In less than three years, Indonesia has seen big changes in its education system. After three primary education ministers took office (each with different agendas), along with the adoption of two national curriculums and several new policies, the national education system has caused confusion nationwide.
Mohammad Nuh led the Education Ministry until the end of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration in October of 2014. One of his legacies was the 2013 national curriculum, which drew criticism from students, parents and teachers who complained about the policy for adding more school hours with fewer academic subjects. The curriculum was further questioned when Nuh made the decision to focus more on civics and religious subjects at the expense of dropping science. Instead of being a separate academic subject in its own right, science was folded into civics and religion.
Following the criticism, Mohammad’s successor Anies Baswedan decided to dismiss the curriculum at the end of 2014. He ordered schools in the country to revert back to the 2006 curriculum, which put more emphasis on knowledge instead of character. However, after nixing the 2013 curriculum in his early days of leadership, Baswedan decided in early 2016 to once again adopt the contentious curriculum, after seeing what he thought were improvements in the archipelago’s teaching methods.
Many once again saw this as a misstep. That said, Baswedan did apply several policies designed to push the country’s education system in a better direction. In 2015, for example, he issued a ministerial regulation that obliged students nationwide to spend at least 15 minutes participating in a free reading activity before lessons started. According to Baswedan, this activity would bring benefits to the students’ learning process. However, it was not long after the free reading programme was applied that teachers began having difficulties. Schools began applying their own targets in the reading materials and ultimately the programme was dismissed.
Another one of Baswedan’s notable policies was claiming that national exams should no longer be the only determining factor in a student’s graduation. This one instantly won praise. Previously, national exam scores contributed the most to a student’s right to graduate, leaving actual school exams and report cards secondary in the evaluation process. Learning the absolute significance of succeeding in national exams, many students across the archipelago became concerned. In some cases, they ended up cheating. There were others who became depressed – the media even reported on a suicide.
Critics have long argued that national exams encourage note learning and memorization aimed at achieving a high score, rather than conceptual understanding or overall comprehension. Yet while the national exam no longer determines whether an Indonesian student can graduate, it is still a metric of education quality in the country.
Baswedan’s successor Muhadhir Muhadjir was appointed by President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo in mid-2016. Muhadjir was known as the former director of the University of Muhammadiyah Malang and his turn came a few months after Baswedan made the decision of readopting the 2013 curriculum. As the new minister, Muhadjir decided to take Baswedan’s ideas one step further. In a surprise move, he decided at the end of 2016 to suspend national exams completely at all education levels starting in 2017.
The move to put a moratorium on the controversial exams was aimed at implementing what was stipulated in the president’s nine-point agenda, called Nawacita, that the exams would not be used as a gauge for “measuring the national education system.”
Muhadjir said Jokowi had agreed to the suspension, which would come into force after the president issued further instruction on the matter. However, in December of 2016, Jokowi decided that the national exam would continue, following backlash over the announcement by Muhadjir, with critics questioning the alternatives for the national exam.
Cabinet secretary Pramono Anung said that the president wanted the national exam to be a real “benchmark” for students in the future. “If the exam is scrapped, disparities will arise between schools,” he said, adding that the country was on the right educational track after seeing promising indications in a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Apart from the moratorium on national exams, Muhadjir also issued other controversial policies such as the full-day school programme, which declared students would stay in school for longer hours, five days per week. Muhadjir argued that by staying in school longer, students would be better educated and parents would experience less stress.
The minister said that in the traditional hours, students could excel in subjects like math, science and other areas. Then, in the additional hours, students should do extracurricular commitments, such as sports and religious activities. He went on to state that parents could also benefit from full-day schooling. Knowing that their children are in a safe and positive environment would bring peace of minds for parents, particularly those who work full time.
Critics say public schools in Indonesia are not yet ready to implement this plan and that it is only appropriate for schools in urban areas.
Despite mounting backlash and calls for reconsideration, the Education and Culture Ministry decided to go ahead with the full-day school programme.
The constant switching of curriculums, as well as the cancellation of education policies, has disrupted progress in the country’s education sector, said Indonesia’s House of Representatives Commission X overseeing education.
“In 2017, we hope there’s no more political problems that disrupt education performance, such as cabinet reshuffles. Because the switching of leadership leads to changes in policies on the ground level,” the commission’s deputy speaker Fikri Faqih said.
He added that there should be concrete and clear education policies in place throughout Indonesia, all of which should be based on facts and statistics, and not based on impulsive decisions or anecdotes. The commission believes the ministry should aim to avoid another case like the moratorium on national exams.
“The education sector is not a guinea pig. All [policies] should be formulated wisely based on data,” said Fikri.
The deputy speaker hopes that future education policies are made after long deliberations with Indonesia’s parliament. The ministry’s policy synchronization department head, Mochammad Abduh, said that the government actually always had a roadmap on educational policy, a plan that is updated every five years.
“We always carry out the roadmap whenever there’s no new programme,” Abduh told Indonesia Expat. However, he admitted that the roadmap was open for revision whenever there were new policies.
“When our minister gets an order from the president, whether we like it or not, the roadmap has to be revised. So when there are new ideas, there will be adaptation,” explained Abduh.
As for the canned moratorium on the national exams, Abduh said the policy needs to be fleshed out before it is implemented. “There still needs to be an incubation process [for the moratorium],” he said.