Indonesia's educational system is one which has undergone many changes over the years. The government has been doing everything in its power to raise the country's educational standards to a level at which they would be on par with those of neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

Educational System in Indonesia

Basic Information about Indonesia’s Educational System

The origins of Indonesia’s current educational system can be traced to the Dutch colonial era. The modern form of education in Indonesia was introduced there during the era of Dutch colonial rule. During this era, traditional schools such as Islamic boarding schools were supplemented with Dutch-language schools for the children of colonialists and local administrative authority figures. There were also village schools which were attended by all other Indonesian students. The first institutes of higher education in Indonesia were established in the 1920s in Java. Unfortunately, the educational system of the era was elitist; high-quality education was only accessible to very few people.

After independence in 1945, Indonesia constitutionally enshrined education as a right of all Indonesian citizens. It supported this claim by attempting to establish a more egalitarian and inclusive educational system which can be seen in the country’s current education law. Although public education is generally secular and Indonesia is officially a secular nation, Islamic education is an important part of Indonesia’s private education sector. The Islamic organization Muhammadiyah, for instance, currently operates many universities, primary schools, and secondary schools throughout Indonesia. These institutions use a secular, general academic curriculum which accompanies the religious education taught in such religious schools. The Ministry of Religious Affairs oversees such schools.

Although Islamic education was long regarded as inferior to standard public education, the rise of Islamic conservatism in Indonesia, a country which has historically been a moderate Muslim-majority nation, has led to an increase in the number of students enrolled in Islamic schools recent years. Just as is the case with other aspects of life in Indonesia, education has been affected by the growing Islamization of Indonesian society. Today, some of the largest schools in Indonesia are Islamic schools.

The homogenization and uniformity of Indonesia’s education system has significantly increased over the years. The number of educational institutions in Indonesia has also grown rapidly since over recent decades. Today, there are approximately 170,000 primary schools, 40,000 junior secondary schools, 26,000 senior secondary schools, and 4,378 higher educational institutions in Indonesia. This increase has been necessary in order to serve the increase in Indonesia’s student population.

Pre-Primary and Primary Education in Indonesia

The informal education system of Indonesia includes playgroups and kindergartens. Such entities do not exist under the free-of-charge official education program. Playgroups (Kelompok Bermain) admit children of between two and three years old. Kindergarten (Taman Kanak-Kanak; TK) Class A is for children of four years old; TK Class B is for children who are five.

Although it is not mandatory for parents to send their children to kindergartens, it is nevertheless considered important in preparing children for entry into primary school (Sekolah Dasar), which is for children of six to 12 years old and marks the beginning of compulsory education in Indonesia. This is because it introduces children to simple reading and counting skills.

A child must be enrolled in a Sekolah Dasar by April for admission in July. A child must be enrolled in a Sekolah Dasar by April for admission in July. The entrance of students into a public school is typically at the discretion of the director of the school. In private schools, the school’s foundation, which may include the parents’ association, usually determines the entrance policy of the school. In Indonesian schools, the English language is taught as a foreign language. To complete primary education and enter secondary education, students in the sixth grade have to complete two final examinations; the school final examination and the national examination.

Secondary Education in Indonesia

Education at the secondary level in Indonesia starts with Sekolah Menahga Pertama (SMP), or junior high school, for students who are between 12 and 13 years old before the start of the school year. The school system at an SMP is similar to that of a Sekolah Dasar because students remain in the same classroom and teachers come to the class according to the class schedule.

Enrolment requirements vary between schools. However, the items which are required of almost all SMPs in Indonesia include the application form, the student’s birth certificate, a Family Card, the student’s exit certificate from a Sekolah Dasar (for first-year students), end-of-term reports for the past year for students transferring from other schools during the three-year SMP term, and two passport-sized photographs.

After completing three years (Grades 1, 2, and 3) at an SMP, students may continue their education by registering at a senior high school, also known as a Sekolah Menahga Atas (SMA). However, those who have not attained the requisite level of academic achievement to enter an SMA may opt to attend a high school for vocational education, also known as a Sekolah Menahga Kejuruan (SMK).

In the third grade of SMA, students are placed into any of three different specialized groups. These are IPA (science), IP