JAKARTA, Indonesia — According to a report recently published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Indonesia’s education system ranks as the second-most innovative in the world.
This comes as a surprise to many Indonesian education experts, as the country was outranked only by Norway, defeating scores of much wealthier and more developed countries such as Germany, South Korea and the United States (which received a “below average” rating).
Titled Measuring Innovation in Education, the report attributes the country’s success to Indonesia’s adoption of a set of tried-and-true tactics: parental participation, the use of textbooks in the classroom, increased testing and track-based grouping of students.
But some feel such high marks in innovation are of no concern if test scores are not improving.
While reading scores between the years of 2000 and 2012 have steadily improved, math and science scores have barely seen a change. In fact, science scores have been on a slight decline since 2009 according to UNESCO data, and all scores remain low compared to neighboring countries of similar wealth like Thailand and Vietnam.
However, lead author of the OECD report Stephan Vincent-Lacrin told SciDev.net, “Innovation is not an end but a means to an end. Scoring high on innovation does not mean that you have a great performance in learning outcomes, but it certainly shows that you are dynamic.”
He stresses that while the outputs may not have changed, the improvement of pedagogy is a worthy goal in itself for any education system hoping to produce well-educated citizens.
The Overseas Development Institute, which published a report based on its investigation of the Indonesian education system, believes Indonesia’s progress is real and significant despite largely stagnant test scores.
Net enrollment rates have been continually growing through the 2000s, outdoing other lower-middle income countries. The average completion rate–the percentage of people who finish basic education in Indonesia–rose from just above 60 percent in 2002 to nearly 80 percent in 2012. Moreover, this improvement does not belong solely to the rich or the city-dwellers or a few high-performing provinces. Across the board income-wise, for all regions on both sides of the urban-rural divide, completion rates have increased and gaps have narrowed.
The ODI attributes this great change to three factors: better qualified teachers, lower teacher-to-pupil ratios and curriculum changes.
In 2005, the Indonesian government passed the Teacher Law, hoping to achieve education reform by improving teacher credentials.
The law requires all teachers in Indonesia to attain a four-year degree and official certification, a stipulation encouraged by its accompanying doubling of salary.
As a result, the number of students pursuing a teaching career quintupled from 200,000 in 2005 to over 1 million in 2010. And while only half of teachers possessed university degrees in 2000, by 2012, 80 percent had completed a four-year degree program.
The influx of teachers has correspondingly brought down the average pupil-teacher ratio: in 1995, this rating stood at 23:1, but as of 2012, it is 19:1.
Since the early 2000s, school curricula have been massively overhauled. Historically, Indonesia relied on standardized tests that measured rote ability. As such, most classrooms–geared to ace these tests–favored memorizing over understanding and information-loaded lectures over activity-based learning.
Reforms have now made such tests competence-based. Teachers are trained to avoid lecturing and create greater student involvement. Moreover, curriculum development has been decentralized, meaning individual schools have greater control over their curriculum so that they can tailor it to their students’ needs.
Progress has been extraordinary in Indonesia, but challenges still remain. In particular, pupil-teacher ratios are incredibly variable across regions. In 2010, the range of ratios in primary schools spanned between 10:1 and 60:1.
But the future looks bright for the nation, especially with its recent election of President Joko Widodo, who, as governor of Jakarta, prioritized the vanquishing of educational inequity. For instance, his Jakarta Smart Card initiative allowed more than 300,000 poor students attend school with the help of vouchers.
– Shehrose Mian
Sources: ODI, SciDev.Net, The World Bank, Al Jazeera