The In­done­sian gov­ern­ment spent 30.4 bil­lion in 2016 on ed­u­ca­tion. The prob­lem is no one seems to know where the money is go­ing.”

Im­age courtesy of BORGEN Magazine

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