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.

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), IPS (social and economic studies), and Bahasa (language and literature). The third-grade specialization at an SMA is used to prepare students for tertiary education.

Tertiary Education in Indonesia

Indonesia’s higher education system is divided into academies, polytechnics, universities, institutions, and advanced tertiary schools (Sekolah Tinggi). Each of these higher educational institutions are categorized as either private or public. Public institutions have existed for many years; private institutions are relatively new. The number of higher education institutions in Indonesia has increased rapidly. Indonesia has also become a popular destination for international students.

In recent years, the Indonesian government has been overhauling the country’s higher education system to help it overcome some of its problems. These include restricted access for low-income families, lack of space in public institutions and an overabundance of government bureaucracy.

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Problems Affecting Schools and Universities in Indonesia

One of the main problems affecting schools and universities in Indonesia is that of the unequal distribution of teachers and instructors. The skewed quality of instructors increases inequality between the upper, middle, and lower classes in Indonesia. Those who are able to afford to attend higher-quality schools will be more likely to further their studies abroad in globally renowned educational institutions. Consequently, many of those in the upper and middle classes are able to study overseas; the number of students who have gone abroad to study has thus increased tremendously. Statistics compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) prove that most Indonesian students who study abroad do so in one of Australia, the United States, and Malaysia.

Conversely, those who are financially unable to study abroad are required to depend on scholarships and government programs if they intend to secure a pathway to furthering their studies abroad. Due to the general lack of access to higher-quality educational standards found abroad, this fact also serves to create more separation between economic classes in Indonesia.

Many schools and universities in Indonesia also do not hire and promote staff members by using meritocratic methods. This problem has led to the perpetuation of substandard teaching across the country. Education is not the only sector in which such a problem exists in Indonesia; however, its sheer prevalence in the educational sector means that this problem certainly warrants a mention. Furthermore, this lack of meritocracy also harms the students of Indonesia by denying them the best possible educational standards. It also contradicts the government’s emphasis on education as a means for the country to maximize its potential as a regional and global economic powerhouse as well as a well-informed and culturally robust nation.

Indonesia Educational System FAQs

How have Indonesia’s educational standards improved over the years?2020-04-02T15:59:37+08:00

Indonesia has taken many different but effective approaches to improve the educational standards of the country, especially since the country became a democracy in 1998. In 2002, Indonesia made it a constitutional requirement that governments at all levels must allocate at least 20% of their budgets to the financing of education. This was an obvious improvement from previous years; in 1995, spending on education totaled less than 1% of Indonesia’s GDP. This improvement is reflected in the country’s literacy rates of 95.4% among the general population and 99% among its youth. In general, education and culture surrounding education in Indonesia is better now than it has ever been.

What are the main destinations of Indonesian students who leave the country to further their studies?2020-04-02T15:58:43+08:00

The primary destinations of Indonesian students who leave the country for tertiary education are Australia and the United States. According to the latest statistics, approximately 20,000 Indonesian students study in a higher educational institution in Indonesia, while around 9,000 do so in a higher educational institution in the United States. In total, approximately 46,000 Indonesian students study at a tertiary level in an educational institution abroad. Therefore, around 62% of Indonesian students who leave the country to further their studies go to either Australia or the US to do so.

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